How Relevant Are Traditional Credentials in Today’s Digital Economy?


The short answer — Incredibly Relevant — but it’s all about your communication.

🏝 Like it or not, unless you’re completely off the grid without internet connection, you’re actively partaking in today’s digital economy. While some of us merely are on the consumer end of this, much of today’s workforce involves jobs solely based in or for digital companies.

With your groceries a click away or a ride to the airport summoned by a simple swipe, there are many benefits to digitalization. The rise of the internet and the Gig Economy have brought along many opportunities as well–perhaps chief among them the ability to work remotely.

 Digitalization has also given rise to interesting new jobs, as well as reimagined traditional jobs that can now be done from anywhere in the world … despite this, U.S. bachelor’s degrees haven’t changed significantly over this time. And these new roles require a particular set of skills. Burning Glass Technology, an analytics software company that delivers real-time data and career and academic planning tools, has identified 14 foundational skills needed in today’s digital economy. They can be broken up into three categories: human skills, business enabler skills, and digital building block skills.

It’s important to acknowledge that both human skills and business enabler skills are largely covered by traditional education, which sometimes lacks a digital focus. That said, not every job that contributes to the digital economy requires a candidate to possess all of the foundational digital skills; yet acquiring these skills may only involve minimal extra training.  

Doubling down on transferable skills 🎲

For example, someone who majored in philosophy has had to demonstrate proficiency in  complex intellectual skills, such as critical thinking, problem solving, and synthesizing ideas, as well as communication skills. These can easily be transferred to virtually any industry and profession, as points out in  “Highest Paying Jobs for Philosophy Majors”. (Clearly, philosophy does not deserve the punchline of ‘thinking deep thoughts about unemployment’.)


Ultimately, employability becomes a matter of students understanding and communicating the value of the transferable skills they bring to the table, and of employers’ willingness to acknowledge that these skills lie at the essence of positions they seek to fill. If graduates can position their creativity, communication or critical thinking in ways that are contextually relevant–e.g. bringing new innovative ideas to the company, considering the bigger picture/company ‘vision’  or negotiating effectively–they stand to win job offers and boost companies’ productivity. And if they emphasize their interest in lifelong learning, that’ll only be seen as a bonus by and for employers.

What can recent grads do to bridge the gap from a traditional degree to the skills demanded from a digital economy? It all boils down to communication and training.

Job seekers should practice ‘hyperfocusing’ their resumes and portfolios to showcase specific skills that matter most in remote work, or to a specific job. A few options include:

  • Rescope your resume to match the skills that jobs demand. Take the time to cull through the transferable skills outlined in job postings that intrigue you. Reflect on your experience and build out examples where you’ve displayed those traits. For example, your social psychology papers could translate your expertise is communication and resolving social conflict. (Check out these tips from Remote Work Hub on resume writing for remote roles.)
  • Check out remote-focused career websites for alternative credentials. Some, such as FlexJobs (affiliate link), enable remote candidates to undergo skills tests that demonstrate various proficiencies. Well-known and respected remote brands add gravitas to a grads’ resume and LinkedIn profiles.
  • Seek out certifications to further demonstrate competencies. Our Workplaceless Remote Work Certification shows employers that a candidate is serious about going remote and offers tangible feedback on their digital literacy and suitability for a remote role. It’s also helpful to stay current on the ever-evolving vernacular of remote work. To that end, we’ve developed a free dictionary to ensure you know the ins and outs of every remote-focused conversation.

Since posting language can make or break an applicant pool, remote employers need to tailor their job descriptions and requirements thoughtfully by mentioning the kinds of transferable skills they’re seeking. In fact, thinking about job requirements and the skills needed to succeed in a job, is also an ideal time to evaluate whether a current in-office job could be done remotely in the future.

Far too often, job postings focus solely on specific tasks and hard skill requirements, but lack the foundational skills required to succeed in the job. If you’re looking to hire remote workers, determine which transferable skills are needed and add them to your vacancy descriptions–possibly occupying a place of prominence in the posting.

  • Expand your thinking around applicant location. Before you write that job description, take a leap and the time to expand your thinking around whether this job really still needs to be done in-house. What skills are needed to really succeed in this job? By making a job fully or even partially available for remote work you could attract even more talent! Not quite sure if the job is remote ready? Take it to the test with Goplaceless.  
  • Expand your thinking around applicant criteria. By valuing transferable skills and being willing to invest in hard skills training for job seekers who possess them, you open your prospective hiring pool to an array of talented candidates. If your company requires proficiency in certain applications, for example, don’t instantly dismiss a candidate for not having mastered them; they may bring more valuable skills to the table.
  • Consider investing in a solid on-boarding process. Your candidate may not be fully proficient in the digital skills needed to succeed–yet. Just like learning to read and write in a new language, learning your way around in the digital world is very doable with the right supports. (Not sure where to start? Refer to our Onboarding Tips post.)
  • And last but not least: spread the word about the importance of the transferable skills produced by so-called traditional education. Don’t overlook those liberal arts majors; they may one day represent your team’s greatest thinkers and innovators. Preparing to compete in today’s digital economy is really only a matter of communication and additional training.   

Update: With extensive experience in Ed Tech, we’re passionate about aligning the future of work with the future of ed. If you share in our passion, we’d love to chat

Simone Beltz contributed to this post.

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Workplaceless envisions a workforce that thrives in a flexible and digital-first future—where performance and growth are not constrained by location. Our team goal is to share insights and practices that will help professionals and companies achieve this aspiration.
Workplaceless envisions a workforce that thrives in a flexible and digital-first future—where performance and growth are not constrained by location. Our team goal is to share insights and practices that will help professionals and companies achieve this aspiration.
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