ATD Blog

7 Reasons Talent Development and HR Leaders Should Adopt Open Badges

Thursday, October 27, 2016

According to a recent Aberdeen Group report, four out of five businesses say they are facing a critical shortage of talent. And there are signals that the emerging workforce will look very different than it does today. 

Trends Shaping the Workforce

Lifestyle expectations, labor market changes, and the rapid pace of technology change will force talent leaders to rethink their strategies to attract, develop, and retain talent, with a focus on upskilling and reskilling their talent pools. Here's a look at some other trends shaping the new world of work. 

Cloud: The Big Elephant in the Room

Cloud-based computing has become the norm in most organizations, and it will dramatically change how people work in more ways than you can imagine. As Internet connections have become faster and bandwidth and storage have become cheaper, cloud computing is quickly changing the way we work and disrupting job roles. 

Shadow IT Has Emerged and Is Growing

Shadow IT is a term to describe information-technology systems and solutions built and used inside organizations without explicit organizational approval. Cloud computing has decentralized (and democratized) IT to the point in which individual lines of business no longer rely on centralized IT for their solutions; they go directly to the cloud-based service provider and subscribe. IBM, for example, hosts a broad range of cloud-based programs to help sales teams, marketing professionals, and software developers perform their tasks without company infrastructure. 

Hybrid Jobs Are Becoming Commonplace

The shift from centralized IT to lines of businesses has disrupted traditional job roles, especially in IT. Today’s marketing professionals need to understand how to create marketing campaigns, but they also need to understand how to use social media analytics and predictive tools. Today’s programmers must be able to speak the language of the business units, so they need communication skills, marketing skills, and even project management skills in addition to their tech skills. 

Gig Economy Is Trending Up

For many reasons, including costs of benefits, organizations are increasingly hiring contract employees and eliminating full-time positions. The “gig economy,” or on-demand labor market, is trending up, with some studies, such as this one from Intuit, predicting an estimated 7.6 million Americans will be regularly working as contract workers in the on-demand economy by 2020, more than doubling the current total of 3.2 million. 

Globally Distributed Teams Are on the Rise

According to a new Bersin by Deloitte report, today’s digital world of work has shaken the foundation of organizational structure, shifting from the traditional functional hierarchy to one Deloitte calls a “network of teams.” This new model will require us to rethink job roles, job descriptions, careers, and internal mobility. Organizations will need to emphasize skills and learning as keys to performance, and they will be required to redesign the way they set goals and reward people. 


Speed of Change Is Accelerating, Creating a Demand for “Liquid Skills”

Just two years ago, software was released on disks every 18 to 24 months. With Cloud delivery, software is now released every 60 to 90 days. That level of technology change makes it impossible to reskill and recertify on the latest release. And with the dizzying array of new technologies emerging every day, how would you actually define, say, a big data developer? 

Open Badges: A New Way to Measure, Track, and Inventory Skills

Everything points to a need to change the way we develop and take inventory of skills. More than ever, credentials must be: 

  • timely
  • verifiable
  • portable
  • discoverable. 

Open badges may be the answer. Open badges are digital emblems that symbolize skills and achievements at the nano level. Each badge contains metadata with skills tags and accomplishments, which are tethered to the issuer to validate and verify achievement. 

The IBM Open Badge program has shown that open badges can convert to real value for an organization. Within a few months of the program’s launch, IBM began to see the benefits: 

  • 125 percent increase in new participants
  • 226 percent increase in course completion rates
  • 694 percent increase in course exam pass rates
  • 64 percent increase in product trial downloads. 

7 Ways Open Badges Will Benefit Your Organization


In addition to an increase in new participants, completions, and product downloads, here are seven additional benefits of open badges: 

  1. Loyalty and progression: The average IBM badge earner is returning to earn three badges, and 87 percent say badges make them want to engage more often with IBM.

  1. Talent mapping at the nano level: Badges allow you to quickly create heat maps of your talent and the skills tag level, providing insight into your talent pool that you cannot easily achieve any other way.

  1. Social eminence for badge earners: Open badges allow badge earners to broadcast their accomplishments to hundreds or thousands of people with the click of a button.

  1. Social Media Impressions: IBM generates about 2.5 million social media impressions for every 10,000 badges, literally hundreds of thousands of dollars of viral social media marketing.

  1. Links to real jobs and opportunities: IBM Open Badges display real-time job listings generated by the badge skills tags.

  1. Personal development: Open badges motivate employees to drive their own development, enriching the company talent pool. And reward programs, such as badges, increase company loyalty, according to a recent study from the Smarter Workforce Institute.

  1. Recruiting and hiring: Unlike other credentials, which cannot be verified, open badges provide transparency and verifiability. 

Open badges were introduced by Mozilla in 2011, so the innovation is just starting to diffuse through the talent management arena. You are in the right spot at the right time to be a leader with this new player in the credential space. 

To take a deeper dive into this topic, listen to David Leaser’s session Attract, Engage, and Develop Talent Using Open Badges: An IBM Case Study.

IBM is a member of the ATD Forum. For more information about the ATD Forum, visit

About the Author

David Leaser is the senior manager of innovation for IBM’s Training & Skills organization. He developed IBM’s first cloud-based learning solution and is the author of several thought leadership whitepapers on talent development, including Migrating Minds and The Social Imperative in Workforce Development. David has trained more than 4,000 clients and developed more than 30 technology training manuals and video tutorials. You can reach him on LinkedIn or Twitter @david_leaser.  

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