With almost four decades of combined experience in the association sector, Adrienne and Keith Segundo are the passionate co-founders of Limitless Association Solution Resource, a strategic association management company that specializes in credentialing.
Adrienne focuses on exam development, accreditation, advance credentialing, and the marketing of credentials, while Keith is committed to helping Limitless clients grow in the areas of membership, non-dues revenue, marketing, accreditation counseling, certification and certificate program development, and more.
In this special episode of the podcast, Celisa and Jeff interview Adrienne and Keith making it the very first four-way conversation on Leading Learning. In it, the Segundos reveal what they wish every learning business understood about credentialing, tips for how to effectively build them, and their potential impact on the skills gap and workforce development issues. They also discuss what inspired their two latest initiatives, the National Credentialing Institute and ReviewMyTest.
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Read the Show Notes
[01:30] – Introduction to Adrienne and Keith and additional information about their background and work.
They explain that they are truly association professionals whose goal is to make associations a better place. Limitless is a for-profit organization that manages non-profits of all kinds but they also work with for-profit organizations as well. So when they refer to “associations” in this interview, note that should be synonymous with “business” because business is done the exact same way.
The National Credentialing Institute
[04:50] –You are also co-founders of the National Credentialing Institute (NCI), which is a pretty new initiative. What is NCI, and what need or opportunity did you see that prompted you to create it?
Keith shares how they had a conversation with their colleague, Dot Miller (CEO of The Solution, an association management company) about how there’s a need for education in their profession—the association/chamber/non-profit world. He talks about the CAE exam, which is a credential, and how they decided to help people with it by breaking it down into multiple domains because, as Keith points out, this is pure business. And that’s where things started to shift from the “non-profit” mindset to the “overall” mindset (with a main focus in the non-profit realm).
They shared their entire business plan with the American Society of Association Executives (ASAE) who was very receptive to the idea of helping them build more qualified CAE candidates. But then they realized the same space needed folks in chambers, etc. and so they decided to take it to the next level to actually create the associations industry standard for diversity and inclusion—so they built a microcredential around that.
The entire organization is currently broken down into 14 microcredentials that focus on business related issues for associations, chambers, non-profit space, and even the for-profit world. Keith notes they also realized they were only typically engaging people nationally and they weren’t focusing globally. So they reached out to colleagues from other society of association executives to get the business perspective (in order to build from a global perspective/knowledge).
However, Keith says these are short, quick bursts of learning such as on-demand webinars (mostly under an hour). So they can get their continuing education credits for the industries they need it for along with a resource library andthe option to demonstrate competency with on-demand, which makes accessibility go through the roof.
Essentially, they are really trying to forge forward and define the true way to properly do microcredentials (which Limitless does), realizing it goes beyond the association/chamber/non-profit realm and also touches on for-profit.
It’s noted that even though they are building microcredentials, there’s still a rigorous process to create them.
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Possibilities of Badging
[11:16] – What do you see as the possibilities for badging? Do you foresee a big shake-up in the credentialing world? Or is there already a big shake-up in the credentialing world because of the possibilities of microcredentials?
Adrienne shares that related to NCI and microcredentials, one of the coolest parts about this and how all these things intertwine, is they really wanted to put what they consider the future of learning at the hands of the end user.
She discusses how digital badging hit the market really hard several years ago and how some organizations utilized it for things like acknowledging someone’s attendance at a meeting (which she doesn’t see as the core of what digital badging’s intent is). However, according to a recent Forbes article, our younger generation (9-10 year olds), fully understand badging because it’s a similar concept with videogames. And this can then transfer over into higher ed and then hopefully, professional certifications.
So in the world of certifications/microcredentials, Adrienne says the digital badge is the perfect opportunity for organizations to know exactly what someone had to do to get into the certification, what they did to earn it, and how and what they need to do in order to maintain the certification. And all of this is represented within the digital badge—something that can be included on a signature line or in LinkedIn/other social networking sites. This is all built in to the technology behind the digital badge in a live sense. In addition, some of the more sophisticated digital badging systems can have the badge start fading out if the certification is coming up for renewal and it also links back to the organization so it can’t be embedded unless it’s live and active.
If an organization fully utilizes what digital badging was intended to do and really puts it out into the marketplace, it would be instrumental to an organization to show what someone has earned. Linking it back, Adrienne says our kids of tomorrow are going to understand it and look for it. And being that associations are really adopting this type of technology she thinks these are really going to represent well for microcredentials or certifications alike.
What Learning Businesses Need to Understand About Credentialing
[14:57] – What do you wish everyone working in a learning business (regardless of job title) understood about credentialing?
Keith stresses that people need to understand there are multiple outlets in learning. You have certificates, credentials, and degrees but the biggest piece of the puzzle for this is building qualified candidates for a job in continued competency with credentialing. He notes the average shelf life of a degree is 18 months.
And it takes somebody 12 months to get a job (at best) after they get their degree and then they go through a 6-month on-boarding process. At that point, they are ready to work freely in the organization and have learned the soft skills internally they need but now the shelf life of that degree is over—it’s something that shows an accomplishment but with no continued competency.
Keith brings up certificate programs and how people get those confused with credentialing. A certificate program is one and done. So when talking about pure credentialing, you have a continued competency to grow within the profession.
If a college degree has a shelf life of 18 months, a credential never expires as long as you continue your CEUs—and that’s the biggest key. It keeps people alive, moving, and not just the credential valid, it actually keeps the employee valid.
He also talks about how much associations, non-profits, and for-profits spend on training and to keep qualified people—and with turnover, that money is lost. If people build a credential, especially microcredentials where you have steps and a career ladder, now you’re building value and keeping those qualified employees and offering them incentive to continue.
So when you look at credentialing, the one biggest piece Keith wants you to think about is, if you’re going to build a credential, build it right, make sure it’s psychometrically sound, make sure your accreditation is in place, and that it’s legally defensible. This is the biggest key for any organization. And the soft skills people get while growing within the profession are a crucial component. It’s not a one and done. When done properly, you’re building a career ladder but you’re also building a workforce.
[19:31] –What advice do you have for an organization getting started in credentialing—or perhaps an organization that has the chance to rethink its current approach to credentialing? What are the common mistakes to avoid and the best practices to follow?
Adrienne shares that she uses “credentialing” as a broad term because a lot of things can fall within that bucket. But one thing they always tell organizations is to start off with market research and a feasibility study. See what your market can bear, see who is willing to pay for it – whether it’s the individual or their employer or a combination of the two. And also see if their industry finds value in something of that nature.
They find the most common pitfall is that the board of directors or an education committee has all good intent to build a professional certification and change the landscape of their organization, yet nobody is willing to pay for it. Or the accessibility for an individual to get a testing center, for example, isn’t reasonable. So it’s important to identify any potential barriers with market research beforehand.
The biggest key component is determining what your industry needs and then building education for that. So if you’re looking towards a professional certification, it should have an infrastructure of recertification resources, potential onboarding courses, and then you can build practice exams and tools and resources around it. Being reliant on just the certification to sustain itself is sometimes hard because there’s a lot of expense that goes into that.
But being creative and working with different companies to break the mindset of the traditional organization is key. This is another reason they created NCI—to break that mindset that you don’t need to go with a bunch of high-ticketed services. It’s really about determining what meets the needs of your organization rather than just going with what’s always been done.
Workforce Development and the Skills Gap
[23:46] –There’s a perception that the skills gap and workforce development are becoming increasingly important (we recently had a good conversation with Scott Wiley, president and CEO of the Ohio Society of CPAs about this). What’s your take on the skills gap and workforce development issues? What role can learning businesses play in addressing the skills gap and workforce development issues?
Keith says they work with workforce development (the entity itself) actually having these conversations on a regular basis. It depends on the groups they work with whether it’s a state or national level workforce development. But essentially that’s the key component—finding qualified, skilled people for the professions.
With people graduating university, Keith points out a new argument—do we look at credentials prior to university, or do we look at university prior to credentials? He thinks the best way to not go back and forth is to help universities understand that if you’re a for-profit looking for skilled, qualified candidates, talk to your associations, chambers, and non-profit groups that have the education/credentials and work with them.
Keith says they are having conversations with multiple universities to explain what associations provide. Even though the universities are teaching broad knowledge, the soft skills are not involved—so people have the knowledge but they don’t have the job-ready skills they need immediately.
Because of this, they are partnering with universities for some associations to put the credential as a strong option. If they get the degree and the credential simultaneously, this provides tremendous benefit. The association now has a pool of the newest credentialed people with a network to help get them employed (and at a much faster rate). This causes enrollment to spike at that university who partnered with the association.
Keith reasons that it doesn’t really matter which you get first (the credential or the degree) but the sooner you get those soft skills and can demonstrate knowledge and competency, the sooner you get employed. And the sooner you do that, you’re building more qualified candidates and a stronger, more robust business or profession.
Jeff notes there’s such fertile ground for partnership so that the credential is baked into the degree. And he’s on the board of NIGP: The Institute for Public Procurementwhere they’ve done this with Norwich University (and now other universities). To learn more, check out our episode, Partnerships and Pathways with Dr. William Clements of Norwich University. In terms of addressing the skills gap and workforce development, Jeff says it’s very effective and we’re going to see a lot more of that.
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[30:52] – We wanted to ask about a review site for testing (certification) services you’re involved with called ReviewMyTest that’s in beta. We’re running a sister site, ReviewMyLMS, so we can’t resist asking. What role do you see for reviews in decision-making about testing services? What have you learned as you’ve been working to get ReviewMyTest going?
Adrienne discusses how the concept came up when they were trying to have the mindset of how a regular association (under $1M or less) could afford testing services. As she points out, this is one of the largest investments an organization can make so having an understanding of what other consumers think is why they thought bringing ReviewMyTest to the certification (or any testing services industry) would be of service to the consumer.
One thing they’ve learned is that it goes beyond just the testing companies—there are other testing services of all sorts that are within what they are doing with their site. So as they are going through having good conversations with reviewers, they are adding more to the site, which is why it’s still in beta.
But they do want this to be a go-to resource for anyone that’s in the learning business looking for some kind of testing service and to utilize this review site to make that big purchasing decision.
[33:51] –When you think big picture about what’s on the horizon for learning businesses and credentialing, what most excites you?
Keith admits microcredentialing excites him most, mainly because we are oversaturated—we don’t have time and we are doing more than we ever have. Now with microcredentialing you can take under an hour microburst learning sessions and continue to grow on demand. They also increase accessibility and if you don’t have that, you don’t have as many people sitting for these exams.
And it’s not just about the exam, it’s about a demonstration of knowledge, growing folks to the next level, and changing these professions. Keith says it’s this accessibility to education that he finds so exciting and that is going to be the biggest game changer for all of us.
But as for-profits and non-profits have in common, it’s about workforce and figuring out how to find the qualified people. And when we break that down, it’s about how we keep the qualified people. This is what the entire future of education is. When we look at generations and all the labels people put on them, Keith says education is the bond that brings us all together. There’s now a common need and common language being spoken throughout the generations and that language comes through education.
In a nutshell, it’s the learning process, credentialing, and microcredentialing, and accessibility that excite Keith most about the future because there’s so much potential for associations, business, and industry in general.
[37:29] – What is one of the most powerful learning experiences you’ve been involved in, as an adult, since finishing your formal education?
Adrienne shares that for her, it’s facilitating feasibility and market research for all different associations and trades (something she gets to do weekly) because she has so much information on all these groups. And trying to think of really creative, robust ways to make their organization the go-to for lifelong is the most rewarding and fun thing that she does each day. She also enjoys learning about all the different trades that are out there.
Keith says that his would be the association experience and encourages everybody, for-profit or non-profit, to get involved with the organization that supports their profession. He talks about how much value he has gotten from sitting on boards, participating in think tanks, learning, and collaborating and how the experiences led him to where he is now.
[42:07] –How to connect with Adrienne and Keith and/or learn more about Limitless:
- Limitless Website: https://limitlessasr.org
- NCI Website: https://www.nationalcredentialinginstitute.org
[43:29] – Wrap-Up
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[45:12] – Sign off
- Connecting Learning and Credentialing with Adrienne Segundo
- Getting Conscious About Bias with Howard Ross and Shilpa Alimchandani
- Digital Credentials with Jonathan Finkelstein of Credly
- Talking Workforce Development with Scott Wiley of OSCPA
- Partnerships and Pathways with Dr. William Clements of Norwich University