An Informative Dialogue with Workcred’s Executive Director Roy Swift on Key WFD and Credentialing Issues

By George Lorenzo – Published May 26, 2021 in Workforce Monitor – Subscribe to the WFMonitor eNewsletter

For another installment of WFM articles about veteran professionals in the field of workforce development (WFD), we talked with Roy Swift, Executive Director of Workcred, an affiliate of the American National Standards Institute (ANSI). “Workcred’s mission is to strengthen workforce quality by improving the credentialing system, ensuring its ongoing relevance, and preparing employers, workers, educators, and governments to use it effectively.”

Roy could have at least semi-retired 28 years ago when he served his final year of a 28-year military career. He was 50 years old at the time, and he had recently finished an important four-year assignment as chief, Army Medical Specialist Corps, Office of the Army Surgeon General. Instead, he left the military and took on the job as executive director of the National Board for Certification in Occupational Therapy, where he served for five years. The question of semi-retiring came up again in 1998, and he decided against it again, serving in a variety of roles over the next 16 years as a consultant in education, accreditation, licensure and certifications; an adjunct clinical assistant professor; and the chief workforce development officer for ANSI. In 2014, he took on the executive director position at Workcred, and today at the ripe age of 77 (he’ll be 78 in June), he’s still going strong. You can hear it in his voice, which sounds like a much younger man.

“I’m a unique bird,” Roy says with a laugh. He’s also a bird who has garnered a whole lot of wisdom about WFD. I hit Roy up with a lot of questions about WFD. What follows is a summarized version of his erudite answers edited for brevity and clarity. 

On the disconnect between postsecondary education and the skills employers seek from job candidates
We continue to say there is a disconnect, but we don’t seem to have many solutions for it. The reason why is that it’s multifaceted. We don’t have real formal mechanisms for ongoing systematic communication between the credentialing world, the education world, and the employer world. When we talk about the communication chain, a lot of time the credentialing world is left out in that grouping. And the professional societies probably produce as many certificates in this country as the academic world does. And yet, they’re not really part of this total workforce conversation either. Also, based on some of the anecdotal things we’re hearing, we probably need to be paying more attention about how we keep faculty up to date [through more professional development and partnerships with employers]. 

And then I think we have to use more internships and clerkships that allow the students to get out and interact with the real world more in alignment with their classroom academic instruction. But I think the blame is on both sides of the fence [employers and academics].

On the complex world of credentials
Roy provides a colorful diagram he uses to illustrate the complexities related to credentialing:

The diagram shows how the federal government, state government, private societies, the academic community, various accreditations, apprenticeships, etc. all fit together, maybe dysfunctionally. But there is a system. For instance, using crane operators as an example, they are guided by OSHA standards. And then OSHA standards are translated into certifications for crane operators. And then crane operators are also licensed by the state. So, you can see the multiplex picture of credentialing for crane operators and how it involves the federal government, the state government and private industry certification bodies. 

In another illustration, Roy provides definitions of credential types:

On data transparency in the education and certification communities
There needs to be more transparency in the educational community. There’s very little information on the outcomes of academic programs, other than – if they have to take a certification exam, for example, especially in healthcare – they’ll say, we have a 95% pass rate. So that sort of information is available. But far as the percentage of people who get jobs, most of the time, it is not visible or transparent. Secondly, we’re just not collecting that kind of data in a systematic way. That’s why our project with the National Student Clearinghouse is so important. Our role there is to bring the certification community into that database so that we can look at successful career pathways.

There is not broad data coverage about industry certifications, beyond the manufacturing industry, at the National Student Clearinghouse. It’s all higher education data, and they do a great job. But we want to expand that database to include certification data. And one of the issues is that certification bodies in this country have no mandate to report data back. Unlike higher education with all sorts of mandates to report to various people, certification bodies do not. And they also have this cardinal principle that you don’t give individual data to other databases. And this kind of flies in the face of that principle [for data expansion]. 

The other things is the National Student Clearinghouse is connecting with the Census Bureau, looking at employment and earnings data. With the right security measures, we can include that data with higher education and certification data. Then we’ll be able to see that you can be very successful just with a certification, or you might need a certificate and a certification, or it might be a degree and a certificate. We will begin to be more transparent for stakeholders to understand what are the successful pathways in various industries? But I think it’s going to take a while for that to happen. Maybe in five years we’ll have enough certification bodies with this other data that will enable us to do that. That’s what’s needed. 

On WFD research:
We are not building on each other’s research. The foundations need to do more in strengthening research, by building on others research versus doing totally different research all the time. I also believe there needs to be more longitudinal types of studies that expand over three to five years to look at trends and issues. There also needs to be more qualitative research. I think survey research is good for its purpose, but we need more anthropological research [also called ethnography, which involves immersing yourself in a community to observe behaviors and interactions] where we embed into situations to understand cultures and what is happening or not happening, as well as sociological research through interviews. This kind of qualitative data will allow us to have better quantitative research.

Workcred’s Near Future
Meanwhile, Workcred is “embarking on new collaborations for a stronger credentialing future.” See Roy’s recent letter about what’s on Workcred’s near horizon.  

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