Page 24 - Campus Technology, March/April 2020
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The key point is to keep the skills map outward-facing and focused on industry.
a software engineer versus an air traffic controller. Good communication, as Thorne pointed out, is “very different when applied in context and [based on] whom they’re communicating with, the modes of communication that they are using, the things that they’re communicating about.”
The challenge, added Skills Architect Racheal Killian, is calibrating the skill appropriately, not being too broad (“communicates with others using best practices”) and not being too specific (“communicates technical information to novice audiences without losing meaning”). The skills map work is attempting to find the “sweet spot” for a given skill in a given role and identifying the “proper language for describing that.”
That’s where industry experts come in. Each of the colleges within WGU has its own advisory board populated with “heavy-hitting professionals in the field,” as Coen put it. Skills architects can turn to those individuals and ask them to explain what they mean by “good communication” in their own settings. They also turn to the advisers to understand how critical various skills are, their frequency on the job and level of difficulty, and how they might map back to specific certifications or microcredentials that are important in the given business arena.
Sources of Skills
Besides employer insights, the team also turns to other sources to feed the maw of the skills map. That includes education and academic standards and education certifications and licenses for the various occupations represented in WGU programs.
Then there are job profiles and data. For this the skills architects turn to multiple sources:
• Burning Glass Technologies and Indeed; • The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics;
• O*NET; and
• Emsi.
Indeed and Burning Glass are both job posting
sites that also sell research about what employers are looking for, the skills keywords used in job listings, company and city demand and related data.
The BLS maintains public statistics on every occupation, organized by major groups and fields. It also uses a unique code for every occupation that comes in handy when working with the other sources. For instance, jobs can be searched on O*NET (which is sponsored by the U.S. Department of Labor) by using BLS occupation codes.
O*NET is a free source for career exploration and job analysis. Its pages include rundowns on the specifics of tasks, skills, knowledge, abilities, work activities and degrees and other credentials typically required for different jobs. It also provides information about the types of interests, work styles and “work values” people in the field frequently possess. As Coen noted, O*NET is a source “we like to look to for writing those discrete skill statements that help inform our outcomes.”
Emsi generates real-time labor market analytics. This is where WGU gets a strong sense of the big industries in a given region, what occupations are most in demand and what local employers are specifically stating in their job postings. The site’s tools also help the skills architects get more and more specific with skills. They can type in a word, “cybersecurity,” and get a list of all the related keywords that show up for that kind of occupation. (Eventually, WGU expects to be able to use the location-specific data to personalize the student learning experience for job skills based on regional needs.)
The key point, said Coen, is to keep the skills map outward-facing and “focused on industry.”
“This is a good checkpoint to make sure that we’re using the actual language that employers are using and having students be able to communicate what skills they have with their future or current employers,” she said. It also ties in nicely with those HR systems that companies use to “sift” through résumés,

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