colleges’ “competency badges” for students are a terrible idea

A reader writes:

I saw a segment on the news today about “digital badges,” which a few universities are trying to offer so students can show competency in specific workplace skills, and I was really curious what you would think. (Link here. The segment about the badges starts around 43:25.)

My first impression was that this is a dumb idea — are employers going to see a badge listed on a resume, then go look it up online and figure out what it means? The example in the show sounded kind of silly, too (the Catalyst badge sounds like something from the Girl Scouts). But maybe I’m being too negative!

No, it’s yet another a silly idea from schools. Colleges keep doing this thing where they decide that they know better than employers do about what employers want to see from candidates, and then encourage students to use those ideas when applying for jobs … despite the fact that employers don’t want that stuff.

See also: personal job search websites, video pitches, asking interviewers to leaf through a portfolio of your work even if you’re not in a visual field like design, and more.

In this case, the badges aren’t even objective skills, like a software certificate. Based on what was shown in the piece you linked to, the badges are awarded for things like “resilience,” “creative problem solving,” “critical thinking,” “agent for change,” “collaboration,” and “oral communication skills.”

This is cringe-inducing. Employers put zero weight on those sorts of claims. They will believe you have these skills if you show accomplishments that demonstrate said skills. Not a badge — actual real-life accomplishments.

Simply announcing on your resume that you have good oral communication skills or collaborate well means nothing to employers.

By all means, schools should teach students these skills. They’re important skills! But the badges come across as juvenile and naive at best and are going to induce eye-rolls from employers who see them on a resume.

{ 325 comments… read them below }

  1. Mike C.*

    I’m willing to bet there is a good deal of eye rolling from the students as well. We all know what cheevos are, and we all know that in the real world no one cares.

    1. paul*

      This sort of thing is what happens when people with minimal experience job hunting outside of one very narrow field decide to offer advice and guidance as if it’s holy writ.

      Looking back on it with hindsight, I’d love to tear into the career coaching my wife got. A lot of godawful advice that I think actually hurt her (as a college drop out I wasn’t eligible for it myself, but I think that turned out to be a positive).

      1. Amy Cakes*

        HECK YES to this. I got terrible, backwards, harmful resume/interview advice from required coaching by my college advisor. My college stopped soliciting donations from me because I used every call as an opportunity to give feedback on how awful that policy was.

        Also, why do the most insistent/pushy advisors give such carbon-dated advice? “For every first interview, you must wear a navy blue skirt suit and matching heels. For every second interview, you must wear a dark gray skirt suit and black heels.”

        1. Amber T*

          Is that how you get your college to stop calling you for donations?? (My college career center, while not phenomenal, wasn’t terrible, so perhaps this won’t work for me.)

          1. einna*

            You can simply request that they stop calling. No lectures to the poor student caller needed!

            1. Cari*

              as if they listen better than any telemarketer. No need to abuse student workers, but they don’t even honor Do Not Call.

        2. Jesmlet*

          If there’s ever a group of people who shouldn’t be giving job searching advice, it’s people who work at universities (unless you only want to work at a university too). Academia is such a different world that college professors really have no clue how to properly advise on getting a job outside of it.

          As an aside, I told the last very nice freshman girl who called me for a donation that I would start donating once my total liquid assets equaled the total cost of my 4 years of education. I haven’t heard from them since lol…

          1. HigherEdPerson*

            That blanket statement isn’t true. People who work in the college Career Centers do have a good understanding of employer needs/desires, and can do a great job of steering students in the right direction. That said, not all career centers are good. Not all career center employees know their stuff. But, I’ve been in Higher Ed Administration for 15 years, and overall, I’ve worked with outstanding CC staff who do outstanding work with employers and students.

        3. MsChanandlerBong*

          When I was in college, our HR director was an adjunct instructor. I had her for one class, and I will never forget her telling us not to bother to use the career center because all of the advice they gave was terrible. The lady who ran it was a wonderful person, but she was giving advice that did not align with what employers want or expect (e.g. print your resume on thick blue paper so it stands out).

          1. Jadelyn*

            My fiance had to use a local government-run career center recently, and when we were moving last week he found the folder of resumes they’d printed for him. Which, first of all, lol printed resumes why? And second of all…they actually used old-school “resume paper” for it! Thick linen-weave type paper.

            But blue paper??? Come on, now. Why not go with neon green cardstock if “standing out” is all you’re going for? I mean, the person who sent me a Word doc resume in Comic Sans, multi-colored font with multi-colored highlighting for each different paragraph and bullet point, definitely stood out, but not in a good way!

            1. The Other Katie*

              I remember my mother going with some godawful florescent paper back in the day when she was job-hunting right out of school (early 1990s). I don’t think it helped her out then, and it certainly wouldn’t now when the actual physical resume might never be seen by humans again.

          2. Optimistic Prime*


            The thing is, I know there are great career center advisors because my graduate university’s career center was full of them. It was actually quite excellent. So I’m always baffled when I hear these stories…

        4. the horror, the horror!*

          That’s because they wanted to hire replacements for Gandalf and one of the two Blue Wizards. /s

      2. Optimistic Prime*

        YES. This is academics crafting this, who have little experience outside of academia. Nothing wrong with that, but…bring some businesses into your plans so you can see what the people most likely to hire your graduates actually want. I can guarantee you it’s not badges!

        1. Rana*

          I bet it’s not faculty. This has the whiff of administration worried about “relevance” and “marketability” about it.

    2. Bruce H.*

      Until just now, I did not know what cheevos are.

      I had always hoped to die before I got old. Apparently I missed.

          1. Decima Dewey*

            “Cheevos”. Ugh.

            As to the badge thing, the college has to get some use out of the Badgestack application/subscription/whatever my library made me sign up for a couple of years back.

      1. Jadelyn*

        It took me a minute to figure it out – my friends and I refer to them as achievables, so I’d never heard “cheevos” before.

    3. Big10Professor*

      You have NO IDEA how much fun students think it is to get and collect these things. Really, if I assign a coding exercise worth 2% of their grade, I’ll get about 80% of my students to submit. But if I assign a coding exercise worth 2% of their grade and a “Java Beginner” badge, I get more like 99%.

      That said, we’re talking here about skills that they could list in their linkedin profile with some value, just in badge form, e.g. “Java Basics,” “Linear Programming,” etc. Not things like “teamwork.” And I don’t explicitly tell them to show them off to employers. But believe me, it motivates students.

      1. Mike C.*

        I get digital badges at work for submitting tickets to IT. As in, “I need a loaner laptop” or “could you schedule a monitor move”. I’m really tempted to put it in my email signature or mention it at my year end review.

        1. Mallory Janis Ian*

          Aw, man! That is not fair — I submit helpdesk tickets all the time, and does my tech center give me any badges for my efforts? No, they do not. Hmmph!

          1. Jadelyn*

            I’m gonna have to send this idea to my buddy in I.T. I think he’d get a kick out of it.

          2. Mike C.*

            I only have a bronze, but a friend of mine worked his way up to silver because things kept breaking around him.

        2. Geoffrey B*

          “after the third time his laptop broke, we realised he was doing it for the badges”

      2. Just Another Techie*

        One of my intro computer science classes gave us a little world map where different “regions” got colored in as we completed projects. Damn near 100% completion on all homeworks, even though for most classes the average was closer to 70%. Gamification is horrible but it works.

      3. Princess Consuela Banana Hammock*

        I’ve totally seen students get excited about and strive for these things, and they’re patently stupid (the badges, not the students). This is a head-bangingly dumb project, and I’m annoyed every time an institution does this or suggests doing it. Likening them to Girl Scout badges is insulting to Girl Scouts, because at least those badges represent acquisition of a specific skill or participation in a specific project that is unrelated to your general “school-based” education. :P

      4. Beancounter Eric*

        I hope there is a minimum required score before they get the badge, else we are looking at the next thing in participation trophies.

        And what happened to the idea that one does assignments because they were assigned?

        The fact it takes rubbish like this to motivate students is very, very sad.

        1. Frozen Ginger*

          Well in a society where students just keep getting more and more assignments, it makes sense that you’d see more students not turning in certain assignments because there was a more important one that needed their time.

          It’s why I never learned how to study I high school. I didn’t have time to “study”; I only had time to complete assignments.

          1. Shishimai*

            College taught me to prioritize, not by giving me 3 things that needed to be done and enough time to do them if I skipped the party, but by giving me 8 things and enough time to do the most important 3 and still sleep, if I planned it right.

            I’d have been annoyed by having to chase useless badges on top of coursework, but if it’s harmless to people who don’t care about it and motivating to people who do, I’ll cheerfully ignore it and get on with my life.

          2. Jadelyn*

            I’m of the very firm opinion that ruthless prioritization and judicious application of the concept of “point of diminishing returns” are some of the best weapons in an overloaded student’s arsenal. I just finished my degree and not once did I bother with replying to people on the online discussion board, even though it was required. Because each week, my OP was worth 20 pts, and the replies were worth only 5 points, even though they were expected to be “substantive” rebuttals or add-ons to other people’s posts. It was worth spending 20-30 minutes for 20 points, but it was not remotely worth taking an extra half an hour and expending my mental effort further to add a measly 5 points per week to my scores.

            I sometimes did this with full assignments, too – I’ll take the 0 on a 50-point paper in order to be able to turn in the 200-point paper instead and not feel a moment’s guilt over it. I kept a running scores spreadsheet for each class and used that to try out “what if” scenarios re which assignments to spend my time on. That’s the only thing that got me through to graduation, tbh. There’s nothing wrong with making deliberate, measured decisions to let some balls drop in order to be able to keep the remaining balls in the air. Better that than drop them all.

            1. BananaPants*

              In grad school I’ve had to adopt this strategy – since I attend part time while working full time, and am a working mother and volunteer and all the rest, I need to prioritize my school work. That said, I need to get at least a B in every course or I have to pay back my employer for the tuition that they kindly pay for me.

              It’s been more about not letting the perfect be the enemy of the good. If I know that the professor is generous with partial credit, I won’t spend hours beating my head against a wall for a full answer. If I can pull together a report that’s good enough to get a 90, then there’s no point in pulling an all-nighter (and being exhausted for days afterwards) in order to make the incremental improvement needed to get a 95. Earlier in my program I was putting in an obscene amount of time and effort, but now I’m more comfortable with scaling back effort in areas where I know there are diminishing returns and focusing my time more efficiently.

              I have a 4.0 GPA in a very competitive and challenging program, so clearly it’s working…

            2. Mike C.*

              It always irritated me that professors would be like, “Mike, it didn’t seem like you put your best effort into this paper” for an elective course. I kept thinking, “yeah, it’s true. GPAs are insanely low at my school, so that B+ is just fine by me, and I needed the extra hours to ensure my in major courses were taken care of”.

              Like come on, don’t guilt trip me for having to make difficult decisions.

              1. Jadelyn*

                Ugh, yes, I had professors who would note “We didn’t see your replies this week, hope to see more participation from you next week!” every. single. week. Well, no, you didn’t, because it’s not worth the extra time and effort to do them, so you can keep commenting on it, but you’re still not going to get any replies out of me unless the grading schema changes.

                1. Rana*

                  They kind of have to, though, because for every student like you who is choosing thoughtfully to prioritize your time, there’s at least three who are blowing things off and yet will freak out when they don’t get an A at the end. “But, professor, why didn’t you remind me that I needed to do these?!”

                  Nobody wins.

            3. Optimistic Prime*

              I actually had to teach my summer students this. They were getting burned out racing around trying to do well in 3-4 classes, their internships, volunteering, and trying to have fun in New York over the summer. I told them it was okay to get a B in a few things, and to choose specific things to prioritize and put their full mental energy into and other things to fall back on – and it was really just up to them to decide what was priority 1 and what they could deprioritize and do a little less in. They literally hugged me after that (like, giant group hug). No one had ever told them it was okay to be less than perfect.

              Then again, it always irritated me when my colleagues expected their students to act like their class was the only going on in the students’ lives.

              1. Frozen Ginger*

                Thank you for doing that. It will definitely help them in the future.

                I once had a professor who assigned a 5 page paper to be due next class, as in 2 days later. Several of us just didn’t bother and she got upset with us. Lady, you know literally all of us are taking this as an elective course; what did you think would happen?

            4. Anon Professor*

              I teach an undergrad class that is required of the students who take it, and I often get students who just don’t care about the course. I do my best to make it relevant and engaging, but if a student wants to blow it off because it won’t be averaged into their GPA, honestly I get it.

              I’ve had conversations with students where I’ve brought it up myself, “You’ve been struggling to complete the assignments. Do you have other priorities at the moment?” I’ve had students tell me flat-out that all they are looking for is a pass so they’re ok with mostly Cs, and my response is that I get it, I just want to be on the same page. (I won’t be grading easier, and also they can’t turn around and freak out about the low grades later).

          3. Jesmlet*

            This seems like poor planning. I overloaded almost every semester (6 or 7 classes each semester) just for the heck of it/because I was interested in a lot of different classes and I never once skipped an assignment, all while participating in 3 extracurriculars and having a fairly active social life. If it’s 3 hours per class a week for the normal 5 classes per semester, it’s 15 hours total which is about the same amount of time you spent in high school for 2 days. If you’re taking science courses there will also be labs, and if you’ve got a job that’s a whole other story, but the average college student really should have no problem getting things done on time.

            It’s not acceptable to just drop the ball and ignore smaller assignments when you’re working so this should not be acceptable in college either.

            1. Jadelyn*

              If people get the grade in the end, I fail to see what’s unacceptable about it. And frankly, I’m not sure what kind of job you have if you never ever have to prioritize and say “Thing A is not getting done right now because Thing B is more critical and I need to devote my resources to it.” I have to do that all the time, my manager has actually had to encourage me to be comfortable enough to come to her and say, look, I’ve had 4 requests from different people and I can’t get them all done – do you have any particular input on who I should focus on and who I should push off for now? Because for awhile, I would drive myself crazy and overwork myself trying to do everything, which didn’t help anyone. Sometimes, even in a work environment, you do have to say “no” to some things in order to do other things.

              Also, can we please not with the “Well I was able to do [thing], so nobody else should have trouble doing [thing]”? You were able to juggle everything, including extracurriculars and a social life. Congratulations! That doesn’t mean a damn thing for “the average college student”, much less those of us who went to school while working full-time. Especially when the discussion is people who have personally experienced being overloaded and unable to complete everything in an academic context talking about what that was like and how they dealt with it, hand-waving it away as “I did it and was fine, so the average student should have no problem” is honestly kind of rude and dismissive of those people’s experiences.

            2. Frozen Ginger*

              Not everyone will have your experience in college. I know you probably don’t mean to, but you seem to be saying “Well *I* didn’t have a problem, so if someone else does they must be lazy!”

              My alma mater has several majors that are notorious for having majors that like to put all their hardest classes in the same semester. Computer Science had the worst grind sophomore year. Chemical Engineering was awful from your sophomore year until your penultimate semester. Biochemisty/biophysics was the worst in junior year.

              Point is- Some schools will put the hardest classes in the same semester. Some people will have classes that take up a huge amount of time (one CS course was known for having weekly homework assignments that took 12 hours on average). Some will have required classes that they will just struggle with because the subject matter doesn’t come easy to them. Kudos to you for having everything well-planned, but there are plenty of good reasons why student may be squeezed for time.

            3. Mike C.*

              Yeah, this sort of view is highly dependent on the institution and coursework. My courses where only supposed to have a 3:1 ration of homework to class time, but constantly fell into the 5-6:1 ratio, and that doesn’t include associated lab courses.

            4. Optimistic Prime*

              I’ve actually taught college students and this is unrealistic. Every student has different challenges, and it’s actually the rare student who is able to turn everything in – literally 100% – with 100% effort while juggling multiple competing priorities. I think it’s great that you were that rare student! But most students can’t and really shouldn’t hold themselves to that standard of perfection. It’s really not necessary for them to do well and go onto have a successful career.

              In fact, I think learning to prioritize and communicate (with professors in college; with managers later) when they are overloaded and need extra time is one of the most useful things college students could learn. It’s one of the reasons I almost always gave extra time if students actually came and talked to me about what was going on.

              1. Rana*

                Yes. When I was teaching, I wasn’t looking for perfection so much as honest effort and reasonable communication when help was needed. Students who took the time to work with me to develop strategies that allowed them to do a decent job without falling apart were rare treasures, honestly. It’s terrible when a student is struggling and ends up failing, when if they had only told you about an issue when it first showed up, it wouldn’t have been a problem. It’s shitty for the student and it’s not a happy moment for professors, either.

            5. AcademiaNut*

              My schedule one semester: 18 hours of lectures, 2 hours of tutorial, 9 hours of labs. That’s 28 hours a week, before I start working on the assignments or studying. Every class had assignments a minimum of once every two weeks except midterm week , a typical assignment would take about 6 hours to do well. So, at an average assignment rate of once per two weeks, that’s another 27 hours. So we’re up to a 56 hour work week. And that’s assuming that everything was evenly distributed and none of the assignments turned out more difficult that usual. The professors didn’t talk with each other, so it was possible to have bad assignments bunch up, and the short turnaround time meant that there was a limited ability to schedule ahead on a timescale of more than a week. A bad week, and something got ditched – first sleep, and if that didn’t work, an assignment.

              I’ve never come so close to burnout as I did that last year of undergrad, including when I wrote my thesis, and I had more than one classmate admit that they were randomly bursting out in tears when they sat down to work. I was an A- student doing a double major honours degree in a STEM field, and went into academia, so I wouldn’t say I was an average college student.

              The difference with a job is that I can go to my supervisor and tell them that I can’t finish both X and Y in the expected time – which should I do? Or that I can’t fit in a new task unless I push something else to a lower priority. Or that the specifications of the project don’t make sense, and we need to rework something before I can get back to it. And I don’t risk getting fired if I go to a coworker for help with a new task, or pull snippets of code off of stack exchange.

              1. Mike C.*

                Yeah, seriously. I still remember that shortly after graduating my hair started growing back. The stress was that bad.

            6. The Other Katie*

              It’s not three hours per week per class. It’s 3 hours per week per class, then 3 hours of independent study per contact hour, so 12 hours/week/class.

      5. Karen D*

        See, I would regard this as a pretty brilliant move. You found something that makes your students do better. It doesn’t warp their official evaluation in any way (in fact, it probably helps you keep better ongoing track of your students’ progress, making it easier to do end-of-course evaluation). I would have loved to have had a professor like you who cared enough to think something like this up!

        And I definitely understand the whole mentality of micro-motivators (one of the web forums where I used to be active started giving out badges and people went crazy mcnutso for them).

        But putting them on a resume … ouch. No. Just no. (And clearly, you and I agree on that, lol)

      6. miss_chevious*

        I believe it. My college students used to complete extra work for the promise of a sticker. And not even a fancy sticker, but one from a sheet of 100 I got at the dollar store.

          1. Karen D*

            There is nothing unhealthy about a love of stickers. Adorable, yes, but NEVER unhealthy.

            (Unless you’re eating them. You aren’t, right?)

          2. Hey Karma, Over here.*

            Me too! I just signed up for the TNT Fireworks fan club because their welcome pack includes stickers.

        1. mrs__peel*

          I’m an attorney who’s been practicing for 10+ years, and I’m ashamed to say this would probably still work on me. I wish I got a sticker for (say) submitting a brief on time!

        2. Gloucesterina*

          This is brilliant. I teach college and wish someone would give me a sticker for every essay graded, every grade complaint deflected, etc. etc.

          1. JessaB*

            My friend’s sister got a bunch of those mini plush microbes and when she was teaching nursing and got into the complicated stuff she’d toss em to students who had really really great answers to complicated questions. I got to watch her teach, stickers are great but a plushie brain cell or rotavirus? That was motivating. She had extra at the end of the semester and I got a brain neuron and an amoeba from her.

            1. Emi.*

              Whoa, I would love to be in her class. Those suckers are expensive to be throwing around as prizes!

      7. Chinook*

        “But if I assign a coding exercise worth 2% of their grade and a “Java Beginner” badge, I get more like 99%.”

        Honestly, it makes sense from a psychological point of view. It is why so may computer games have a badge/trophy system. Small, intermittent rewards reinforce behavior in a way that can almost be addictive. That is also why, in video games, you receive level ups quickly in the beginning and then they get harder and harder to achieve – human nature wants to “collect them all.”

        A passing grade, on the other hand, is only considered “collected” at the end of the course, which means just one reward after a long period nothing, which isn’t as satisfying.

        This is also why N. American martial arts have a coloured belt system – the end goal is still a black belt but the intermittent rewards make us want to keep going.

      8. Jessesgirl72*

        Then what happens out in the real world, where a Manager gives them an assignment to complete, and the 20% who don’t bother to do it for a grade also don’t think a paycheck is a good enough reason, and don’t turn in their assignments because they don’t get a stupid participation badge?

        You are not doing them any favors or teaching them something they will need to do for an employer.

        1. Frozen Ginger*

          I think you’re making a pretty big assumption here. Do you think the students who didn’t do their assignments w change their ways if they failed because of it? No, they’d just go, “Okay I failed. Whatever.” And we should want them to learn and do assignments!

          Maybe some might find the transition from a gamified system to a straightforward one very difficult, but it got more people interested and engaged. And that’s a win.

          1. Jessesgirl72*

            If they fail, either they learn better, or they don’t get the degree and aren’t eligible for most of those kinds of jobs in the working world.

            I don’t want them to do assignments for the sake of doing assignments, and they can learn without running up tens of thousands of dollars in student debt. They need to do the assignments because it’s their responsibility if they are in school and taking classes. There aren’t fake participation trophies in the real world, and new college hires already have a hard time adjusting to the real working world versus academia because the differences and expectations aren’t explained to them. Instead of playing games, they should be told the truth and be given expectations they can live up to.

            1. Frozen Ginger*

              I think you’re blowing out of proportion how many graduates are going to be surprised that their job isn’t like academia and doesn’t have “participation trophies”.

              In regards to “assignments are your responsibility”, they’re really not. Your responsibility is getting good grades, and you don’t have to every single assignment to get it.

              Also, I think you assume young people look at participation trophies and think “This means I accomplished something!” Nope. As someone who grew up with participation trophies, my peers and I realized that they mean nothing. If everyone gets it, it doesn’t matter. In fact, some have identified that “participation trophies” have led to more self-doubting individuals. When they get real accolades, they can’t tell if they deserve it or if it’s just being to given to you.

              Lastly, gamification is not lying! Being rewarded with something like this is just something to keep you going. It encourages you to continue. Just like bonuses or raises or promotions. They’re intermediary steps to some larger goal.

            2. Optimistic Prime*

              This is a pretty narrow view on gamification and the learning process in general, but particularly in college. For one, college isn’t simply a vocational training ground for jobs. It’s far more than that, and the primary goal of most professors isn’t to help their students get a corporate job (although that is *a* overall goal).

              For two, though, our brain functions on rewards systems. Gamification and game-based learning are great ways for people to absorb material they otherwise wouldn’t…but assuming that students won’t understand they won’t get badges in the work world isn’t giving them enough credit. You can use gamification/badges in college classes and still make sure that students know that the same things won’t happen in the work world. I’m sure most students know they also won’t be turning in papers and getting report cards every semester in the work world, either, and yet we do those things.

              But let’s face it, that’s not the way that learning and assignments work in the work world, either. I don’t simply do my job because it’s my responsibility and I’m supposed to. I do it 1) because they pay me to do so, but also 2) because if I do well enough I expect other types of rewards – praise from my manager, a good performance review, recognition, awards, a promotion, better positioning for a good job later, etc. Rewards are built into the system, and good employers know that. Good jobs retain employees not simply through expecting them to complete responsibilities but recognizing and rewarding them for good work.

              1. Rana*

                For one, college isn’t simply a vocational training ground for jobs. It’s far more than that, and the primary goal of most professors isn’t to help their students get a corporate job

                Thank you!

        2. Big10Professor*

          I don’t use it for upper-division (junior and senior) students. Their grades are entirely exam-based and they sink or swim based on how much they choose to attend class, study, do the recommended problem sets, etc.

          For freshmen and sophomores, however, it’s appropriate to do things like give attendance points, homework points, etc., and badges are just one more way to help students learn behaviors that will set them up for success.

          1. Jadelyn*

            I think this is an important point – for students in their first or second year, you’re still helping them transition from a high school mentality to a college mentality. They’re used to a lot more hand-holding and/or restrictive rules around participation and attendance, and if gamification or attendance points or whatever else help ease the transition to a more self-motivated and responsible mindset, I fail to see the problem.

        3. Gloucesterina*

          I don’t think it should be the goal of the college professor or instructor to create an exact replica of the “real world” (and most attempts at replication will misfire and subsequently be taken apart if not savaged by the AAM commentariat).

          But I agree it is worth asking students to think about the question “what motivates you to work hard at something?” I enjoy asking this of my students and hearing what they come up with!

        4. SusanIvanova*

          It’s more like the 20% who don’t think the yearly bonus is a goal worth bothering about, but the weekly paycheck motivates them just fine.

      9. Wendy Darling*

        I worked at A Large Multinational Corporation You Have Heard Of. At one point in my career I was asking employees to volunteer for some research. It took like an hour and they were entered in a raffle and got a little achievement badge they could put in the company directory.

        They went *bonkers* over that little badge. I usually did the badge handouts on Monday but one Monday was a holiday so I wasn’t in the office to do it. I roll in at 9am on Tuesday and have a tidy pile of emails of people going WHERE IS MY BADGE YOU SAID I WOULD GET IT ON MONDAY IT’S AFTER MONDAY RAAAAAAAR and generally throwing a fit about how terrible this was. (They were all also on vacation Monday…)

        We ended up scrapping all the other incentives and just having people do it for the badge because the badge was what they all actually wanted anyway.

        1. Jesca*

          Looks like you ended up doing an experiment within an experiment. Though, I do like the little badges I get in my android games … So I am not much better!

      10. Kyrielle*

        I love achievements in both gaming and real-world contexts. They are highly motivational to me.

        Advising the students to _use them_ in any way except to motivate themselves or show off to their friends, however, is ridiculous.

        1. Video Gamer Lurker*

          As an MMO player, there are only certain achievements that players really would brag about. Like being part of a team that beat down a specific tough boss. Or collecting every little lore-related scrap of information available for collection (because those can be tough to collect).

          But not killing 10,000 rats.
          And using them in real life on a resume is more likely to get a laugh and lose a chance for an interview.

          1. Optimistic Prime*

            I’m a gamer and work at a video game company and would dispute that somewhat. It depends on the person. You’ve got systems like PlayStation’s trophies and Xbox Achievements, where players do different things for different scores. You might get 10 Gamerscore points for the achievement of “completing the first level of this game” but you might get 50 Gamerscore for “beating the really hard optional boss.” Some games make it really hard to get Achievements or trophies and some games make it a lot easier.

            There are entire communities focused around trying to up your gamer score, including ferreting out the inexpensive indie games where you can earn 1000 Gamerscore in 3 hours of gameplay or whatnot. I know lots of people who have insane Gamerscores or trophy counts because they spent a lot of time killing rats or playing games they wouldn’t otherwise play just for the number – because the number is motivating for them.

      11. a Gen X manager*

        This explains what we’re seeing in our (young) new hires!

        It reminds me of 3rd grade when we earned paper circles that made a caterpillar on the front of our desks. Every time you passed the “test” for multiplication tables and for each number 1 – 12 times 1 – 12 you earned another circle body segment. I was so proud when I earned my 12th and
        final body segment, but I was 7 years old. 7.

        I am so frustrated by the fact that this badge approach works; I don’t think I have it in me to manage in a way that is compatible with or similar to BS badges.

        1. OhNo*

          Actually, working it into your management approach is pretty easy. Just add sticker charts. (Obviously only for people who are motivated by such things – anyone who isn’t would probably find it infantilizing and/or irritating). I am definitely motivated by game-like situations, so whenever I have a big project coming up I make myself a sticker chart and give myself stickers for completing parts of the work.

          My coworkers and boss aren’t motivated by sticker charts at all, but they totally get that I am and have no problem joking/chatting with me about it (i.e.: “That sounds like a lot of work. You should give yourself a sticker.”). For really big projects, my coworkers sometimes makes me silly little hand-drawn stickers, too. In exchange, I draw them silly, colorful little motivational doodles when they’re working on something big or hard.

          Honestly, it’s not all that different from those “languages of appreciation”. It’s just another way that some people get motivated.

        2. Chris*

          As a gentle reminder, “young hires” aren’t the ones that created participation trophies, star charts, paper caterpillars, badges, or any of these other forms of incentives. From the sound of it, it doesn’t seem like your generation did either. You can’t blame people for responding to things their parents and teachers have always told them were fine and dandy.

          I think a better approach in the workplace is to avoid all of that, and simply give praise and reward with additional job responsibilities and ownership of their role. Praising an employee for their good work on a project and then allowing them to have a more active role in another project in the future is the adult version of a badge. The big difference? The employee gains additional work experience, is able to reduce their feelings of “impostor syndrome” in the workplace, and the company/org benefits from having a valuable mind on their team. This works at all levels of an org; even the smallest level of ownership in a set of tasks can make the biggest difference in how someone views their job and manager.

      12. Hrovitnir*

        Haha, well I would never, ever not submit something, and I’ve never submitted anything late (including in psychology where we were basically given a free pass for an extension) – but IMO a sense of collecting achievements from your lecturer is fun. Badges like described in the OP… I would resent with every fibre of my being.

    4. Callie*

      There is a great deal of eyerolling from the professors as well. I can’t think of any professor who thinks this is a great idea. I guarantee you this is coming from administration who think students are customers and want to keep them happy even when they aren’t really putting in the work…

    5. Mike C.*

      Hey folks, I just realized something. This sort of thing is already common practice in blue collar environments with regards to “Days since last accident” type notices. They also include a “Longest Time w/o Incident” counts as well.

    6. Winger*

      I’m not so sure. There are a LOT of 21-25 year olds out there with relatively minimal work experience who would be totally suckered by this, and by many other strategies college career offices tend to land on.

  2. Oh so anonymous on this one*

    The library system I work for wants to offer “badges” as well.

    I see no benefit at ALL to our job-seeking patrons who “earn” these…or to the library staff who have to administer the program…or to the employers to whom the job-seekers apply.

    The consultants who came up with the idea, however, are totally benefitting.

    1. fposte*

      Yeah, it’s a bit of a thing now in library discussions, and I’m not feeling it. I’m fine with badges as reinforcement for completion, as they are with kids, but that doesn’t mean they translate externally.

      1. Jadelyn*

        I think this is a key distinction that’s getting lost in some of the above comments – badges and stickers and gamification tokens can be useful in the internal context of within a classroom or similar setting, while simultaneously being totally useless and inappropriate in an external context of resumes and job searching. Just because one use of them is totally inane, doesn’t mean anyone who ever uses motivational tools like badges deserves to be vilified.

  3. Kalamet*

    I’ve seen this outside of schools. I’ve started receiving (unprompted) emails asking me to claim a badge for a certification I earned a year ago, so I can display it on my LinkedIn. Thing is, I can display the actual certification on LinkedIn, which makes the badge kind of pointless. It’s just another fad that’s valuing pizzazz over substance.

    1. My name is Inigo Montoya*

      I want to speak up for the digital badge for your certification if I can. While I understand your (completely valid) rationale for not wanting to post the badge on your LinkedIn, if you do there are “perks”, depending on how it’s set up. If you tie to the digital badge, it’s probably validated on the back end with your renewal dates, etc. Basically your prospective employer KNOWS the credential is real and validated, versus someone theoretically claiming they have credential.

      Coming from an industry where maintaining your credential is the difference between keeping your job and getting fired, I love the proactive validation aspect since it makes my life easier. It’s the authentication that matters here. The physical design of the “badge” is just a marketing, but I love the concept of verified credential validation.

      There’s a whole industry around this. Here’s one example:

      With that being said – these schools are seriously misapplying a really good idea.

      1. Jadelyn*

        I’m with you – I did set up my digitally-verified badge for my aPHR certification, because it provides an easily-verified way to see that yes, I did pass the exam, I do actually have it, I’m not just throwing initials on my profile for funsies. Theoretically any employer can go to HRCI’s website and run a search in their database for my name, but it’s a lot faster and easier to click on the digital badge and go straight to a page that says, yes, Jadelyn holds this credential.

        1. Mike C.*

          They should check it themselves however, for the same reason you don’t click links in emails. You can’t always tell where a random link is taking you (real site? real good but fake site?), but you always know where you’re going if you type in the address yourself.

    2. Cath in Canada*

      I just started getting emails about this from the Project Management Institute – they want me to create an account on some third party system to claim my PMP badge. It’s already possible for anyone who cares to verify that I really am certified (it’s on the PMI’s own website), so I don’t really see the point of putting a badge on my LinkedIn profile etc.

  4. Antilles*

    Based on what was shown in the piece you linked to, the badges are awarded for things like “resilience,” “creative problem solving,” “critical thinking,” “agent for change,” “collaboration,” and “oral communication skills.”
    Not only does having a badge not show these skills, I don’t even know what your university MEANS when they use these terms because they’re so vague they could describe essentially anything.

    1. Snarkus Aurelius*

      And these terms were probably determined by someone who has never held steady, regular employment in the workplace.

      I remember when my brother was a grad student and a TA. He called me on a Tuesday afternoon and was shocked to find me at work. “But weren’t you there yesterday?” “Yes! And I’ll be here tomorrow too!”

      1. siobhan*

        There’s no way actual academics are involved here. Either it’s someone working full time in the career services department or it’s a separate company the universities contract with.

        1. Optimistic Prime*

          You’d be surprised. I’ve seen systems like this designed by actual academics.

          1. siobhan*

            I work in higher ed so no, I wouldn’t be surprised by academics coming up with terribly misguided ideas about how to help students navigate life outside academia. I’d be shocked if academics conceived such an idea that then became a nationwide trend.

            Turns out there are a few VC-backed startups selling this idea, which explains a lot. There’s a financial stake in making people who work in higher ed think this is a fantastic idea for helping students make it in the world outside higher ed.

      2. Audiophile*

        Oh that’s hilarious! TA’s can have pretty flexible schedules from my understanding, one of my friends is a TA and he had two different jobs at two different colleges. One got cut do to budgeting and he picked up steady employment with a nonprofit. Even when you get to the professor level or associate/assistant level your schedule can vary greatly.

        For us office worker bees, our schedules tend to be pretty set. We have to be at work Mon-Fri.

        1. Rana*

          I have to say that this was the hardest thing about working in an office rather than academia. When I was a professor, I could spend all weekend and late into the night working in order to free up a weekday, and if I worked extra efficiently, my reward was free time.

          When I had an office temp job, my rewards for working efficiently were (a) getting sent home unpaid, (b) extra work (sort of good, at least not boring), or (c) a day of being bored stiff scrambling around trying to find something to do.

          And now I work for myself and my days alternate between crazy hours when a project is due and flexible time when I don’t have work.

          It turns out that I work a lot better under those conditions, but the trade off is insecurity.

      3. Optimistic Prime*

        Academia is a workplace, and employees of the career centers and such are typically holding 9-5 jobs. Even if you’re talking about professors, they hold steady, regular employment too. It’s just a different field.

    2. LizB*

      Seriously. At least a Girl Scout badge has specific criteria that need to be met in order to earn it.

    3. Mike C.*

      These things all sound like pop psychology buzzwords, which makes the whole thing worse.

    4. EddieSherbert*

      +1 this sounds like a very silly program. I hope the students aren’t taking it seriously (and using it on resumes).

    5. Duck Duck Møøse*

      It sounds like someone read some management books that declared these terms were the latest Very Important Buzzwords, and they needed to be implemented immediately, to prove they were on the cutting edge of management-think. Whether it makes sense or not. Whether they can define them or not.

      We’re seeing a lot of these buzzwords being thrown around, but the worst of them all is “innovation” It’s now part of our core values. There is a metric f-ton of emails going around proclaiming “Thou shalt innovate!” and more bemoaning that there hasn’t been a huge response to all the mechanisms they have put in place to facilitate innovation. (councils and boards and submission programs and other assorted folderol.)

      Seriously? You expect huge, great, brilliant ideas to come spilling forth, just because you now give us permission? This, after forever telling us not to suggest improvements, because we don’t understand the big picture. Basically, creativity has been beaten out of too many people for too long, but now by magic it’s supposed to reappear. This is like, when Edith tells him about going through the change of life, an exasperated Archie Bunker says “If you’re gonna have the change of life, you gotta do it right now. I’m gonna give you just 30 seconds. Now c’mon and change!”

      Yeah, we’ll get right on that. :p

  5. TeacherNerd*

    What are the general thoughts on badges that require students to take classes that promote skills relevant to their fields? Since I graduated with an undergraduate degree a decade ago, the university from which I earned this degree has started offering one series of badges for Business, Health, and Human Services, and another badge series for educators (Child and Adolescent Development; Coaching – think sports, not “life coaching”; Teaching and Serving Multilingual Populations, etc. ). These are generally a series of 2-3 graduate-level classes: They seem to me to be an alternative to certificates (especially in education, we love graduate-level certificates) without offering full-on certificate programs; in K-12, especially, our pay is linked to the amount of education we have (Masters + 30 credits, for example).

    1. Government Worker*

      What’s the value of calling it a “badge” instead of a concentration or specialization or track or course series or other language that grad programs have been using for a long time? Employers aren’t going to know what the badge means, so students are still going to need the bullet point on their resume under education about “4.0 average in 3-course series on coaching” anyway. My grad program didn’t have these but I talk on my resume about the types of courses I took, and it works fine (my degree is broad and it makes sense in my field to briefly indicate which part of it I studied – think MBA with most of my courses in finance vs marketing vs HR).

      There’s something about the word “badge” that just sounds juvenile to me in this context, as well as vague and unhelpful to employers.

      1. Sophia Brooks*

        In New York State, college cannot have “certificate programs” that do not meet the state criteria. One of those criteria is that they are something like 6 or 7 4-credit courses– I can’t remember the exact amount but definitely more than 3 because we had a “program” that we now have to call a “series” or risk losing our state accreditation as a University. For continuing education students this is sometimes a little more of a program than they need. We don’t call them badges at my school, we call them a “Course series with a certificate of completion”, although frankly, I think badge sounds better.

        1. TeacherNerd*

          Thanks for that, Sophia – that’s new info for me. (I moved across the country a few years after obtaining my degree so I’m out of the proverbial loop there.) It strikes me as odd that classes need to be four-credit classes, since I tend to only see those in lab sciences, although since I’m an English teacher, I’m sure there are other classes that may traditionally be four credit classes that I simply am not aware of. (Even in continuing education classes in the sorts of things I tend to rack up, most classes are three credits, with the very occasional 2-credit classes appearing.) Ahh, educational bureaucracy! :-)

          1. Sophia Brooks*

            You know, at my university we only offer 4 credit classes, so I may be assuming. It might be a number of classes or a number of credits, but I am sure that because of my experience 3 4-credit classes do not meet the criteria, and looking at our other certificate programs, the smallest one is 6 4-credit classes. Maybe 8 3-credit classes would be OK too?

    2. maggiegirl98*

      The problem with the badges is that they don’t have much meaning outside of the school itself and maybe the state/local board and are therefore a waste of time and money. It’s better to get a certificate or the Masters since those will remain meaningful across several different contexts. Imagine what might happen with those badges if the state board changes leadership or if you move. Certificates and especially degrees tend to mean something across time and space.

      1. TeacherNerd*

        I’d prefer the designation of “concentration” better myself, although getting another MA or certificate or whatnot is not always a possibility. At least in education, I can see the value of “additional coursework in X” if only because there aren’t always full-on degrees or certificates in a particular area in which one is interested. At least in Utah, we do have things called “endorsements” that are tied to our teaching licenses (other states call it something different but it’s effectively the same thing – the subject matter you’re qualified to teach), but the amount of coursework isn’t always enough to lead to a degree. (For my ESL endorsement, I took six additional graduate-level classes, for example.)

  6. BenAdminGeek*

    I imagine a fresh graduate applying for an Executive Director role at a non-profit based on their “agent for change” badge and it not going well…

    1. Snarkus Aurelius*

      Yet another reason why these universities are out of touch. That’s a claim everyone makes! Seriously, who is going to say, “No, I’m good with the status quo. No change needed.”

      1. Mike C.*

        To be honest, I see similar gamification stuff in the pop business book world as well. I can’t say where this originated, but I don’t think schools are alone here.

        1. BenAdminGeek*

          Yeah, it’s interesting. It feels like people took the (true) statement that gamification of training can help people learn drier subjects and ran with that for everything related to skills.

          At work we had a more gamified approach to some compliance training and it was pretty good. But I wouldn’t parlay that into a “Compliance Badge” and expect people to respect that. It was a means to an end, not an accomplishment in itself.

          1. Wendy Darling*

            I feel like the mistake they’re making is thinking anyone outside the school is going to care about the badges.

            Badges are a good way to motivate people to acquire the skill. But no one outside that venue is going to give half a crap about badges.

          2. Amber T*

            Hi, fellow compliance person here. Out of curiosity, can I ask what approaches you took? We’re trying to get our employees more involved and active (because legally they have to be, not just for funsies), and 80% of our employees are just. not. having. it. If we could make it fun/gamified, that could seriously help in the long run (especially with the younger crowd, who are some of our biggest offenders).

            1. BenAdminGeek*

              I worked for a 50,000 person company, so they bought a “gamified” training specifically tailored to our legal needs. It had something like a roadmap you traveled by answering questions correctly. So instead of 15 small videos that just ran in sequential order, it was more like video > questions > progress to next video.

        2. Labguy*

          Haha, when my apartment building got sold to a new owner a year ago they added “Gamification” to the website where you pay rent. You get points for writing a review, referring tenants, and probably a bunch of other nonsense. Its definately the weirdest application of the idea ive seen so far. I didnt know that tenants lack of engagement with their landlords was a problem that needed “disrupting”

      2. paul*

        I love games. The Fallout series (even 4), Settlers of Catan, COD, whatever. Games are great.


        To paraphrase Hank Hill, you’re not making work/school better, you’re making games worse.

        1. Sylvia*


          I love gamification (Habitica! My entire life is a game!), but even that’s something you do on your phone when nobody’s looking. It’s not something to evangelize about or to visibly enshrine in your academic and work life.

        2. Lady Jay*

          As an educator, I’m not a huge fan of gamification. This is totally because I am a killjoy and do not like fun.
          Of course not! Actually, I dislike gamification because it assumes the subject (math, science, English) is not fun and/or cool on its own and needs to be gussied up. But all these things are so COOL when you really get into them!! Instead of using extraneous activities to motivate students, why not rely on the intrinsic motivation of whatever subject?

          1. Kyrielle*

            For me? I use gamification to keep myself on track. Doing the dishes is not fun; heck, for me, gardening isn’t fun. (I know there are people who love the latter, not sure about the former.) But they need to be done, and I am better about getting right to it if I have a gamified system “rewarding” me for it.

            I’m glad you like those subjects. Some of them – or some parts of them – are not cool or fun for everyone though. Or not sufficiently so when compared to all the other things they could be doing.

          2. LNZ*

            As someone with clinical depression I use gamification not because something is dumb but because sometimes i legitimacy can’t make myself do something even if it is something i’m interested in. Yet for some reasons gamification circumvents that to a certain degree. To exhausted to brush my teeth but oh man i have a 21 day streak going and if i don’t brush my teeth i’ll lose that so i guess i have to go do it.
            I can’t explain why it works but it does.

            1. Lady Jay*

              Okay, that makes sense (and Kyrielle’s point above). And I admit, some games are fun. I’m not a total spoilsport:)

              But to speak more broadly, my goal as an educator is to take what’s fun & cool for me and make it at least a little bit cool *in itself* for my students, without having to dress it up. If I can’t do that, I’m not doing what I should be doing as a teacher.

              Obviously MMV, and I won’t win all students over. But that’s the goal.

          3. Space Teens are Forever*

            “Actually, I dislike gamification because it assumes the subject (math, science, English) is not fun and/or cool on its own and needs to be gussied up.”
            Clearly, you missed the Beaver Song.

          4. Optimistic Prime*

            I think it’s unrealistic to expect students to be excited or intrinsically motivated about everything, though. Even a good student who really loves English and math may find science distasteful or something. It’s also true that some students simply aren’t into school and learning in the traditional way. My brother was like that – smart kid, didn’t really like school much, so did the bare minimum to get by. Some gamification in his classroom would’ve blown his mind.

            However, I think it’s also a testament to how gamification is done in the classroom…when done well, gamification and game-based learning shouldn’t be extraneous activities. They should be integrated into the course/subject matter. I work with teachers who do this and they do some really awesome stuff in their classrooms with their kids.

            1. Lady Jay*

              But this is the whole point! I *don’t* expect my students to be excited about every subject; it’s my job to *make* it exciting, at least a little. I do believe that every subject has the potential to be intrinsically exciting.

        3. Optimistic Prime*

          I love games…and I disagree. I think it depends on how it’s done. I’m probably biased because some of my work overlaps with game-based learning, but I have seen teachers do some really awesome things with games and gamification in their classrooms that have gotten their students super engaged and excited about learning.

      3. Kyrielle*

        Meeeee. Well, no. But, “I’m fine with change and very adaptable, but please don’t ask me to be a change driver; that’s not my skillset.” I am not an agent for change, but I’m fine with change happening. As a driver of it, no, that’s not my forte.

        (That said, as a badge it still strikes me as ridiculous; what was being changed and why to earn it?)

        1. Jesca*

          I have held numerous roles as a “change agent”, but I describe my success in those roles based on the outcomes of the projects. I don’t need a badge. A badge is embarrassing.

    2. Jaded and Cynical*

      I’d see such a badge as a reason to get that person out the door and away from my business ASAP.

  7. Snarkus Aurelius*

    You’ll continue to see more of this useless nonsense because higher ed is under severe scrutiny over the rising cost of tuition and minimally skilled graduates who flounder in the workplace. Combine that with the fact employers don’t want to train anyone anymore, which one of the interview subjects admits to, and here we are. (The irony is that if employers would do more training with entry-level jobs, it’d take longer, but they’d get what they wanted eventually.)

    Make no mistake. These digital badges are broad and vague on purpose. They sound pretty nice and professional so you’re a big meanie if you criticize them (you don’t like critical thinking?), but ultimately these labels don’t translate to anything specific or substantive in the workplace. These badges are on par LinkedIn traits anyone can say you have.

    College tuition has risen 200% since the mid-90s without offering any proportionate value. (None exists but that’s a whole other mess.) But higher education institutions are trying to say otherwise so that’s why you end up seeing completely out of touch ideas and suggestions. These efforts are purely cosmetic, and nothing more.

    This is what happens when education acts like a business looking to make profit instead of providing a resource.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I agree with all of this, except with the statement that they sound “nice and professional.” They might sound nice and professional to the people who came up with this idea (who probably have never done much hiring), but they really don’t sound professional to the people these students want to work for … so once again, college career staff (or whoever is responsible for this) is doing another disservice to their students.

      1. Jesca*

        “but they really don’t sound professional to the people these students want to work for”. Agreed 100%. I think what is even a broader drawback to this is that it is seeming to overshadow the much more important aspects of resumes. It is one thing to say “change agent”, but the whole point of the resume and the cover letter is to show your success in that role. I can make my own badges and list them as skills on my resume, but if I don’t back them up with my success, then it is meaningless.

      2. siobhan*

        I only briefly looked, but it looks like these badge programs are mostly run by startups, at least some of which are backed by venture capital. This is almost certainly being sold very hard to university administrators as a way to bridge the gap between what a degree shows and what employers need to see. It’s a real problem with no easy solution, so for well-intentioned administrators who may not be very savvy about hiring norms outside higher ed, this probably sounds like a fantastic, “innovative” idea.

        It looks like some companies use them as an internal gamification program, which I think is great for some companies/industries. My guess is that the long game corporate strategy is probably to integrate the education badges and the career badges to have a sort of whole-life badge system baked in to how people do hiring (“disrupt hiring!”). Graduates who are being encouraged to proactively talk to prospective employers about their badges – not talk about what they did to earn the badges, but to specifically say they earned badges, to normalize the idea of badges in the minds of hiring managers – are basically sacrificial lambs whose early employment prospects will suffer for a concept that may never take hold. Investors may not care, but universities sure as hell should.

      3. Jaune Desprez*

        Yes, if I saw a “change agent” badge on a resume, I’d probably roll my eyes and think, “Oh, isn’t that sweet.” It wouldn’t necessarily prevent me from selecting them for an interview (although it might dislodge them from the top pile if I had lots of other good-looking applications), but I’d definitely be on the lookout for other signs of naïveté.

        1. LCL*

          Given that the group I work for requires highly specific technical skills, billing yourself as a change agent would count against you.

        2. BananaPants*

          Yeah, there’s no 22 year old new college grad who can legitimately call themselves a “change agent”. Seeing that crud on a resume will send it straight into the ol’ circular file…

        3. Be the Change*

          If I saw a “change agent” badge I’d RUN from that person. I want an entry level someone who will do what I tell them to do, *first* suggesting reasonable alterations but then if I say no, who will do it my way.

      4. Abra McAndrew*

        Hi Ask a Manager. I oversee a university career services department participating in the experimental badging challenge mentioned. We designed our badge with employer participation, and one of the three criteria to earn it is to be able to effectively respond to real interview questions related to the skill (“Tell me about a time when…”), as judged by participating employers. The others are to attend a day of simulation in key components of the skill and in which they identified examples from their “real actual life” in which they exhibited the skill effectively and the third was to make a short video in which they site three real examples of their skill and identify a goal they have to gain more experience practicing that skill. About half of the students who participated in the program decided to complete all three components to earn the badge. Those who stopped out before completing the video, which was not deemed valuable by those students, still found the program valuable in helping them understand what a good example of their skill would be, how to concisely frame their examples in an interview scenario and highlight their skill in resume bullets in ways appropriate to the job description. Does this change your perspective on the potential value of these programs at all? How do you know you’re hiring the students with the best skills vs. those with the most practice and coaching in framing their examples of skills everyone knows they should have? We are definitely incorporating student and employer feedback into the program as we look to scale it so that students will be more prepared to cite those real examples– of a skill that employers tell us is important– effectively.

    2. Iris Eyes*

      As much as I enjoyed my college time and value the exposure to deeper thinking and researching, I’m not sure it was worth what they were charging.

      1. Sunshine on a cloudy day*

        The only thing college taught me was how to figure out what someone else wants to hear and then to spit it right back at them. Granted, the “figuring out what someone else wants to hear” part was a valuable skill to hone… However, it (alone) does not translate to success in the working world.

      2. Jadelyn*

        I just finished my degree in HRM and I am 100% of the opinion that I have learned far more from actually working in HR for 3 years, than I did from a B.S. in the subject. But in order to advance to where I want to be, I’m going to need the piece of paper, so I jumped through the hoops and got it.

    3. Nan*

      I agree. I went to college from 1996-1998, but quit. I went back summer of 2015 and earned my BA Dec 2017, and am currently pursing my Masters. School was waaaay harder 20 years ago. I’m not the world’s best writer, but I consistently get As. I graduated highest honors with truly little or no effort, except Accounting, which was a bear. Barely cracked a text book.

      And yes, the degree is in the field I’m in, and as an adult I probably have a better sense of balance, timing, etc, but it truly was easy. Like ridiculously so. Both my BA and Masters are at highly rated schools. So far, I’d say the Masters is even easier, but I’m only 1 1/2 classes in. And much more expensive that 20 years ago.

      1. Mike C.*

        But does difficulty directly correlate with academic rigor or transferable results in the workplace? I ask this, because the undergrad institution I attended was so known for being insanely (and to be honest artificially) difficult that parents were instructed to be on the lookout for signs of suicidal thoughts and my friend found his law degree from Stanford was only “half as difficult” as his physics major. This isn’t to brag, but many of those professors in the “harder” majors were mainly stuck in their old ways of doing things, which included a belief that “stress was good for me, so it’s going to be good for all of my students”.

        Now, I certainly don’t doubt there are places where things have been made too easy and important skills are being skipped. At the same time, I would hope that in the intervening 20 years that pedagogy has become more effective and that has lead to either greater amounts of gain for students, or similar gains for students with less effort.

      2. Optimistic Prime*

        Do you think that much (or even most) of that could simply be attributed to your experience in the work world and additional maturity, though? I think it would be difficult to compare a curriculum from the late 1990s to the college curriculum today on pure difficulty level.

  8. Hey Karma, Over here.*

    Students need to push back on this absolute bull sh*t. Is it some sort of bribe to make students participate in classes and do the extra, not-on-the final readings? Because students know this already. I guess giving each student a cookie was too problematic because of allergies and food issues. And of course, plastic participant trophies are not environmentally sound. So now you get a virtual cookie for participating in THEIR OWN LIVES. And the poor kids who think these badges are of any value at all…I cringe at the vision of their interviews.

    1. Courtney W*

      As a college student, I generally see no point in pushing back on this sort of thing. Generally I have to the extra stuff if I want the best grade/to learn the most I can, so I do, and then I never, ever bother putting anything like this on my resume. I know it doesn’t really matter to hiring managers, but colleges are not going to stop because of student pushback. They always have some new thing like this.

      And I’m just not getting the comparison you’re trying to make here to allergies and participation trophies. Other than general millennial snark, what’s the relation? I don’t buy that this is necessary to get students to put in more effort. The kind of students places will be eager to hire don’t need the incentives to do the extra work, they just have their college wrongly pushing them to put it on their resume.

      1. Hey Karma, Over here.*

        That’s exactly what I was trying to say about college students today. It is completely unnecessary and completely insulting. They know they have to put in the work. They don’t need the school offering them ridiculous “prizes.”
        My snark was meant to criticize the people who sat in a room and thought, “We need to come up with a way to make students want to learn. We can’t do cookies because of allergies. Those trophies won’t work. I know! Kids today love anything digital!”
        Stop treating college students like children.

        1. Courtney W*

          Thank you for clarifying! I somehow initially read it as if we were on different sides of this issue, but now see that we’re not at all – my mistake!

      2. Lady Jay*

        As a college teacher, I don’t see the point in students pushing back. If the goal of the badges is motivation, it’s my job as the teacher to motivate you; if I can’t do that using intrinsic motivation within the course (e.g. the course’s value for your continued academic career or your growth as a person, or the general *coolness* of the topic), that’s on me as an educator.

        In general, I think the best response to something like badges is to just ignore them. A few people will be ridiculous and try to hand them out, but good teachers/administrators will not bother with them, and will encourage you to accomplish things that will lead to a genuinely good resume.

        1. Hey Karma, Over here.*

          I see what you’re saying about not pushing back. I’m thinking too that the whole thing will go away after awhile due to lack of interest and participation. Definitely not a hill worth dying on.

  9. Jaded and Cynical*

    If I had a candidate tout such a thing to me, that candidate would receive a very bewildered look. I disagree with your assessment of their value as being zero. I’d see anyone who had the unmitigated gall to even mention such a thing on an interview as a “bad fit” and go on to the next candidate

    1. Snarkus Aurelius*

      I’ve never encountered the badge thing, but I’ve had plenty of recent college grads spout that change agent/visionary nonsense. When I hear this stuff in interviews, I smile politely and ask, “So what’s your long-term plan for change at [large government agency]? Do you have a copy of a strategic plan I can look at? I’d like to hear your ideas for change.” They look bewildered and give a vague answer that involves Googling something.

      1. Artemesia*

        A huge number of 20 year old college students have career goals like ‘business consultant.’ I always say ‘oh, what kind of experience are you drawing on to advise businesses? What changes do you think American businesses need to make?’ Slightly more depressing are the number of students whose goal is to be a lobbyist. And I weep openly when the goal is ‘motivational speaker.’

        On the other hand my son, daughter and son in law all do jobs that didn’t exist when I was young and that are pretty much a mystery to me. My DIL is an artist and come to think of it, I don’t actually understand modern artistic expression either.

        1. Mike C.*

          You have to give those students credit for understanding early where the easy money is made. :p

          1. Artemesia*

            NO kidding. It always astonishes me how much money is sloshed over ridiculous consultants when ordinary workers in an institution are paid so poorly. And the big consulting firms mostly just slightly adapt a bunch of boilerplate hogwash when they do their big custom consulting projects. I once had the pleasure of reading a very expensive ‘consultant report’ commissioned by a Dean of a college school of education where one of the recommendations was to basically eliminate the functions that provided service to students. The consultant was a business consultant felt the Dean of Students and similar personnel were superfluous. This was his brilliant suggestion for saving money.

            1. Jadelyn*

              My org has been going through a rough systems transition to a new HRIS over the last couple years, and at one point we hired some fancy-ass consultant for a stupid amount of money. At one point, we had a major crisis. His roadmap and plan to fix it quoted like…80 work-hours and a total cost of like $10,000. My VP and I (the parent company’s VPs were the ones who hired the consultant, not my team or my VP) looked at that, rolled our eyes at each other, and proceeded to fix the crisis ourselves – I would estimate that between us, we maybe spent about 60 work-hours, and it cost only a tiny bit of extra money since I’m hourly and had to do a bit of OT given the super-short turnaround on the fix. I jokingly asked the VP if that meant I could get that $10k as a bonus, since they were willing to spend it on the consultant and I’m so grossly underpaid. Sadly, no dice.

        2. Emi.*

          You have no idea how many people told me I should “become a consultant” when I was in college (or highschool, making college plans). I think people think of it as the ultimate generic job.

          1. mrs__peel*

            I actually do have a couple of cousins who became “consultants” at the same large company immediately out of college, which was kind of surprising to me because… what do you really know, at that age??

            1. Artemesia*

              What they do is plug data from the organization being studied into canned programs that spit out boilerplate recommendations that are slightly customized.

              1. Contrarian*

                Out of curiosity, have you actually ever *worked* at a leading consultancy like McKinsey? Have you been part of a management team that has engaged such a consultancy? If not, perhaps you might consider whether your stereotypes are hasty.

        3. paul*

          See, I hear lobbyist and business consultant as someone’s ideal jobs and I just wonder if they’ve already sold their soul or if they’re still negotiating terms.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            Lots of lobbyists lobby for changes in the law that you might support. (I don’t know what side of the issues you’re on, but for example for me personally, I’m thrilled that there are lobbyists lobbying for better environmental regulations, reproductive rights, changes to drug laws, immigrant protections, etc. Lobbyists don’t just represent huge business interests.)

            1. paul*

              It’s the way lobbying works in practice in the US that’s distasteful. I play the game myself–I’m a member of 2 lobbying groups for personal reasons, and my family’s got ties into others professionally. It’s the way that meaningful access seems so closely tied to dollars or large voting blocs rather than the quality of their data or ideas that just sucks my soul dry. We can’t just show that “hey, this law is based on bad data, you should oppose it or at least not support it” or “Hey, clean drinking water is good, plz protect rivers”–we have to use carrot and stick measures to influence people that are supposed to represent the public.

              That doesn’t even get into how…hmm…zealous/myopic lobbying groups can be themselves, which I get is a risk you run with that type of profession. I don’t want to go in particular examples at the risk of getting too directly political but I’ve seen a lot of knee jerk opposition to any changes that limit or redefine a law that’s been problematic in real world implementation.

              1. Ask a Manager* Post author

                Oh, yeah, I don’t disagree with that at all. I just don’t think lobbyists are inherently selling their soul. Lots of them are doing good and important work within a system that sucks (but they didn’t create that system, and Congress bears way more of the blame for it).

          2. Artemesia*

            I have the same reaction. Of course becoming a lobbyist can be a sort of natural extension of a career — say one was a social worker and ultimately went to work to try to improve the quality of social legislation. But it has been my experience that those who see this as an ideal job at 21 are more likely to be in the pre-sold soul business just as the consultants are in the money for not working hard business..

        4. Sylvia*

          Oh gosh. I know someone who became a very successful consultant straight out of college. I’m worried and confused the whole phenomenon. But on the other hand, she’s happy and everyone she works with is happy, so it must be going right somehow.

          1. Sunshine on a cloudy day*

            YES!!! I’ve heard of few people being offered consultant roles straight after graduating with a Bachelors – I can’t for the life of me figure out who would pay that recent of a college grad to consult on anything… Like what knowledge do they have to pass on that an experienced worker does not have?

            That said, I’m not terribly familiar with the “consulting” world, so maybe I just don’t get how it actually works.

            1. Ask a Manager* Post author

              Junior consultants like that aren’t typically offering advice. They’re working on a team of junior consultants who carry out the bidding of a more senior consultant, and are usually doing data crunching and such.

                1. AthenaC*

                  Exactly – the one time I worked on a consulting project (out of my element, but I survived), I was the lead who knew what was going on, and I had junior team members (could have been fresh college graduates) who could follow instructions, take notes, go here and there and ask a list of people a list of questions, and bring the info back to the team. Then I (the experienced one) actually did the talking / consulting.

              1. Emi.*

                This explains the math –> consulting path so many people saw for me. At the time, all I could think of was the consultants in Office Space.

            2. Jesca*

              LOL! I have seen this as well! I met someone who was doing this. But what it ended up being was a trap! Suddenly they found themselves in this cycle of short term busy work for major organizations working within the cogs of a broader team.

              You will also see these short term jobs (not labeled consulting) for the pharm and med device industry. They will have all these requirements you need to hold this temporary position OR have a master degree in any old thing. The jobs just again end up being a small cog in a massive of a major project the company is currently working. The jobs are very rote with little to no actual personnel management (think reviewing the same paperwork every day and asking your reports to correct it). I am not saying that all these types of jobs are like this, but I am saying I have seen enough.

              1. Jesca*

                And just add at it becomes terrible for many people. They never gain any actual meaningful experience and never have the opportunity to work their way out. Just 3 months here, a year there. Its a growing disturbing trend that many ignorant to how to apply and get jobs fall in to.

        5. Optimistic Prime*

          Same thing with “entrepreneurship.” I talk to so many college students who say they want to be entrepreneurs or run their own businesses, but when I ask them, they have no idea what kind of business much less have a concrete idea. The idea of being an entrepreneur just sounds sexy to them.

          Although as far as the consultant one goes – that’s less their fault than the market’s. There are lots of companies that hire elite university graduates straight from college and pay them a lot of money to be consultants.

  10. Jesca*

    This is embarrassing.
    But knowing a lot of people who work in academia and having managed many interns, I realize that a lot of those professors and other members of staff in academia really do not have a lot of experience in the private sector world. They have mostly worked in academia and really do not have a lot of first hand experience knowing what private sector employers are looking for or what skills employers want or even how employers evaluate said skills. I lightly joke with some of my academia friends about this and some have even advocated bringing in professionals who are familiar with the industries their students are entering just for this alone.

    1. Jaded and Cynical*

      I would just like to know in what universe it was that this sounded like a good idea

    2. Nan*

      I will say that the school I recently earned my BA at and the one I am currently attending for my Masters both use real, working people. My classes were taught by CEO’s, Finance Directors, CFOs, Nurse Quality Managers, Investment Bankers, etc. While C-suites aren’t always in touch with the Average Joe, they had a good idea of what a quality employee looks like and what real world issues are. They haven’t been stuffed up in a library since the beginning of time.

      1. mrs__peel*

        Some of my best law school professors were adjuncts who had their own practices or worked at law firms during the day, and just taught one or two classes for fun. They really did give us the benefit of their practical experience, and they were truly enthusiastic about the subject matter.

        My grandfather had a day job as an electrical engineer, and taught night school classes because he enjoyed it so much. I’ve heard that he was a very well-regarded instructor.

        1. Delta Delta*

          As a law school adjunct professor, I say – Yay! I’m glad you liked your adjuncts! I do it because I enjoy it and I feel like the students get a lot out of it. It’s a lot of work for not a whole lot of money, so the institution likes it too.

    3. paul*

      the best thing about junior colleges is that they seem a lot more likely to have part time professors that actually hold down professional jobs and teach as a side gig. The administrators are still full time in the academic world but I see less of this sort of…weirdness…at the juco my wife’s going to for continuing ed now than we did at the 4 year we both attended.

      1. Jesca*

        I totally agree. I have taken community college courses ( I even have an associates in Humanities since I had taken so many credit there that I could graduate with a degree that interested me), and almost all of the professors held actual private sector jobs and had plenty of contacts who did as well. It was much more interesting to listen to them lecture as they could offer practical applications and show examples of real world work in their fields. My sociology prof even worked for major corporations that ran marketing departments. They would do studies on which colors appealed the most for different types of products! It really was a great and interesting experience. Not to mention that the diversity at this college was massive as opposed to the 4 year college I attended.

        Colleges really need to embrace what community colleges are already getting. Students want the real world in the classroom. They want facts and not opinions. AND they look at attending school as an investment in themselves to become successful.

        1. Salamander*

          Yes, this. I’ve attended community college and two state universities for undergraduate and graduate work. I honestly can say I learned the most practical skills at community college. My instructors, as you say, dealt with real-world examples and experiences. In the universities I attended, I listened more to my instructors’ and advisors’ research interests and pet publication projects.

          I look back on that time in community college very fondly.

          1. Jesca*

            This so much! I had taken one astronomy class at community college. our professor literally lived in the middle of Montana at an observatory and acted as a park ranger. We learned so much from this man and he was truly amazing in using real world applications to describe pretty abstract concepts. Then I took another astronomy class and all he cared about were his grad students’ projects at a different university and his activities in the astronomy association he was president of. He was mean and condescending and really most people failed his intro course. He had no idea how to convey thoughts without condescension mostly because his interest in academia was to further his OWN personal agenda. He only taught as it was something he *had* to do and not as something he was interested in. I had a lot of professors really loose sight of the goal in this manner.

            Everything at the community college was geared to moving on after you graduated whereas a lot of what went on in academic departments at the major universities was to further their own pet projects. As a side note, look up how much some heads of departments make a year from lobbyist to conduct certain studies. It is eye opening.

    4. Artemesia*

      This is why any decent internship program has close meaningful partnerships with the institutions and businesses they place students in so that they do know what is needed and how to place and advice students. Internships that do not work hand in hand with the sites AND also integrate the experience into the academic program are often ineffective. Internship that work for students are those that have them doing meaningful work and that takes planning and partnership with the University to pull off well.

    5. mrs__peel*

      This is a good argument for the value of adjunct professors, in the traditional sense of the term (i.e., the kind who work in their field full-time and teach a few courses on the side, not the exploited kind who are basically teaching full-time but are paid next to nothing).

      Having more folks on board with real-world work experience could avoid a lot of this embarrassment.

  11. hbc*

    So instead of being able to cite a grade in a class which was entirely about putting together a big oral presentation or describing how I came back from a complete inability to make an experiment work, I get to rely on a hiring manager looking at a couple of pixels and trusting that the college’s judgment of “Oral Communication Skills” and “Resilience” are meaningful to their job?

    Yeah, that sounds much better.

  12. Anonyforthis*

    Related to the video–did anyone else notice that they did like a 20 second shot of girls in short skirts/shorts for no reason? Starting at 45:55. I mean come on guys. This is about a career initiative at a university. How absurd.

    Maybe I’m reading too much into this since I just took a gender dynamics class.

    1. Amber Rose*

      Every time. I don’t think you’re reading into it. It’s literally in every school related video ever. “We have hot girls in short skirts, and life is a sitcom where people only look for the university with the hottest girls, right?”

      1. Beancounter Eric*

        Or a football program.

        My old school added football a few years ago – supposed to improve “branding”.

        This is one alum who has responded to fundraising calls with “if the school can afford football, they don’t need mine.”

      2. Lady Jay*

        Or you’ll have schools that use the same non-white person in their marketing materials for years on end, long after that person has left the school.

        1. Anon for this*

          Oh yeah.

          My old department was always trying to quash this one photo that our marketing department wanted to use constantly. We didn’t want it used because (a) the student in the photo was long since graduated and gone, (b) the photographer had posed her next to somebody else’s work, (c) the work was bad and made us look incompetent, and (d) the rest of the photo showed how run-down and antiquated the classroom was!

          But the photo kept popping up, and it’s a combination of those two factors: the student was drop dead gorgeous, and of visually ambiguous ethnic background in the way The Rock described it on SNL.

  13. Amber Rose*

    Somewhat related serious question though, how relevant are the masses of one or two day training certificates I’ve earned on the job from an external training association? I feel somewhat silly listing most of them (there are six), but one of them at least is a leadership course for managers.

    Can I list the one that says I successfully completed myself? Because that’s my favorite one.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      If it just took a couple of days, it’s usually not super compelling to a hiring manager. There are some exceptions to this, though, so it’s not a hard and fast rule. It depends on the specifics. But one-day leadership trainings usually aren’t going to be particularly impressive on a resume.

    2. Intern question*

      Yeah, maybe not one-day leadership things, but my fiance works in the environmental field and he’s done some one- or two-day trainings for things like “Pesticide Application License” and “Controlled Burn Training” that he definitely keeps on his resume, so I think it’s industry-specific. I’d think more concrete licenses with practical applications would be a good thing to have on your resume, if you have those!

      1. Amber Rose*

        I have one. All those other little ones were pre-reqs for the certification course, which was only 2 days itself but required me to pass a provincial exam, and gave me a license to do audits of companies in my network.

        I just wasn’t sure where all those little lead-up courses stand in terms of relevance. The leadership course was about 70% learning how to look up and interpret government legislation and 30% “what to do if everything explodes”, so the name of it is slightly misleading. I can flip through the Regulation, Code and Act like a pro but I learned nothing about managing. =P

  14. Artemesia*

    There is a ton of research that show that employers do in fact want candidates with these kinds of soft skills; the biggest complaint employers have about new grads is not that they lack basic technical skills but that they can’t write, don’t collaborate well, don’t take initiative etc etc. But the badges are just silly. Universities should focus on developing these skills in their students rather than just test taking and paper writing but then they need to think about how their grads can demonstrate them to employers. In a program I developed which had a much better placement rate than other programs in the same university, one way we did this was with an intensive full time internship with accompanying academic seminars. Every student had some sort of real world accomplishment that they could talk about in interviews or in many cases show competence with on their resume. Quite a few of them did things with measurable results or that were used by the organization and the internship was structured so that this occurred. We also had a lot of simulated and real world projects in classes (e.g. in an Organizational Theory class, they would have done a profile of an actual organization; in an HRD elective, they would have developed and delivered a training session; in a program evaluation class, they would have as a team developed an evaluation for a program in an actual organization; in a survey research class, they would have designed a research instrument and protocol for an organization. The result was that they could talk about things they had done when asked what they could do. The badges just seem twinky although a certification for an actual hard skill might be different.

    1. Minnesota*

      As a hiring manager at a fortune 100 company I completely agree that soft skills like collaboration, taking initiative, resiliency when faced with uncertainty, etc. are very important. But I disagree with your characterization of writing as a soft skill. Writing is a basic technical skill that I evaluate in every candidate I see, first by reviewing their cover letter and resume, then by looking at the writing sample that I always request, and finally through assessment of every written communication that I receive from them during the hiring process.

      1. Artemesia*

        I agree, it doesn’t belong in the soft skill category. It an be improved through education but ultimately in my experience those who are good with language are those who have read a lot and have good instinct for expressing themselves. Developing the skills to write professional reports, press releases, speeches etc can be developed if you start with pretty good language facility.

  15. Green Tea Lover*

    Gamification seems to be a buzzword these days and I had professors in grad school saying that we should get them and put them on LinkedIn… that being said, I really don’t see how HR would believe I have these skills because I have these badges.

    If I earned the badge because I worked on this project/internship/job, I would rather list the project/internship/job.
    If I earned the badge because I finished this training, I would rather list the training.
    If I earned the badge because someone is giving me kudos, I would rather have them write my LinkedIn recommendation or be my reference at job search.

    Just, no badges please.

  16. Mike C.*

    I see a good deal of well deserved criticism of academia here, but I think it’s a mistake to believe that they are the source or only contributor of these dumb, pop psychology ideas. The sorts of materials that chase the latest fads (here, the formal term is “gamification”) can be found on the NYT best seller lists, bad TED talks, and from nearly every self-described business author/guru/motivational speaker.

    These terrible ideas are everywhere, and it’s hard for me see if the schools are the source or if they’re simply following larger trends. Nothing wrong with pointing out how stupid this is, but I would point to more systemic and cultural issues within the business community as a root cause.

    1. Jesca*

      See the thing is, schools should know better. but they don’t. They can’t. As for those other ones, yes I agree they do exist. Forbes has a lot of bad career advice as well. What I also do, before taking any advice is consider the source. I can do that as a knowledgeable adult. Many of these authors are not very successful in large swaths of their lives. They learned how to make a quick buck and move on. But for colleges to stoop to that rhetoric is just terrible. Our colleges need overhauled majorly. And I am 100% a proponent of jobs needing to train as I don’t feel this is the college’s duty. But what is their duty is to teach and not treat college students like continuing adolescents. That jump into the working world will always be sharp, and we don’t need to make it any harder for students graduated with crippling debt.

      1. Mike C.*

        Holy crap, Forbes is a cesspit.

        I think your point about holding schools to a higher standard is well made.

        1. Jesca*

          e thing with Forbes is that they do have decent articles regarding other topics particularly if you are business minded, but they have certainly gone the way of shock drama with career advice. Even when it is good, it is easily mockable.

  17. AthenaC*

    Similar to Big10Professor, I could see this sort of thing being a net positive, as long as:
    1) It doesn’t land anywhere near a resume
    2) It’s designed to become part of the school’s culture in order to channel students’ competitive drives positively
    3) The skills / badges are designed such that they actually develop good and useful skills (I can’t think of any examples right, now (which, incidentally, is why I’m a CPA and not an educator))

    1. Optimistic Prime*

      Yeah, this is the way I see them. If they’re an internal program at the university to motivate students and define specific skill sets, then that could be useful, but they don’t belong on a student’s resume.

  18. Wakeen's Duck Club*

    There needs to be better communication between employers and colleges/universities when it comes to preparing students for skills that they actually *need*.

    Here at Wakeen’s Duck Club, you score points by having the skills themselves – not the badges.

        1. Artemesia*

          No kidding and yet in a world where jobs are ephemeral and disappearing as fast as we prepare people for them, the need for the characteristics associated with being well educated are more important. Besides when we are all living in caves a generation from now, having something interesting to think about will be useful.

      1. Emi.*

        I tend to agree, but this is part of the job-training subset of college education, so it’s gotta meet those standards.

  19. Leatherwings*

    This reminds me of the “badges” that uber and lyft give to drivers that are similarly useless but seem to work to keep drivers on the road without any actual incentives like bonuses. So yipee hooray, you get the “100 5 star trips” badge that I can share on social media and and use as a “referral link” (???). Thanks for nothing.

    Ugh, what a terrible trend and I hope students see this post and refrain from using these in job searches or grad school applications.

    1. JamieS*

      Uber needs to scrap those badges and start focusing on adding a personality preference option. That’s an option where users and drivers can list their preferences on certain things (I making small talk soon vs sitting in silence) and choose drivers/passengers based on them.

  20. Lady Jay*

    I do some work in the field of online education, and I recently sat in an LMS (learning management software system; think Blackboard) presentation where one of the big selling points was that the school could award students badges.

    I recall thinking how utterly cheesy & pointless the badges were. The problem is, they’re entirely internal; they have no meaning outside the institution. Who knows what the badge descriptor (e.g. “agent of change”) actually means, or how hard it actually is to earn one?

    I really don’t understand why companies/schools focus on these kind of things. I want an LMS that will allow me to grade students’ work easily, communicate with students, provide feedback on their work; the badges is just frill and foppery.

    1. Lady Jay*

      I should clarify, this was a sales presentation for the LMS; a company that produced one of these platforms was trying to sell it, in part based on these badges.

  21. HoldUp*

    I disagree. Micro-credentials and digital badges are a much more progressive way to thinking about education and learning. Instead of just sitting through a class and passing a test to obtain the badge, most of them are competency-based, meaning you’re having to display the skill in order to obtain the badge. Badges also show that students are doing more and wanting more for themselves; that learning didn’t stop at graduation, but they’re finding new and innovative ways to learn and challenge themselves to become more valuable.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      But at best they’re meaningless to employers, and at worst they’re harmful to the student’s job search by making them look clueless about the working world. Go ahead and use them in education if they work. Just don’t promote them as something for a job search.

      1. Anon Anon*

        Right now they may be meaningless for employers, but I don’t know that they will stay that way. I know many professional organization’s offer these sorts of micro credentials and are heavily pushing them. To the point where I know some industry’s now expect to see these sorts of digital badges on Linkedin profiles, etc.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          These particular badges are highly likely to stay meaningless — things like “critical thinking” and “resilence” are subjective and not the kind of thing employers are looking for outside certification in. It just doesn’t have credibility. They want to see accomplishments using those things.

          1. Anon Anon*

            I would agree that vague and non-measurable micro-credentials are not valuable. But, many of them can and should be specific and measurable. We already have some micro-credentialing out there that has been around for decades. CPR training is a prime example of a micro-credential that has been around for decades. Every hospital in the country requires their clinical staff to have completed the 2-4 CPR training.

        2. Lady Jay*

          In order to actually have meaning for employers, they need to be standardized. Currently the badges are entirely subjective, with the meaning/difficulty determined by the institution. No way that’s going to hold weight with anybody outside that institution.

          1. Contrarian*

            Yep, I agree they should be standardized. But programs evolve. You can’t standardize something that *doesn’t exist.* I’d hope that eventually a standards-setting body would emerge from these badges. It doesn’t follow that they’re a bad idea.

        3. Contrarian*

          I would respectfully disagree that they’re inherently meaningless to employers.

          First, they show that the applicant recognizes the importance of, say, communications skills. That alone sends a message: how many people react at horror at having to “wordsmith” something, or think “I shouldn’t be judged for using poor grammar”?

          Second, yes, I quite agree that showing is better than telling. But the badges could serve as an ice breaker. When I see someone who was Eagle Scout, I’ll often ask what their Eagle Scout project was, and even decades later they can talk about it, and what they learned from it, in great detail. The badges can play a similar role: the job applicant can talk about what she did to earn the badge.

          1. Ask a Manager* Post author

            First, they show that the applicant recognizes the importance of, say, communications skills.

            But employers don’t really care that an applicant says they recognize the importance of good communication skills. Like I said in the post, loads of applicants declare on their resumes that they have good communications skills, and no one gives it any weight because it’s utterly subjective and is often claimed by people who, in fact, have terrible communication skills.

            the badges could serve as an ice breaker … The badges can play a similar role: the job applicant can talk about what she did to earn the badge.

            I get where you’re going with this, but they really won’t. They’ll just make the applicant look naive and a little silly, for all the reasons I wrote about above.

          2. JamieS*

            If the story is worth mentioning couldn’t the applicant talk about what she did to earn the badge without directly mentioning a badge or putting it on her resume?

    2. Anon Anon*

      ICAM. Especially, when so many colleges and universities (and continuing ed organizations) fail to determine mastery of pretty key concepts to students. It’s great that someone has a degree in english, but if their grammar sucks because their institution only made them take literature classes, then they are lacking competency in a key area.

        1. fposte*

          Sorry, that “So” sounds kind of snotty now that I look at it.

          I’m in higher ed, and we’ve already got a problem with some pretty intense optional certifications not actually bringing value to employers. This just seems like the same problem in smaller form.

          1. Jeff*

            Our institution is doing a similar transition (still offering degrees but also offering more micro-credentials such as certificates and badges), and part of what we’re doing is partnering with potential employers to figure out how to make sure our badges and certifications carry the weight they need to. The problem we run into is that we’re a theological graduate school and Master’s degrees are just not needed they way they were 20-30 years ago. Churches, non-profits, and other groups only need one or two people on their staff with Master’s degrees or higher, but they do need people who have training and skills necessary to their organization. So we want to offer that without putting our students at a disadvantage financially or by being overqualified. I’m also wary of how badges in particular will be perceived, but we’re trying to have conversations with organizations now to determine what they need in job candidates and build our programs to meet their needs. Our long term goal is to build out a system where employers and graduating students can be matched up based on the credentials they’ve earned to help our students find jobs and to help employers find qualified candidates.

            I will say to that this seems to depend on the sector. I have friends who hire in the tech industry, and they’ll choose a person with a nanodegree from Udacity or Coding Dojo over someone with a degree in computer science because they know the person from Udacity or Coding Dojo will have actual skills. I wonder if the issue has more to do with the fact that trust in higher education institutions is decreasing because students come out so unprepared, and badges are more of a symptom rather than the actual problem. A badge from Code School in Javascript might mean more than a badge from a university on the same skill, all else being equal. Just a thought.

            1. fposte*

              That’s a really interesting viewpoint; thanks. I think you’re absolutely right that working with employers is key here; if it proves to have value to employers in successfully identifying skills, I’d have a lot more interest in it than if it’s an attempt at institutions to create credentials that sound useful to their students but don’t translate to anything outside of campus.

            2. The Strand*

              It’s really not that having a CS degree is useless or that students don’t have skills, it’s that the type of programming, design and theoretical work being done in those classes doesn’t match what is expected at most, but not all, entry-level positions. If you have a chance to read the threads on StackExchange – and also the NYT story recently about cheating in the Harvard CS program had amazing comments – this is happening all over.

              Irony is, the people who adjunct at many schools while working full time, usually are the best guide as to what is required in the outside world, in any given field. The people who know the least, full-time professors, often who have never worked outside academia (like one of my parents, for example), are the ones who have the clout and get to shape direction of the program.

              1. Jeff*

                That’s a good point. We find the same thing with our adjuncts. They’re coming out of actual working environments, so they can speak to on-the-ground issues in their organizations.

              2. Contrarian*

                “The people who know the least, full-time professors…”
                Isn’t that a tad presumptuous? In Silicon Valley, full-time CS professors at Stanford are highly respected.

                1. Jeff*

                  It depends on the field, but at least in at my institution, it’s very common for the full-time professors to have little to no working experience “in the field.” They haven’t worked in churches, non-profits, or other organizations; they’ve been researchers their whole lives. The adjuncts are typically the ones who are working full-time in the field (again, think churches, non-profits, etc) and teaching on the side. It’s backwards, and it’s not universal to every field, but it’s common in mine. I also found that to be true in my instructional design classes. The full-time professors typically hadn’t worked as instructional designers or it had been years (in some cases decades) since they had worked in the field. The adjuncts were working instructional designers who taught on the side.

        2. Jessesgirl72*

          Exactly. If a degree from the university in English means the student has really bad grammar (and I couldn’t pass my literature courses with bad grammar! The Lit classes were nothing but papers!) then how is their assessment of the students skills of any added benefit?

  22. The Wall of Creativity*

    The only people that should have badges on their CVs are football coaches. Sorry soccer coaches. Over here in the UK, footballers coming to the end of their careers and wanting to go into management will quite happily talk about studying for their “coaching badges”.

    For the rest of us, the badges have no place on CVs. On the other hand they can be quite handy as evidence when demonstrating that you’ve complied with professional CPD requirements.

  23. Courtney W*

    Ugh. As a college student, I’m so glad that I’ve had professors who were once involved in hiring in my chosen field. There are so many things we’re supposed to put together (for example, personal websites for an electronic, detailed version of our resume and other things about us) that those profs can just say, “Yeah, you’re never actually going to use that.” And instead just focused on writing a compelling cover letter.

  24. BritCred*

    Wow. Just…. Wow.

    Yeah, I remember my summer camp certificate for “being a pleasant person to be with” when I was 10. Guess where it doesn’t belong? On my CV or shown to employers!

    1. mrs__peel*

      I got one in kindergarten for “improving my speed in the bathroom”. Should I add that, too…?

  25. Hiring Mgr*

    When I’m a candidate interviewing for a role, forget these silly badges…I simply print out a list of my (quite numerous) LinkedIn endorsements, hand them to the interviewer, and take out my pen to sign the offer letter that’s about to come my way.

  26. pope suburban*

    This is a pretty silly idea, but it’s not exactly unique to colleges, either. Nor is there necessarily anything wrong with it, if it’s actually motivating people to do more than they otherwise would have. I mean, I suspect it’s getting more of a bad rap because of where it’s originating, which…well, unless someone can show me where the student organizations demanding this are, I have to chalk up to it being fun/fashionable/okay to bag on younger people. Just like with the tired old “haw haw participation trophies” saw, the kids are not handing these out to themselves, nor are they asking for them.

    As far as putting a stop to this, I honestly empathize with the students here. They are young, in the main, and they cannot have the longer-range perspective on work and work trends that people who have been out of school for a while have. That’s not because they’re spoiled, it’s because they haven’t yet had the chances to learn that older people have had. So even if they might privately think badges are ridiculous, they also want to be competitive in the job market, and they are trusting older and presumably more experienced people to tell them what they need to do that. I’d really like to see professional organizations pushing back on colleges that do this, since they have the clout and the knowledge that a bunch of 19 year-olds don’t.

    1. Ann*

      Students just don’t know.
      My SO teaches at a uni and has emphasized extracurricular project work as well as internships and he brings industry leaders (local and national) into the department 2x a year. His students hit the ground running. But some don’t listen. I heard one encouraging another to take advantage of all my SO offers. The other student replied, why bother, I get all As.

  27. (Different) Rebecca*

    I don’t really have anything cogent to add, so–as a prof and as someone applying for positions–I’ll just say this: uuuugggggghhhhhhh noooooooooo.

  28. saby*

    Ha! An online learning nonprofit we work with sometimes is really into this idea as a form of “alternative credentialing” and want us to create a badge for people who have completed our (paid) internship. They don’t seem to understand that seeing the internship on a resume is much more attractive to employers than whatever this linkedin badge would be…

  29. Lindrine*

    I like when badges are used as an internal indicator of skills or to help build a path to mastery and a way to incentivize short term behavior. I think it is ridiculous that colleges are promoting these “badges” as if they were the same weight as certifications or specialized training. I’m all for a little gamification to brighten up my work day on a software program or LMS I have to use. These students are being misled about how important such generic badges are to actual employers and that reeks of cluelessness at best on the part of the school.

  30. Echo*

    The one thing these badges do is they provide guidance to what skills students are developing in college – so many students worry they didn’t learn anything from their liberal arts degree, when often the challenge is _translating_ their coursework (and leadership roles, internships, etc.) into actual skills and achievements. It can also be a way to guide students toward activities that help them develop their skills–so if the student sees they’re not eligible for the badge because they haven’t done activities that boost their writing skills, they can make a point of enrolling in more writing-intensive courses.

    But if colleges do stop at just “here’s your badge,” they are doing students a great disservice. The next step has to be showing the student how to transform the badge into a “tell me about a time you…” story for an internship, or a specific accomplishment. Yes, no one takes “communication” and “teamwork” in the Skills section of your resume seriously.

    1. Amber Rose*

      Even better, imagine if in order to earn the badge, you had to write a “tell me about a time” story and submit it. That would be incredibly useful to students, since it would get them used to thinking in those terms and being rewarded, so to speak, for answering them well.

      There’s so many things you could do with this badge idea and they picked up on the laziest, most useless one.

  31. Olive*

    I scrolled all the way to the bottom, looking for a “Badges? We don’t need no stinking badges!” comment.

    In summary: I am old.

    1. Amber Rose*

      I know the reference (I hope i’m not old), but the memories of being a Brownie/Girl Scout are much stronger. The overwhelming childishness of it all.

  32. ThursdaysGeek*

    Wait – does that mean I shouldn’t list my StackOverflow rating and badges on my resume?

    I think this may be a special case, where if your points are especially high, it could be valuable on a resume, in a very limited area. And of course, those are earned, so if you have a super high reputation, that does say a lot about your skills. Mine aren’t high enough, so they’ve never gone on a resume.

  33. Janey-Jane*

    At the colleges where I’ve worked that have implemented something similar, the idea is: 1) students earn these badges (or whatever they may be) by doing specific things, they aren’t given willy-nilly; 2) they aren’t meant to be used in a “here, slap this on a resume” way; 3) it’s optional; and 4) to be done best, it’s not just a check list of things to do. The goal is to get those “soft” skills, and give students a way to talk about those in an interview, which is why when done well, it’s as an optional thing for students, and there is someone coaching/debriefing, (for example, for a leadership badge, we would talk about what they’ve learned and what they have specifically done in a leadership role). At it’s best, it’s helping students translate what they’ve done in college (classroom, internships, extra-curricular) into a way that is more applicable for a larger group. And yes, at worst it’s going to make students look naive and perhaps actively hurt them on a job search.

    I would never tell a student to slap them on their resume, or even say “I’ve earned this badge in X”. How presented in the segment, yeah, that’s annoying and pointless. Us colleges love hearing of something done well and with purpose somewhere else and implementing it without any thought. But if I have another tool to help my students get interested in gaining practical experience, and help them learn how to communicate those skills, I’m going to use it.

  34. LNZ*

    See i love silly stuff like adult merit badges, but for a college to try to actually do it officially is just dumb.

  35. De Minimis*

    I’m totally against badging as far as job hunting and the overall subject matter of this site, but at my workplace [educational nonprofit] I’ve seen a lot of positive result from the badging concept in education, especially with under-served communities. It engages students in a way that the traditional classroom model may not do [especially in areas and communities with weaker schools.]

    But I agree it should probably be phased out by college.

  36. Katie the Fed*

    I interviewed a bunch of recent college grads last week. I have stories for the open thread on Friday.

  37. Elizabeth Ellis*

    I find digital badges quite silly in a lot of ways, but it’s a pretty crucial step in introducing ‘blockchain for education’. This will be, I think, a genuine move forward in skills building, employability, and higher education. Allowing a new university graduate, apprentice or trainee to share evidence of their learning, portfolios, and academic transcripts with employers, and demonstrating evidence of careers, is something that could be genuinely life changing for a lot of people. In the UK, big employers such as the Civil Service and the NHS are expressing an interest in accepting this as a route. I’ve heard someone paint a poignant picture of something like blockchain helping refugees demonstrate their academic and career record, allowing them to rebuild faster. It’s very early days, though.

    So digital badges can be a bit silly – but they’re not to the students who are building genuine evidenced skills behind them – but working on badges opens the door for further work on blockchain.

    Like most things, when badges are poorly implemented, they undermine the work going on around it.

    This article has some links to this:

    1. Student*

      People don’t hire like this. Getting hired is not a matter of having the best skills score.

      They hire by getting a recommendation from a buddy. They hire a friend or colleague that the owe a favor to, or want a favor from later. They hire the person who makes them feel good to talk to for half an hour – whether that’s because the candidate sounded cool, stroked their ego, sounded important and confident, sounded like they could solve a specific business problem, or made them feel like they were doing a good deed by playing for sympathy. They hire the only candidate in the pool who didn’t look scary, or who was cleanest and most polished, or had their favorite brand of watch on, or has a similar backstory to the hiring manager, or didn’t ramble well past their time allotment.

      If you want to get refugees hired, you don’t showcase their skills with badges. You find someone who will eat up the sympathetic aspects of their story, maybe identify with parts of it, and feel like they’ve done a good deed by hiring refugees. Then you continue to feed that ego with stories about how much improved the refugee’s lives are with the work they’ve gotten from their boss-faux-savior figure, so that the same person hires more of them.

      1. Elizabeth Ellis*

        They don’t hire like this ‘right now’. But in the UK at least life long learning is starting to be a big thing, particularly for public servants in terms of CPD qualifications, etc

        I think you’re missing my point a wee bit regarding my refugee example, or I wasn’t being very articulate. It would be more effective to move away from a print-based certification system in many ways, not least that so much admin is online or digitised now, why wouldn’t formal certification be. Although colleges in the US in particular have a nice cottage industry going in charging for transcript copies and such, but that’s besides the point. If a student from a university system has all their formal certifications and accreditations certified and digitised it makes them portable and shows a trajectory; for a student in an apprenticeship scheme perhaps it tracks their work and uni development, perhaps that’s then used as evidence for a portfolio or even as part of the maintenance allowance scheme. Or perhaps it allows a more straightforward credit transfer if a student needs to change institutions.

        Badges are a mcguffin in some ways – although I welcome ways in which to scaffold authentic skills development in our further and higher education students. I work at a very large distance education university and many of our students are mature or have taken non-traditional routes through education. Skills development is something they actively agitate for in their feedback. It’s what we learn from the development of badges and the implementation of these systems that gives us qualitative data for exploring blockchain.

        I’m not accusing you of saying this, but the comments on this post have given me the impression that people see badges as part of the special snowflake noddy awards for just turning up culture, and I think that’s missing the larger value in these kinds of initiatives.

      2. Contrarian*

        People may get hired due to a “recommendation from a buddy” — at organizations that don’t understand how to evaluate hire people. At organizations that hire well, people may snag an *interview* due to a recommendation from a buddy, but they still need to showcase their skills. I don’t hire people, refugees or otherwise, to make me feel good about myself. If a refugee has a demonstrable skill set, he’s much more marketable, and if badges can showcase that skill set, so much the better. I really like OP’s analogy to blockchain.

    2. Marillenbaum*

      This is fascinating! I hadn’t considered the implications for refugee resettlement, but that would be a really valuable thing. I think the key is to tie them to less subjective skills (for instance, “Pivot tables” versus “Team Player”), standardize them, and work with employers so that they cover things they need and that they will accept.

  38. The Strand*

    No, the major push for this was not developed by college career staff who are looking for a gimmicky, cute way to appeal to employers. I had the same gut reaction when someone brought a in-house badge project to me some months ago, but consider that as a trend picks up speed, people can reinterpret even the best ideas poorly.

    There is an open badge initiative started by a futurist group supported by the Gates Foundation, and Macarthur Foundation, with Mozilla, Duke and a UC group also partnering. They were actually looking for a scalable solution that would provide more flexible, diverse methods of credentialing. This was not about impressing employers, it was about swapping out the need for people to continue in higher education just to get an entry level job, and seeing if microcredentials could be an adequate assessment of someone’s skills. Naive? Maybe.

    Still, microcredentials could be a much cheaper way of preparing high school-age learners to get a job, while signaling that they do have specific competencies covered. After all, the main reason people are pushed to get college degrees is that employers mistakenly believe that it shows you can “complete something”, “follow directions”, etc. That’s a load of crap, but there are plenty of people who are in college that would do better in a more targeted group of trainings leading to some competencies (think coding boot camp, with a microcredential at the end). People are living longer, and few of us have the same career our entire live. Microcredentials might also build flexibility for a lifetime career.

    Now some businesses and institutions are looking at badges, for the reason HoldUp and Inigo Montoya described – as something in-house to encourage people to upgrade their skills, and meet competency standards. It becomes a fun way to motivate people, and to communicate quickly about skills building. Larger companies already have complex systems such as SuccessFactors managing this stuff, and badging could make it simpler and possibly more fun.

    The badge part is just the “sizzle”, not the steak, but it’s not what makes it potentially dumb. Worry instead on the badge’s “back end”, what you’d learn about the competency if you checked its QR code (or similar). A Red Cross badge I can scan that confirms the person has First Aid training competencies meeting the Red Cross standards – that’s something I can see once, and might be meaningful to someone who is hiring lifeguards or medical staff. A badge that I scan, telling me the person has strong communication skills – that’s nice and vague, and pretty useless. With a well-thought out microcredential, though, there may be multiple ways to reach the same competency level.

    1. Beebs*

      Yes to all this. And whatever shortcomings badging might have, I think it’s important to remember that the larger projects, like the one going at the California Community Colleges, have had some years of work behind them that include intense collaboration between the public and private sectors. 60% of the workforce needs some post-high school training, but not a 4-year degree. Those “middle skill” workers need ways other than a bachelor’s degree to show they have the technical and soft competencies to be successful in the workforce. But employers have to be able to trust a badging system–just like they currently trust that a degree from an accredited college means something.

    2. Gloucesterina*

      Thank you sharing the background for these types of initiatives. Very interesting!

  39. Ann*

    I have always been impressed with my SO and how he has restructured things and what he does at his uni. He emphasizes extracurricular project work (real project management) as well as internships and he brings industry leaders (local and national) into the department 2x a year. His students hit the ground running. But some don’t listen. I heard one encouraging another to take advantage of all my SO offers. The other student replied, why bother, I get all As.

    1. Landshark*

      The student’s loss… Good for your SO and his program to make so many career-ready graduates, though!

  40. Misquoted*

    I wrote about this in my dissertation. Not these goofy badges, but that colleges need to teach these skills. Some MBA programs have started to, and maybe it’s become more common in the last few years, but not common enough, to my mind. I agree that the badges are not useful. If you have skills in oral communication, creative problem solving, collaboration, etc., that will show in your interview.

    1. Landshark*

      I’ve had plenty of conversations with people at my community college about teaching soft skills like this, so I totally agree. The badges are a misstep, but I’m glad to see some attention to these skills in higher ed.

    2. HigherEdPerson*

      This is literally ALL that we do, every day. We train students in these skills, give them opportunities to practice said skills, evaluate them on the skills, and help them see how to apply them after college. There are thousands of people like me who do this.
      We don’t do it perfectly, we don’t get it right every time with every student, but this is all we think about and all we talk about. There is in-depth intention behind every program and training – learning outcomes that are then measured in pre and post-test assessments, mid-semester reviews, exit interviews, and campus-wide assessment. All this data is then reviewed yearly to create new trainings and new programs in order to best meet the needs of our students.

  41. Rick Tq*

    Standards. That’s a word that’s being tossed around without acknowledging the issue with these badges. Who sets the standards, where are they documented, and how do we know your private in-house or university version meets published standard? Are a pulse and sufficient attendance the only requirements or are there objective performance requirements? One reason a High School diploma isn’t enough for an entry-level job is that it has become a Certificate of Acceptable Attendance in a lot of places instead of a sign you can read, write, balance a check book, and be on time every day.

    Boy Scout merit badges are respected because they are (or were) performance-based. To get my Cooking merit badge I had to plan and cook a meal for my patrol, I wasn’t allowed to hand-wave the task away.

    Today I work in IT where manufacturer certifications are a way of life and we all know ‘Paper CNE/MSCEs’ who could pass the test but have no real-world experience. On the other extreme, the Cisco CCIE is HIGHLY respected because the formal certification test takes a full day, is hands-on in a lab, and includes setup AND troubleshooting.

    Document your standards and require objective results to achieve them and perhaps these micro-badges will take off.

  42. Jennifer*

    I just wanted to point out that “Agent of Change” is literally a Girl Scout badge.

  43. Landshark*

    I work in higher ed, and our Blackboard shell does let us give badges, but they’re nothing quite so silly as this. (The badges we have are more like permanent records of extra credit, etc., and putting them on a list of accomplishments even within the college would be silly).

    It’d be one thing if they were well-known certifications or awards, but the idea as presented here comes off as tone deaf. No one really wants to treat their resume like Girl Scouts or Pokemon.

  44. Student*

    The worst application of “gamification” I’ve seen was somebody who wanted to use it for actual compensation. Not like the girl scouts, “Sell 50 cookie boxes and get a plastic bunny”, and not like a proper commission for selling lots of something expensive. Instead, awarding “points” for progressing a project’s product design instead of offering financial compensation, and promising that once the product sold to turn those points into a share of the profits. Like being paid only in stock options or something, but without all the legal trappings of stocks. So, in short, a scam.

    The relative who was participating in this scheme thought the points system was great. He loved getting points! Thought it was innovative! It took a surprising amount of arguing to try to convince him this was not in his best interest, that this was probably illegal to have him work without actual pay and there were legal ways to do this kind of thing where he’d get actual protections if his “points” suddenly vanished, and that he should look for a job that paid in money instead. And oh hey, even if it does somehow pay off eventually instead of mysteriously evaporating once the work is done, how exactly does one report “points” income on your taxes?

  45. Ramona Flowers*

    If only colleges provided some sort of record of what you learned while you were there- oh.

  46. Optimistic Prime*

    Ugh, I was consulting for an organization that wanted to create one of these programs (my role was as an ex-academic who had successfully entered the non-academic workforce) and I just shook my head all over the place on this. They were actually surprised to hear that my very large tech company would not really care about their digital badges. I had to explain (to a room full of academics) that there’d be no independent way of verifying whether what the students had to complete was up to any kind of standard – particularly ours – for the skills they were trying to verify.

    1. Noah*

      “there’d be no independent way of verifying whether what the students had to complete was up to any kind of standard – particularly ours – for the skills they were trying to verify”

      I don’t really understand this. The students get the badge for successfully completing a course. How is the badge any different from any other thing on their academic record? Do you also reject their transcript because you have “no independent way of verifying whether what the students had to complete was up to any kind of standard”?

      1. Optimistic Prime*

        Well, most employers don’t look at grades on the transcript. I’ve yet to have a non-academic employer ask for my transcript, my grades, or my GPA. We don’t really care if you got an A in engineering design or technical writing; we want people to demonstrate those skills in our interview process, which are specifically designed for eliciting those skills from applicants.

        A badge that says someone is good at oral communication is meaningless to us unless we are intimately familiar with the process for awarding it. If this becomes a national standard some day – like board-certified teachers or doctors or something – then it might have more value, because there’s some level standard we know is adhered to with clear requirements for how to acquire the badge. But the way this is currently implemented, at one school “good oral communication” could mean actual good oral communication whereas at another it could mean they can hold a basic conversation in English.

  47. Hoorah*

    I received three different applications from Japanese applicants recently, who all sent links to their personalised websites. I wonder if it’s a cultural thing? Is this a commonly accepted way of applying for jobs in Japan?

    I clicked onto the links out of curiosity and found lots of unnecessary information. One man had a long essay about his childhood (including references to his abusive father). Documents of previous work presented in a slideshow. A dozen photographs of themselves and family. The websites also contained resumes but there was no option to download it or print it.

    I wonder if they got any response out of it. I did email them to ask they email me their resume and cover letter in Word or PDF format but none of them replied and it wasn’t worth my effort in chasing up afterwards.

  48. Noah*

    Ugh. No, no, no. I fear Allison didn’t watch the video. Although I think the digital badge program at Georgetown described in the story seems pretty stupid, I think people with the badges MUST disclose them if the employer asks for academic information and records.

    According to the story, the digital badge is awarded for taking a class in lieu of class credit. The class is real, but rather than going on the transcript, the badge is the only official record of the student taking the class. I’m not sure it should go on the resume, but if you’re applying for a job and they are asking about your educational record, not only should you include it, it would be misleading to not include it, just like leaving any other class off your transcript.

    1. Optimistic Prime*

      It’s not misleading to leave classes or even entire degrees off your resume. A resume is like a personal marketing document; you don’t HAVE to list every class or degree you’ve ever taken or earned. If the job is asking for degrees earned in a traditional application (or asks for transcripts from places you’ve earned a degree), a class in which you earned a badge isn’t a degree, so you’re not obligated to list/submit it then either. And it’s uncommon for places to ask for transcripts anyway – and I’ve certainly never encountered a place interested in every single class you’ve ever taken.

      1. Noah*

        Right, I only think it’s misleading if, as I said, “the employer asks for academic information and records.”

  49. HigherEdPerson*

    So…I have a lot of thoughts on this (duh, given my name here!)

    I sat on a university state-system committee for digital badges last year. (Can we also discuss that I cracked a “we don’t need no stinkin’ badges” joke and NO ONE laughed?). I completely disagree with them, but I would like to clear up that there is a lot of intentionality and research behind them. The badge competencies are based on the NACE (Natl Association of Colleges and Employers) Top 10 Skills, so it’s not like they are just randomly created. It’s based on the skills that employers tell us they want our students to demonstrate. Each badge has a litany of levels you have to pass in order to prove your competency in said skill…so it’s not just a “here ya go!” trophy.

    That said, I agree completely that it’s bubkis to employers. Who the heck wants to look at a digital badge? Who is going to really take the time to scan through the Career Center website to see that Level 5 Leadership Badge means the person did blah blah and blah? No one. We even brought in hiring managers from a big-name firm in our city and they were like “Uh…badges? You mean…like name tags?” So, yeah. It was a waste of 9 months of my life, in painful 5-hour meeting increments.

    TL;DR – there is a lot of research and thought behind the badges, but they still miss the mark.

    1. Kyrielle*

      Working on these skills, awesome. Motivating the students via badges, probably actually still a good idea. Having them show *off* the badges?

      Ridiculous. :)

  50. HigherEdPerson*

    Okay one more and then I’m done…

    A big part of these badges/co-curricular transcripts is that in “earning” the different levels, students are usually required to reflect upon their experiences. We ask them to talk about how being an RA prepared them for being a part of a team, or being Fraternity President helped them deal with challenging scenarios. We help them use their involvement experiences and translate them real-life — so that when they get to you in an interview, they can articulate how their involvement at college taught them these skills. Anyone can say they are a leader, but we know they need to give actual examples. The reflection parts of these badges and transcripts are supposed to do just that.

  51. Super cool higher ed admin*

    So I work in higher ed and part of the reason we do this is to encourage attendance at our programs. We know students need exposure to content like conflict management, emotional intelligence, teamwork etc. The issue is we are constantly competing for their attention. They have work, homework, fun activities and clubs, sports, partying, and other hanging out time. So we need to gamify it to get their attention. We need to make it seem like earning a badge or certificate is something to aim for and by attending or completing these requirements you earn a badge. It makes them think they spent their time well because they get something out of it. Plus it can encourage them to go to a workshop on something they wouldn’t necessarily otherwise go to, because it’s part of the requirement and they need it to finish.

    I’ve worked at two places. At one it was made VERY clear in every opportunity that “This is the beginning of your journey learning about conflict management/leadership/emotional intelligence/etc. You have a lot more to learn. But with these basics and this introduction you have a foundation to explore more what interests you.” It was made explicitly clear these were transferable skills that only meant something if you had experiences to back them up. Like “I solved a conflict using this technique in a group project and the result was positive” kind of stuff. In fact I told students, “Now you’re not going to walk into an interview saying I earned a certificate in leadership. You give the situation, how you made an impact, and what the result was.” Or whatever we’re working on. Something like that.

    At my current institution it’s as bad as Allison’s impression. We are selling students on these badges that they think mean something. It’s delivered totally wrong and not debriefed well. But one higher up goes to a conference and thinks this is hot stuff and is like we’re doing this everywhere on campus so find a way to implement it in all programming! Insert eye roll and exasperated sigh here.

    So it can be done well, with lots of self reflection, and focus on you using the experience of attending a workshop/lecture/training/retreat and the application of those prinicples to your life… but not all places follow best practices.

  52. Kayleigh*

    What do people think of the idea of Open Badges for workplace learning? I work in the L&D sector, where Open Badges are starting to become more widely used by organisations (here’s an example of what I mean – please delete if links aren’t allowed:

    These are used to make learning ‘portable’ – so in theory, if you take health and safety training in one role, you can be awarded a badge as evidence that you’ve completed this training to an acceptable standard, and can take this with you to your next role. In practice, the next company may well want you to do it again, but it’s an idea to make the L&D function in general more integrated.

    I totally agree that for soft skills (good communication, attention to detail etc.) these are a terrible idea, but what about for these more skills-based competencies? I know that there are businesses using badges for engineers etc. to prove that they’ve mastered highly technical training to reduce time spent retaking the same training activities. Another approach I’ve seen is certifications, which are probably more widely accepted – e.g., if I complete training on a piece of software, I might get a certificate. The Open Badges idea just means you can store all of your ‘badges’ somewhere digitally.

    (as an aside, I think it’s the name ‘badges’ that I find off-putting – it sounds like a Girl Guides or Scouts initiative, and so not entirely suitable for students or professionals!)

Comments are closed.