Why IBM and others are building a global database for employee credentials

In the near future, employers around the world will no longer worry about the length of time or paperwork required to verify a job applicant’s learning credentials. A new consortium is currently building a global clearinghouse or database, called the Learning Credential Network (LCN), which supports blockchain technology to store permanent, verifiable records of job seekers’ skills and academic qualifications.

The consortium was founded by five organizations: IBM; Central New Mexico Community College (CNM); an Australian University that prefers to remain anonymous; the National Student Clearinghouse, which provides educational reporting, data exchange, verification and research services; and VetBloom, which specializes in online veterinary courses and continuing education.

“Blockchain is a technology that solves issues around trust, transparency and provenance,” explains Alex Kaplan, global leader of AI and blockchain for learning credentials at IBM. “Verification is built into the technology, eliminating the need to work with email or paper [forms]. No other verification is required.”

Besides mitigating the risk of fraud–applicants using fake credentials–the LCN can help employers produce a list of potential workers with desired skills, credentials or qualifications.

Among the key concepts behind the LCN is digital self-sovereignty, adds Kaplan. Job candidates will own this information and have the power to decide what information they want to share with employers.

“Employers can look across all skills, how they align with jobs of the future or projects they anticipate handling, and help employees better map their own career pathways by understanding what skills they need to develop to be successful in their career,” Kaplan says, adding that the LCN could also store information about employer courses or tests that employees completed or passed. As an example, he points to IBM’s digital-badging program, which has issued more than 1.5 million badges to people for passing tests or finishing technology courses.

An Array of Benefits

As the LCN becomes more widespread, higher-education institutions can then step out of their long, established roles as middlemen between employers and students.

“This isn’t really our core competency,” says Tobe Phelps, chief technology officer at CNM. “We’re here to educate, not facilitate, relationships and be the gatekeeper. We want to extricate ourselves from this [verification] process and allow students and employers to communicate more effectively in a trusted fashion.”

Phelps says CNM wanted a quicker onramp for students into the world of work. Oftentimes, he says, the verification process is slow and can delay or even jeopardize a student’s chances of being hired.

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He adds that federally mandated training, such as on safety or sexual harassment, can also be included in the LCN. So can courses employees complete after earning their college degree to retool as their industry changes. He envisions employers heavily using the LCN to verify post-college training.

It may not be long before the consortium reaches out to job sites like Monster.com or Glassdoor. Phelps says the LCN can validate information on applicants’ resumes and then pre-populate online templates with their education and training history.

Meanwhile, Phelps is beta testing the LCN with his own employees who graduated from the school or completed CNM courses and is developing a free LCN phone app for students.

“Being able to sift through an employee’s or job candidate’s information easily and map it against skill sets and degrees makes this a powerful tool,” Phelps says, adding that the consortium is exploring subscription-based and other types of business models for the LCN.

Just the Facts

By removing the grunt work involved with verifying applicant information, the LCN will enable recruiters to shift their focus to more important aspects of the recruiting process. But there may be a tendency for some to rely too much on these data and not take full advantage of opportunities to gather valuable information, such as during candidate interviews, says Scott Simpson, HR consultant and chief technology officer at Cambria Consulting.

Take several applicants competing for the same position. While the LCN verifies their degrees and employment history, it can’t assess whether they were self-starters, good at their jobs, strong communicators, effective problem solvers or team players, Simpson says.

“People are looking for better ways to evaluate employee performance,” says Simpson. “Right now, we can’t store reliable, subjective information. Organizations would be reluctant to create public, permanent records that have a lot of subjectivity to them.”

In the future, he says, artificial intelligence may provide subjective information on employee performance.

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Until then, he says, HR professionals can consider mining the LCN for fresh insights into educational and employment trends.

Although useful, Simpson adds, the LCN streamlines only a small portion of a recruiter’s job.

“It’s not anywhere near the whole of the recruiting process,” Simpson says. “But, on the plus side, people can spend less time chasing down details and more time looking at candidates’ value-add and what they can bring. That’s a real benefit.”


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Carol Patton
Carol Patton is a contributing editor for HRE who also writes HR articles and columns for business and education magazines. She can be reached at [email protected]