Skills-based training and assessment technologies promise to democratise the hiring process. By automatically evaluating whether candidates possess the necessary competencies to succeed in the role to which they are applying, these tools can help eliminate human bias, diversify the talent pool, and re-skill our workforce—especially appealing given that the World Economic Forum estimates a need to re-skill more than one billion people in the next ten years. They are also well-suited for empowering younger learners and job candidates who are entering the workforce for the first time, unaware that they already possess many of the desirable attributes employers seek. Platforms that leverage online learning and alternative credentials can motivate these users through engaging and interactive content, allowing them to play games that test their abilities, collect badges verifying their mastery of different skillsets, and direct their own competency-based training pathways.
Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU) set out to explore this immense potential by creating a digital assessment and learning program with the specific goal of connecting marginally engaged youth, or “opportunity youth,” to employment and education opportunities. Titled FEATuring YOU, this Google.org-funded program is unique in that it is a soft skills assessment and training tool developed and managed by a nonprofit university. It uses a set of five validated, retail-based skills assessments and one game-based assessment developed in-house to test six soft skills: communication, critical thinking, customer service, adaptability, drive for results, and problem solving.
Ithaka S+R, an independent nonprofit research group, conducted this case study of FEATuring YOU to document the development and implementation of the program, understand its value-added and potential for impact in the field, and make recommendations for future developments.
Though we originally intended to interview both opportunity youth and mid- to entry-level hiring managers during the spring of 2020 in order to gauge their responses to FEATuring YOU, the COVID-19 crisis prevented our ability to perform such engagement. However, given the state of transformation in education and the workforce due to the pandemic, we did not want to delay sharing this case study. With the rapid shift to both digital hiring and online learning—and the loss of 26.5 million jobs and counting due to the crisis—fully-online skills-based employment and training tools are more relevant now than ever, and SNHU’s processes for designing and building such a tool can serve as an especially relevant model for the field. Towards that goal of knowledge sharing, this case study documents the various stages of FEATuring YOU: from planning to development to implementation. It concludes with key learnings from the process of creating this digital assessment and training program, providing recommendations for those in pursuit of similar initiatives.