Open Skills Network Receives $850,000 Grant from Walmart

Thanks to a generous new $850,000 grant from Walmart, the Open Skills Network (OSN) is poised for a significant expansion of its mission to accelerate the adoption of skills-based education and hiring by reducing technological and operational barriers and opening more pathways to learning and career opportunities for learners and workers.

Since launching in September 2020 with Western Governors University (WGU) as a founding member, the OSN has grown to become a coalition of more than 530 employers, educational organizations, and technology providers. The group’s mission is to ensure workers have the skills and talent necessary to thrive, while also making their talents more easily communicated to the labor market—regardless of whether their learning was academic or work-based. Walmart has been a dedicated member of the OSN from the start, with this latest $850,000 award following a previous grant in 2020 of $250,000 to launch the OSN.

“The skills needed for jobs today are rapidly changing. To prepare the workforce of the future, we must improve the entire ecosystem, from skills-based education to hiring and promotions,” said Gayatri Agnew, senior director of opportunity at Walmart. “By focusing on skills, OSN is creating clear career pathways that support a more equitable and better-prepared workforce.”

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Currently, job seekers rely on résumés, job applications, credentials, and transcripts to communicate their skills and work experience. However, these outdated methods fail to capture the full spectrum of an individual’s range of skills acquired in the classroom or on the job. Additionally, these methods don’t typically represent skills in a universally understood or easily verified way. They’re also significantly biased toward credentialed learning, which most hurts those who are excluded by traditional higher education pathways.

With this is mind, the OSN was created to drive a paradigm shift toward skills-based education and hiring. Because skills data is not easily accessible or machine-actionable, making the switch to skills-based practices is a manual, expensive process for most employers and education institutions. The OSN is trying to solve this problem by creating a decentralized national network of open, accessible, machine-actionable skills libraries. Walmart’s newest round of funding will support that work.

“At WGU, we’re firmly committed to infusing a skills-based mindset into both academia and the workforce,” said Sarah DeMark, Interim Executive Director of the OSN and Vice President of Program Development at WGU. “That’s why we’ve built a comprehensive map of more than 13,000 skills across all professional disciplines and mapped them to competencies that are important to employers. Now, with the support of Walmart from this latest grant, WGU will be able to open this library up for broad use.”

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Walmart’s funding will also support expanded efforts in the authoring, management, and cataloging of skills data. Providing educational institutions and employers with toolsets to manage skills data will help accelerate the development of skills-denominated credentials and hiring practices.

These expected outcomes build on the significant progress the OSN has made since its establishment last year, including the selection this spring of 14 open skills pilots from partner organizations across education, healthcare, IT, and energy. Key goals for these pilots include developing and publishing skills libraries for use by the OSN and beyond, as well as testing the functionality of skills library management tools. Pilots will present their findings at the OSN Skills Summit to be held July 28-29, a virtual event that will be open to any organization interested in learning more about OSN.

“Walmart’s commitment to a skills-based future demonstrates exemplary leadership for other organizations considering a shift in their education and hiring practices,” said Annalisa Holcombe, President of WGU Advancement, WGU’s fundraising arm. “Thanks to their continued partnership and investment in the Open Skills Network, we are well-positioned to create a more adaptive and resilient labor market for all.”

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