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Tracing the Boundaries: The Power of Definitions in the Skills Ecosystem

“I don’t know the meaning of half those long words, and, what’s more, I don’t believe you do either!” -The Eaglet in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

It’s easy to find yourself, like Alice, in a place where words seem like nonsense – rich skill descriptors, open skills management tool, skills ecosystem. The words can sound familiar but are sometimes strung together in ways that are confusing. For instance, what is a skills ecosystem? An ecosystem is a complex or interconnected system, and a skill is a learned power or developed aptitude to do and demonstrate something competently. Put together, this shows us a world where there are direct connections between educator, employer, and holder of a skill and then the building, learning, using, and understanding of the same skill. In other words, the world we all live in everyday from learning new things, to using them at a job, to tutoring a friend. How about a rich skill descriptor? That is a light-weight data schema containing a contextualized skill statement and associated metadata that enables transparency and interoperability of skills via canonical URL. Clear, right? No? It’s just a skill with a massive amount of data packed inside it and with the ability to talk and be the Velcro between job skill need and available skilled talent. This is done by dynamic data that links workforce intelligence and geographical need, and more static data that connects the skill into a larger family or collection within a library.

The Open Skills Network is not the arbiter of the skills conversation, we seek to reflect the language and structure that our community and partners use in this work. But we do actively work to shepherd the language into a common tongue so that all can understand each other and, more importantly, our collective ideas can be shared and taught. Our goal is to create a space where definitions can be tested, demonstrated, taught, and refined. The engine for this dynamic process is our workgroups. The best part is that you can join this conversation, right now. Don’t be imprisoned within someone else’s definition, seek instead to add your voice and experience to shaping what will be the learning and working framework of tomorrow.

What’s the real-world consequence of not connecting the dots within a definition and of not having everyone at the table, not only as it is defined, but as it applies to the real world? Each day we see how the health care system across the United States is strained under the weight presented by the current pandemic. There is a strong demand for skilled health care workers. But there is currently a pool of skilled professional talent that cannot make the leap because their skills don’t translate, not because they are different or misunderstood but because there is a definitional disconnect. These military veterans, who possess the needed medical skills, are finding it challenging to translate their talents into the civilian world – a space where they are desperately needed.

How we define things directly impacts how understood and portable things are - from ideas to actual jobs. Infrastructure, such as we are building in the skills ecosystem, needs to be clearly defined – layer by layer – for it to have power and applicability across industries.

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