What does it mean to be ‘digitally employable’?

Let’s define terms:


  1. Suitable for paid work.
  2. Able to be used.

So being employable means that someone is useful and can fill a particular role, whether as an employee or freelancer, for paid work.

Having written my doctoral thesis on digital literacy, and led Mozilla’s Web Literacy Map from inception to v1.5, one of my biggest frustrations has been how new literacies are developed. It’s all very well having a framework and a development methodology, but how on earth do you get to actually effect the change you want to see in the world?

For the past few weeks, the germ of an idea has been growing in my mind. On the one hand there are digital literacy frameworks specifying what people should be able to know, do, and think. On the other there are various approaches to employability skills. The latter is a reaction to formal education institutions being required to track the destination of people who graduate (or leave) them.

The third factor in play here is Open Badges. This is a metadat specification and ecosystem for verifiable digital credentials that can be used to provide evidence of anything. In addition, anybody can earn and issue them, the value coming in recognition of the issuing body, and/or whether the supplied evidence shows that the individual has done something worthwhile.

The simplest way of representing these three areas of focus is using a Venn diagram:

Digital Employability?

The reason it’s important that Open Badges are in there is that they provide evidence of digital literacies and employability skills. They provide a ‘route to market’ for the frameworks to actually make a difference in the world.

I know there’s an appetite for this, as I present on a regular basis and one of the slides I use is this one from Sussex Downs College:

Sussex Downs Employability Passport

People ask me to go back to the slide ‘so they can take a photo of it’. Our co-op knows the team behind this project, as we helped with the kick-off of the project, and then ran a thinkathon for them as they looked to scale it.

The Sussex Downs approach has a number of great elements to it: a three part badge system; competencies defined with the help of local businesses; a very visual design; and the homely metaphor of a ‘passport’.

One thing that’s perhaps lacking is the unpacking of ‘Digital Literacy’ as more than a single element on the grid. To my mind, there’s a plethora of digital knowledge, skills, and behaviours that’s directly applicable to employability.

In my experience, it’s important to come up with a framework for the work that you do. That’s why Sussex Downs’ Employability Passport is so popular. However, I think there’s also a need for people to be able to do the equivalent of pressing ‘view source’ on the framework to see why and how it was put together.

What I’d like to do is to come up with a framework for digital employability that looks at the knowledge, skills, and understanding to thrive in the new digital economy. That will necessarily be a mix of old-school things like using Outlook, but also newer workflows such as GitHub.

Once that’s defined, preferably with input from a diverse list of contributors and endorsement from various relevant organisations, it will be time to issue badges. Once the ‘rubber hits the road’ we’ll no doubt then need to update the framework. It’s an iterative process.

Early days, but I wanted to put something out there. Get in touch if this sounds interesting!

Comments? Questions? I’m @dajbelshaw on Twitter, or you can email me: hello@dynamicskillset.com


Now read this

Can digital literacy be deconstructed into learnable units?

Earlier this week, Sally Pewhairangi got in touch to ask if I’d be willing to answer four questions about digital literacy, grouped around the above question. She’ll be collating answers from a number of people in due course but, in the... Continue →