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Making Soft Skills Visible Through Simulations

Many of the skills most in demand by employers are the ones people have learned on the job or through life experiences and come with no certification—until now.

By David McCool

Without even intending to, people are learning skills on the job and in everyday life that can be crucial to a successful career. Yet a skill like the ability to think critically under pressure often goes largely unrecognized by educational institutions and employers. When launched a grant to create greater societal change, one of the recipients was Education Design Lab (EDL), which is working to make these kinds of unseen and underrated soft skills visible. With the grant, EDL launched XCredit, a credentialing program designed to help companies and job seekers find the right fit in a skills-based economy. With Muzzy Lane’s simulation training and authoring software platform playing a key role in XCredit, we’ve been encouraged to see the progress of its first phase.

In that opening phase of the project, EDL focused on helping military personnel transitioning to the civilian workforce validate for potential employers the skills they had developed in the military. One of the methods they used was experiential assessments of skills in the areas of critical thinking, oral communication, and creative problem-solving.

These soft skills have traditionally been difficult to quantify or demonstrate to employers. EDL has been working on this challenge for years, and previously partnered with Muzzy Lane to develop simulations to solve it. Simulations allow non-experts in areas such as critical thinking to assess students or job seekers on those skills, giving the individuals being assessed the opportunity to demonstrate their skills in scenarios reminiscent of and relevant to the real world.

Quantifying the Value of Experience

The experience of U.S. Marine Corps veteran Deanna Parker highlights the need for a tool like XCredit well. Parker said her Marine Corps career was not typical. The typical recruit joins straight out of high school at age 18, but she joined at 24, with a degree and two year’s experience teaching behind her. Just a year into her service, superiors recognized Parker’s skills and made her legal chief of her regiment even though she did not, in her own words, have any background or experience in the role.

To excel in the role, Parker had to lean on and further develop her skills of initiative, resilience, and creative problem-solving. She thrived in the position for nearly two years, and came out the other side ready to tackle new challenges. Eight years later, a few months after Parker had started a new position in the civilian world, those skills came in handy, with her ability to overcome adversity, when her team was unexpectedly reduced from seven people to only two. Again, she thrived in the face of challenges and was promoted to manager when her supervisors recognized her talents.

She had the abilities to take on those challenges when she was hired, and she knew she had those abilities. She had no way to demonstrate those skills to her employer absent an on-the-job challenge, however. Parker was fortunate to land the job shortly after – but that isn’t always the case.

Employers value skills like Parker’s, but many job candidates have no way to make them visible to potential employers, and therefore run the risk of being overlooked. Employers, meanwhile, are passing on qualified candidates who have exactly the kinds of skills they need on their team, skills that can be difficult to find because they are so often cultivated through experience, rather than certified in school or training.

Through theXCredit Interoperable Hub, job seekers will have the soft skills they developed in the military and, soon, other roles displayed for employers. As they identify gaps in certification for skills they believe they possess, employee candidates will be able to take an assessment by interacting with simulations through their LER.

For example, a candidate, like Deanna, may find she meets most of the qualifications to gain a critical thinking certification, but need to be assessed on their ability to question assumptions. With XCredit, they will be able to navigate to a chat simulation based on real-world work experiences that will allow them to demonstrate microskills such as the ability to recognize unstated assumptions.

XCredit will allow busy people to add valuable but difficult-to-demonstrate skills to their resumes through quick simulations. Since it’s online, the initiative will allow job seekers to improve their resumes wherever they have an internet connection, and will make those skills visible to any potential employer. 

Last year’s “Great Resignation” made it clear that employers face intense competition for skilled employees. In 2023, more companies and education institutions are credentialing essential skills to differentiate and verify job seekers’ skills. As we have entered into phase two of XCredit, everyone involved is thrilled to see the progress of students and the feedback from businesses and educational institutions as they work to rebalance the marketplace. 

David McCool is president and CEO of Muzzy Lane, a company that was recently awarded 1EdTech™ ‘s 2022 Gold Learning Impact Award for their work on the XCredit project. He was previously involved in the founding of two successful startups, Shiva Corporation and Aptis Communications. He graduated from MIT with a BSEE in 1987. He can be reached at [email protected] or LinkedIn.