From education to employment

Boosting the 2023 labour market with micro-credentials

Now is the time for higher education providers to work closely with employers and learners to develop education programmes that reflect the rapidly changing workplace.

Gone are the days of “get yourself a degree”, it will set you up for life. Why?  Because a generation ago, a career spent in one role was commonplace. Today, the need to reskill to hold multiple careers over a lifetime in the workplace appears to be quickly becoming the rule rather than the exception.  Short programmes, such as micro-credentials with specific goals, are an opportunity for higher education institutions to widen access for non-traditional learners to gain the skills needed to compete today and to align with the skill needs of the modern workforce.

Niche learning

With a quicker study duration than traditional programmes, micro-credential programmes enable students to gain specialised certifications for specific skills or knowledge areas.  Ranging from computer programming to project management, they can be awarded for both formal and informal learning experiences to increase employability. These programmes, especially those delivered in flexible formats, widen participation to include non-traditional higher education students — usually a more diverse group of students, particularly in age and previous experience. Upon completion, the students’ studies are recognised with specialised certifications or badges demonstrating their mastery of specific skills or competencies which can then be added to their CV and LinkedIn.

Whilst they cannot replace the traditional degree, they can give students a competitive edge when applying for certain jobs. Such is their power, in certain fields, micro-credentials can give potential employees a greater chance of securing a position since recruiters can easily match up their skills set to the requirements of the role.

Demonstrating knowledge of the marketplace

There are major wins for universities incorporating micro-credential programmes into their current education schedule. Front and centre they show that universities recognise the diverse learning needs of their community. They also enable students with busy schedules or limited resources who otherwise might be locked out from gaining the knowledge needed to achieve more acquire new skills and advance their careers, becoming more attractive to potential employers or for promotion with their existing employer.

Combining a micro-credential programme with more traditional programmes means universities can also build stronger ties to the larger communities they serve by providing high-quality education and training in in-demand skills that align with local employers’ needs. Micro-credentials also serve as an opportunity for universities to explore partnerships with employers. Employers could provide scholarships to staff as part of PDPs (Personal Development Plans) and apprenticeships to anyone starting out, upskilling, or looking for a career change, playing a critical role in employee development.

Test and learn

There is also the major benefit that shorter programmes offer opportunities to test more innovative teaching and learning approaches and be more agile in the development of the curriculum. These programmes usually enable approaches that integrate theory and practice better, use problem-based and experiential learning and take better advantage of technologies. Having a shorter cycle also means integrating student feedback and employability data in the next operations of the programme in a more agile manner compared with the time and expense of developing degree programmes.

Universities should see micro-credentials as an opportunity

In a rapidly changing economy and with career requirements shifting frequently, micro-credentials offer a way for learners to gain new, in-demand skills. Universities can offer innovative training programmes that maintain competitiveness, adapt to meet changing market demands, and expand access to learners beyond the traditional on-campus set.  Micro-credentials might also offer opportunities to strengthen the relationship with the local and regional communities and the ability to align offerings to the needs of local and regional markets. Often, higher education is looked upon as inadaptable and stuck delivering in a format little changed since its beginning.  Micro-credential programmes shouldn’t be feared by universities. They are an opportunity to meet the needs of today’s labour market and set them up for success now and in the future.   

By Joel Armando

Joel’s career in higher education spans 20 years and is primarily in the fields of teaching, curriculum and learning design, research, and edtech.  Joel has a PhD in Education (Spain), PGDip in Learning Technologies (UK), MSc in Educational Research (Argentina), and BSc in Education (Argentina).

Today Joel’s current focus is on learning design and innovation in higher education, and public-sector environments.  Joel manages the Client Experience Management team in EMEA at Anthology.

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