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Unmasking the Potential of the U.S. Workforce with Credential Data

In order to “Unmask the Potential” for students, educators, and workers, they must first be informed. Information is power, and once it is obtained, it can be utilized to help a person or organization reach their full potential. This year’s ACT Workforce Summit centered on this theme—unmasking one’s potential—and I was proud to lead a meaningful discussion of industry professionals in retail, restaurant, and hospitality around how credential information will help their sector reach its full potential.

Why credential data? For starters, navigating today’s complex education marketplace is difficult for students, workers, and employers alike. Confusion, inefficiencies, and missed opportunities abound. What’s more, the marketplace is growing in size; Credential Engine has counted over 334,000 unique credentials in the U.S., and estimates that the number is well over 500,000. Employer needs in the 21st century are also shifting rapidly, creating challenges not only for businesses looking for talent but also for educators trying to keep pace.

How do we make sense of this vast marketplace? Credential Engine uses the power of technology and data. Just as the development of data standards have revolutionized the travel industry—allowing for the development of applications like Expedia and TripAdvisor to quickly compare costs, locations, amenities, customer ratings, and other key data points—Credential Engine’s tools and services will enable the credential marketplace to leap into the 21st century where states, educators, employers, and students can easily discover and understand comprehensive credential information.

In pursuit of this goal, Credential Engine and its partners developed a common language (the Credential Transparency Description Language, or CTDL), the Credential Registry to hold credential data, and an open applications marketplace. We've come a long way since our presentation at last year's 2017 ACT Workforce Summit, when we were officially launching these tools. A year later, we have more than 4,770 unique credentials in the Registry, over 300 terms in the CTDL that can be used to describe credential data, a variety of new publishing tools, working in partnership with nine states, and have launched our first sector-specific initiative in the retail, restaurant, and hospitality sectors.

This sector initiative was highlighted at the ACT Workforce Summit. Our panel brought together the National Retail Federation, the National Restaurant Association, and Delaware North to shine a light on the role that credentials play—from badges to certifications to degrees—in meeting employer needs and advancing workers in the retail, restaurant, and hospitality sector. Our panelists shared how sector leaders are working to ensure they have access to comparable, transparent data about credentials, competencies, and their labor market value.

Our panelists are all involved in Credential Engine’s national Retail and Hospitality Credentials Initiative (RHCI), which works with industry associations, employers, and credential issuers to identify, capture, and publish industry-recognized retail and hospitality credentials. These sectors have an outsized impact on the US labor market, with six in 10 Americans having worked in retail at some point, 14.7 million employees in the restaurant industry, and the 8 million hotel operations and guest spending support jobs in the hospitality industry.

The discussion I led revealed a number of interesting lessons and insights from our panelists including:

  • The current credential marketplace for the retail, restaurant, and hospitality sectors leaves stakeholders on all sides confused and frustrated about what credentials are available, what it takes to earn them, and which ones are recognized by employers. 
  • Employers like Delaware North use industry certifications to recruit, hire, and advance their employees. 
  • Workers in these sectors need greater clarity on what career pathways are available and which credentials can help them reach their goals. 
  • Employers, workers, and workforce development professionals need user-friendly tools to demystify the benefits and distinctions of different credential types. 

About Credential Engine

We look forward to sharing the work in this sector, and across the portfolio of Credential Engine as our work continues to grow and we bring increased clarity to businesses, classrooms, homes, and most importantly, to you.


Credential Engine is a non-profit whose mission is to create credential transparency, reveal the credential marketplace, increase credential literacy, and empower everyone to make more informed decisions about credentials and their value. Credential Engine is supported by Lumina Foundation, JPMorgan Chase & Co., Walmart Giving, Northrop Grumman Foundation, and Microsoft.


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ACT is a mission-driven, nonprofit organization dedicated to helping people achieve education and workplace success. Headquartered in Iowa City, Iowa, ACT is trusted as a leader in college and career readiness, providing high-quality assessments grounded in nearly 60 years of research. ACT offers a uniquely integrated set of solutions designed to provide personalized insights that help individuals succeed from elementary school through career.

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