Bridging the Skills Gap: The Promise of Learning and Employment Records
November 27, 2023

​A Q&A with Michele Spires, assistant vice president of ACE Learning Evaluations

The Scaling Digital Credentials with Community College Systems to Empower Underserved Adult Learners project, funded by, was designed to help working adults gain access to postsecondary education and more economic opportunities through the expansion of digital platforms and exchanges.

The project focused on supporting community college systems, students, and workers in the use of emerging and existing digital resources, such as learning and employment records (LERs), blockchain, and digital credentials. ACE piloted with three state-level community college systems (Tennessee, Indiana, and Oregon) to support the acceptance of digital credentials and LERs to strengthen workforce partnerships and learner outcomes.

Below, ACE’s Michele Spires discusses the power and value of LERs and their ability to track work, earnings, skills, and credentials.

What are LERs and how can they help address the challenges associated with aligning workers’ skills and employers’ needs?

Michele: LER is an acronym for “Learning and Employment Records”—and really, they have been around for a while—and they are a tool to support a skills-based lifelong learn-plus-work ecosystem. So, what does that mean? LERs help individuals own and manage their own records. Equity is at the core of the LER ecosystem, and there’s an ebb and flow with stakeholders adopting, developing, issuing, and using them. This also means that designing LERs has to include capacity to support learners/workers. They need to understand, take ownership of, and use their LERs. (Check out the LER Ecosystem Map and Learning and Employment Records for Greater Equity.)

What specific information do LERs document?

Michele: Let’s think of the LER like a digital backpack where documented and validated learning across postsecondary education, industry training, military service, and employment history and experiences can be managed and exchanged with trust. Emerging technology means increasing interoperability. For example, LERs can expand digital transcripts to provide supporting data about the skills, competencies, and earnings associated with each accomplishment and the institutions and entities that assessed them.

How do LERs benefit learners/workers, and how do they save them time and money?

Michele: For learners and workers, the LER provides flexibility to showcase and differentiate their skills in the job market. That means providing evidence to prospective employers of their achievements and experiences over time. The LER can also include official transcripts from a college or university, a professional license or learning experience which means the individual doesn’t need to spend money every time evidence is required to validate their competencies. This puts the learner in control of their learning and employment information. Remember, the credential (transcript, license, badge, employment record) must be validated by the original source for the individual’s LER.

What advantages do LERs offer to employers? How do they improve hiring and advancement processes?

Michele: The exciting opportunity for employers is how LERs can be leveraged to support recruitment, retention, upskilling, reskilling, and transition. The LER tool can facilitate verification of training and learning and the alignment of knowledge, skills, abilities, competencies, proficiencies and passions. Ultimately, this facilitates transparency by providing validated evidence of skills-learning progress over time depending on where an individual is in their career or path of progression with the employer. The LER also provides opportunities for the individual to connect learning from their time on the job. This leads to translation of skills and expectations and better integrating higher education with employers—but positions the learner/worker as first.

How can colleges and universities play a role in empowering learners through LERs?

Michele: Activating the LER approach for colleges and universities is a journey because this is a big cultural shift—it requires a certain mindset, as well as a change management and communications strategy. Yes, there are current transcript infrastructures, policies, and resources to consider. But even then, a great first step is to include faculty and engage them more deeply in thinking about learning evaluation and curricular flexibility. For example, ask faculty to consider how academic programs are mapped to outcomes and how there may be space to use competency-based assessments. This alone positions colleges and universities to identify and articulate frameworks that help align the education and employment ecosystems.

We know learners/workers want choices. They are demanding affordability and efficiency. Colleges and universities that are positioned to capture learning through a variety of approaches are several steps ahead—it is becoming increasingly fundamental to credential attainment and degree completion. Colleges and universities really are the best positioned to empower learners, which is a national imperative. So moving forward, institutions are going to have to consider how to establish and grow LERs as a key tool.

What are some specific examples of successful initiatives or institutions that have effectively implemented LERs? What lessons can be learned from their experiences?

Michele: What’s exciting (and maybe a little overwhelming or frustrating) is that there are a lot of models, initiatives, and opportunities and all at various stages and phases. This is why projects like SkillsFWD | Catalyzing a Skills-based Future are essential. A couple of portals to help initiate learning include the T3 Innovation Network and the National Governors Association’s Workforce Policy Reimagined. States to watch include Indiana (their achievement wallet) and Colorado (the learning economy). I recommend engaging with convenings like Convergence: Credential Innovation in Higher Education.

What steps can various stakeholders, including academic institutions, employers, and policymakers, take to ensure the successful integration of LERs?

Michele: The first step is to simply start with a self-assessment from a variety of angles. Interestingly, stakeholders may be further along than they think! The recommendation is to lean in on those strengths, start small, learn, and then grow incrementally. To help, ACE has produced a playbook with 10 strategies based on a framework of five readiness categories: (1) state/system infrastructure, policies, and processes; (2) academic engagement and faculty development; (3) workforce partnershipsincluding military; (4) student support; and (5) data and technology. Remember, success is about the milestones and steps as LERs are integrated. It’s a culture change.