Faculty awarded $250,000 grant from Walmart Foundation

Youngjin Yoo, professor of design and innovation, and Erman Ayday, assistant professor in the Department of Computer and Data Sciences, were awarded a one-year, $250,000 grant from the Walmart Foundation to develop a report identifying key socio-technical challenges and principles to design and implement a universal learning and employment record (LER) ecosystem. 

As the world economy is rapidly being transformed by technology, finding qualified employees with necessary skills and credentials has become a major challenge for many organizations. The COVID-19 global pandemic has also exacerbated the labor shortage problem. 

“The need to use advanced digital technology has been putting an urgent pressure on organizations to find ways to up skill their existing workforces,” said Yoo. “Individuals have been increasingly seeking non-traditional venues to gain new skills and training necessary to get high-paying jobs.” 

A major hurdle in accomplishing these goals is the antiquated ways that educational institutions and employers provide records for education, training and employment, the researchers said. What is needed, they believe, is an open platform that respects individuals’ rights on their own data while making sure the records are valid and easily verifiable. This requires such platforms to provide privacy protection, verifiability, data portability and scalability at the same time. 

“By universal LER ecosystem, we refer to a distributed and open infrastructure that permits individuals to collect, store, own, and share self-verifying credentials that are issued and accepted by participating organizations,” said Ayday. “A key design challenge in designing such an open ecosystem is to simultaneously meet conflicting goals of privacy preservation on one hand and verifiability on the other hand.”

The team will conduct a systematic review of the extant literature, an industry survey, and a series of expert interviews to develop the report and provide key design principles for future development efforts to build a universal LER ecosystem. 

“With the great resignation and the digital transformation that is sweeping through our entire economy, finding talents and upskilling existing talents is one of the most urgent challenges in our economy,” said Yoo. “At the same time, there are growing opportunities where employees gain new experiences through non-traditional means. Our report will allow policy makers and business leaders to address their pressing business needs while providing individual employees the freedom to leverage new technologies to gain new skills.”