New data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics showed there are currently over 11.4 million job openings across the country, and this expansive landscape of endless possibilities and can be overwhelming for  anyone seeking to start, advance, or change careers. In addition, potential students and jobseekers are inundated with  nearly 1 million different choices of degrees, certificates, apprenticeships, badges and licenses of varying price, content, and quality. It’s all so very complicated.

But it does not have to be.

The last thing our labor market can afford right now is confusion. Courtesy of the Great Resignation, companies are struggling to hire enough workers, especially those with the high-tech training and skills needed for jobs of the future. Credential-seekers, meanwhile, are trying to make cost-effective and time-efficient decisions about the education and training they need to get the work that will pay them well. A muddled credential marketplace can delay or derail their dreams.

Perhaps the best way to head off this looming employment crunch is through credential transparency. Simply put, credential transparency powers better maps and compasses to guide learners, companies and policymakers through the credential landscape.

Credential transparency is public, accessible and actionable information that helps everyone understand the costs, benefits, opportunities and return on investment associated with each credential. It’s the key to help people identify the credentials they want when they need them, understand the skills that companies are seeking, and learn about the jobs that credentials can lead to. It’s also the way to promote better understanding of broader workforce issues.

The technical heart of credential transparency is the Credential Transparency Description Language (CTDL). Think of it as the “Start Here” button that provides a way to realize all of the benefits of credential transparency. Maintained by Credential Engine, CTDL is a unified vocabulary for describing credentials and related information. It also is an open-source language that makes it easier for students, companies and AI-powered systems to more easily find, understand and compare credentials from multiple sources. A common credential language where everyone uses the same vocabulary is a powerful and dynamic tool that helps learners and workers get the training they need and aligns work and education so states, regions and the nation can better meet workforce needs.

By ensuring equal access to reliable information, credential transparency promotes equity. It gives learners of color or from low-income backgrounds much greater agency for earning the right credentials, learning the right skills and landing the right jobs. It also uncovers the opportunities that deliver strong returns for different populations and exposes the gaps and barriers that may exist. Until the United States can comprehensively capture the different paths that diverse learners travel from education to work, we as a country will continue to be at a disadvantage in the global economy. All Americans must be able to discover and progress on clear pathways toward credentials of value.

Finally, state leaders and policymakers must recognize the importance of initiatives like credential transparency and CTDL. Too often, opportunity seekers traverse the education and career landscape on their own. Governors, legislators and state agencies can help guide workers and learners by aligning credentials with workforce needs while ensuring that students and jobseekers can find and act on learning and job opportunities.

Twenty-eight states and regions and two consortia of states are already engaged in using or building systems that make credential information easier to access. States such as IndianaConnecticut and Alabama have developed or are developing statewide credential registries that are crucial to their economic development efforts.

With timely and accurate education and workforce skills data that can be understood, analyzed and acted upon, state residents can get the right training and education to land high-demand jobs, companies can find the workers with the skills they need, and state leaders in education, economic development and the legislature can adjust and improve education and workforce training efforts as economic conditions change. States that couple credential transparency efforts with clearly aligned and coordinated education and workforce efforts laser-focused on long-term state economic goals are better able to support existing companies and attract new businesses.

To bridge the divide between where people are and where they want to be, states should embrace credential transparency and CTDL to ensure all residents have equal access to all reliable and relevant information about training pathways and career opportunities. States must ensure that credentials lead to employment, and they must direct resources toward programs and services that broaden participation in high-quality credentialing programs.

Credential transparency is a force for the common good that can help states meet education, workforce and equity goals and lift up all residents and employers. If we aren’t providing everyone with clear and easily accessible information about the nearly 1 million available credentials, we are missing a tremendous opportunity to help all Americans navigate the school and employment landscape and spread the benefits of education and training to everyone.

Scott Cheney is CEO of the national nonprofit Credential Engine.

This article originally appeared on RealClear Policy. To view the original piece, please click here

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