Micro-credentials–short, vocational, and cost-efficient courses which lead to skills and certification–have seen a boom in recent months. In fact, since the start of last year, more individuals than ever before have shown interest in non-traditional educational and skills training options, signalling a global trend from learners towards shorter, inexpensive alternatives to a standard degree education.
Businesses looking for lower-risk and affordable courses to upskill their workforces, and individual jobseekers and students seeking flexible learning opportunities for changing or furthering their careers have, thanks to micro-credentials, found a new and powerful learning route. However, despite these benefits for both businesses and personal development, micro-credentials are still a new and relatively unknown learning alternative.
In this article, we’re going to run through exactly what a micro-credential is. We’ll also be outlining the host of benefits micro-credentials can offer both individuals looking to enhance their careers, and businesses who wish to address skills shortages to meet the needs of their industries.
What is a Micro-Credential?
A micro-credential is a short, personalized and often on-demand learning experience which teaches students a range of skills and competencies. Typically a micro-credential is completed over a number of days or weeks leading to certification upon completion.
Sometimes referred to as a microdegree or micromasters, micro-credentials typically focus on a specified skill or career discipline, for example, you may specifically study Payroll Compliance Regulation as opposed to a traditional Payroll and Accounting diploma program where you would may learn regulations, accounting softwares, business math, etc…
Micro-credentials can involve accelerated educational experiences as well as flexible learning methods. In comparison to a degree, a micro-credential generally takes place over a significantly shorter time period, offered at a lower cost, and is more vocational in terms of subject areas covered.
Although there is no standard definition of a micro-credential, many are industry recognized, with a large number of courses co-developed by educators and industry bodies.
By creating micro-credentials in conjunction with educational establishments, industries can play an active part in educating workforces in the specific skills the industry is lacking, directly addressing their own ‘skills gaps’ and other knowledge deficits.
Formal certification of micro-credentials varies from course to course, however many offer students a digital badge upon completion which can be demonstrated alongside a resume or portfolio as proof of knowledge and skills in a particular area, as well as showing the individual’s personal commitment to their chosen career.
How do micro-credentials work?
Micro-credentials are offered by a multitude of different educational providers. Established institutions such as universities and colleges are increasingly offering these short, certified courses alongside more traditional degrees and diplomas, while other professional bodies, corporations, and licensing organizations are progressively offering employees the chance to study for micro-credentials in their specific fields.
Commonly, micro–credentials are offered as part of a partnership between business and education, combining the educational experience of one institution with the industry knowledge of the other.
There are a few different ways which students can choose to study for their microcredentials, from online, to in-person, to a blended learning approach. Deciding which route is the right one for you will depend on the course you would like to study, your personal commitments and schedule, your preferred learning style, and the learning opportunities available at your chosen institution.
Earning your micro-credential
Depending on the chosen course of study, a micro-credential could be a one-off qualification or part of a longer course of units that leads to an overall qualification.
Some institutions offer ‘stackable’ micro-credentials which is when multiple, consecutive awards enable students to earn increasingly higher-level credentials.
Businesses might build their own micro-credentials, or choose to work with an accredited educational provider to design a program that suits the needs of their workforce.
Typically, earning a micro-credential involves completing assessments, activities, or projects as part of a program and under the instruction of a course leader.
Here’s a short list of the different training and educational methods some organizations use to teach their micro-credential programs to students or company employees.
- Assignments – Coursework, essays, or projects to demonstrate theoretical knowledge of the skill being taught
- Lectures and seminars – Instructor-led talks or discussion groups among students
- Portfolio – A portfolio of work to demonstrate research, reports, learnings and experiments
- Assessments – Tests, short exams, or observed or assessed practical tasks or exercises
- Conferences – Local or international conferences with the chance to meet or hear talks from renowned experts in the field on relevant topics
- Demonstrable skills in real-world setting – Students demonstrate the applicable job skills they’ve learnt in a real-life context
Benefits of micro-credentials for businesses
Increasingly, businesses are learning the value of offering educational opportunities to their employees, from incentivizing new recruits, to retaining talent. Here’s a rundown of some of the biggest benefits for industry leaders and employers.
Bridging the skills gap
Many businesses in Canada have been hit hard by the skills gap: the disparity between the number of jobs available and workers with the right skills to fill them. Research has found that this issue has, both in Canada and throughout the world, only been exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic.
Micro-credentials offer a clear solution to this problem, as businesses are able to design and create courses either alone or in conjunction with an established educational provider which teach the specific skills their workforce is lacking.
These short, job-specific training courses can then be offered to existing employees, or as an incentive to potential new employees, enabling businesses to build teams of highly-skilled individuals with the exact talents, knowledge, and attributes needed for the business to succeed.
With the demands of the market changing all the time, it can be daunting for businesses to think about investing in long term training programs or employer-sponsored degrees for their employees. The skills learned on a longer term course might lose their relevance, or the employee might choose to move to another company upon completion of the qualification.
However, micro-credentials, due to their short-term and ‘stackable’ nature, offer a cost-effective route for employers who wish to invest in their employees’ training without risking investment in expensive, long term programs.
Skill sets can be kept relevant to the company or position, and employees can be brought up to speed on the latest trends, tools, and processes in the industry. If a wider knowledge-base is required, students can keep building on their achievements through the study of more micro-credentials.
Businesses which offer new employees the chance to learn new skills and build on existing knowledge as part of a job offer or employment package are considerably more likely to attract higher quality candidates than those which cannot offer such training.
This is because top candidates are not just looking for a new job, they are looking to progress in their own professional careers. When training programs are offered as an employee benefit, ambitious, self-motivated candidates looking to advance their own careers are much more likely to apply for positions.
In addition, when a business is able to offer short term, skills-based training to potential employees it opens up the talent pool for the recruitment team. Great candidates who may be new to the profession, or who work in related industries but do not have the specific experience necessary can still be considered for jobs that require a fixed set of skills, as these can be taught as part of a micro-credential.
As any recruiter will tell you, retaining talent is just as important as attracting it. Employee training has been proven to increase retention among workforces as it engages employees in their personal and professional development and fosters loyalty, strengthening the bond between employer and employee.
As micro-credentials can be stacked, employees can be confident of further training opportunities, enabling them to continue building on their skills, and, in doing so further enhancing their professional development.
As well as demonstrating a company’s interest in an employee’s development, by offering micro-credentials a company is able to instill a sense of achievement in its workforce while simultaneously equipping them with sought-after industry-specific skills.
Benefits of micro-credentials for individuals
Micro-credentials aren’t just an engaging and dynamic way for businesses to keep their workforces trained in relevant industry-specific skills, these short courses are also a flexible and efficient route into a new position or career for individuals looking to advance.
A micro-credential is a great way for job seekers to keep their skills fresh, stay relevant, and maintain their market value. Not only does a micro-credential look impressive on a resume, job seekers can demonstrate portfolio projects and highlight their skills and knowledge in application letters and interviews.
Another benefit of a micro-credential is it demonstrates an individual’s commitment to their chosen field as well as their passion to keep learning. A digital badge of accreditation shows employers that this person puts in the time to upskill and further their career, and that they may be open to investing further in a career in the industry.
For someone interested in changing jobs or even careers, a micro-credential is an effective route to getting a foot on the ladder of their chosen industry.
Thanks to the combined input of industry and educational establishments in building these short, accessible courses, students get both the theoretical knowledge required to change paths as well as the hands-on, practical experience that many employers are looking for in candidates.
Convenience and flexibility
Unlike a degree that takes years to complete, one of the benefits of a micro-credential is its compact, flexible nature. Many courses can be arranged around a job (or during work days, if the course is provided by an employer), or completed over a few days or on a weekend.
Some courses offer multiple options for learning, including on-demand study, so that students with different commitments and responsibilities can choose a learning path that suits their lifestyle, career goals, and timeline.
We hope you’ve enjoyed our deep dive into micro-credentials and what they can offer jobseekers, career changers, companies, and students! If you’re looking for some inspiration for your own career journey take a look at our success stories. From stay-at-home parents who wanted to get back to work, to former members of the armed forces who were looking to retrain and start brand new careers, you’ll find a diverse selection of real life stories from those who studied micro-credentials to make big changes in their professional lives. You’ll get each student’s personal insights into the process, as well as a rounded picture of the highs and lows of starting out on a new career path.
If you’re ready to start researching your next step into a new career, then don’t forget to check out some of our own micro-credentials and short courses here. Whether you want to build on your current skill set or try something new, we’ve got courses in industries including technology, language training, administration, healthcare, business, community support, and design, to name just a few!