(MoneyWatch) Anyone who's ever hired someone eventually faces this dilemma: how do you know what a job candidate's abilities really are?
You look at the resume, but just because someone has worked at a particular corporation for a few years doesn't mean you know his exact skills. The person may have earned a degree, but with a wide variety of colleges out there, what exactly does a bachelor's degree show? Amidst such uncertainty, the tendency is to rely on personal recommendations. But there are likely many great people who don't have friends and relatives already working for you.
This is why I'm fascinated with the concept of merit badges. For decades, the Boy Scouts have embraced merit badge requirements, a "micro-credentialing" system that shows exactly what a boy knows (the Girl Scouts have their own version). Each badge's requirements are plainly spelled out and any scout can attempt to master the necessary skills and knowledge. When a scout demonstrates a mastery of skills, he earns the badge.
Looking at that system , I realized that a lot of business owners would probably love to hire people who've earned an American Business merit badge. Indeed, even if you have climbed pretty high in an American business, you still might find the requirements challenging. To earn the badge, a boy must do the following:
* Run his own business for 3 months, and keep records showing profit and loss
* Read annual reports of stocks and follow the performance of $1000 in those stocks for 3 months
* "Explain how changes in interest rates, taxes, and government spending affect the flow of money into or out of business and industry."
* "Explain the part played by four federal or state agencies in labor relations."
An optional project (the boy can pick from 3) instructs him to "Choose three products from your local grocery store or mall and tell your merit badge counselor how the packaging could be improved upon so that it has less impact on the environment." The child could also "Make an oral presentation to your Scout troop about an e-commerce company. Tell about the benefits and pitfalls of doing business online."
Wouldn't you love to hire people who've run their own businesses for a while? Who you know actually know enough economics to explain how interest rates affect business? Who have pondered the benefits and pitfalls of doing business online? Could you explain the part played by four federal agencies in labor relations? I think there's a real place in the market for an organization that sponsors adult merit badges. The requirements would be uniform for everyone, and if they were challenging enough, could show employers a lot.Photo courtesy flickr user dmuth