By pairing microcredentials with digital credentials, individuals are prepared for a changing workforce and can make a big impact in three key ways

The macro impact of microcredentials


By pairing microcredentials with digital credentials, individuals are prepared for a changing workforce and can make a big impact in three key ways

Editor’s note: eCampus News is exploring the future and potential of microcredentials in a multi-story series. Check back each week for fresh perspectives from educators and industry experts.

The workforce is facing a shift in the recognition of skills and experiences as many individuals have left their jobs and are trying to switch roles completely, alongside millions of open job roles waiting to be filled by qualified candidates. The ability to demonstrate transferable skills provides immense value to individuals and their career path. This shift in the workforce emphasizes the need for intertwining learning, employment, and advancement opportunities more than ever before.

Differing learning opportunities, from supplemental programs within an education setting to training from an organization, benefit from standardized skills verification to prove individuals know what they say they know. Microcredentials can be an effective tool in the evolution of learning and development.

What are microcredentials?

While definitions of microcredentials are as unique as each institution, one way to define and describe them is to tie them to learning outcomes. Therefore, we define microcredentials as a strategy to recognize bite-size learning gained along a path toward a broader competency. For example, an individual may take several courses in succession to earn a certificate. Individuals demonstrate their competency in one specific area before moving on to the next, earning microcredentials along the way. Institutions might also use the term “stackable credentials” in place of microcredentials. The idea is the same; the bite-size learning stacks into a more commonly recognizable outcome, whether that is an academic minor, a certificate, or a designation.

Microcredentials provide motivation for an individual to continue pursuing that more encompassing learning achievement at the end of a path. They can also help an individual make use of their learning as it is acquired–rather than being forced to wait until they’ve earned a full certificate–especially when represented as digital credentials. 

What are digital credentials?

Digital credentials provide a common language of knowledge, skills, and abilities for the emerging workforce. Employers use them to help talent management verify, quantify, and understand the skills and competencies of both candidate pools and current employees. Think of microcredentials as the “what” and digital credentials as the “how.” Microcredentials represent what is being learned.  Digital credentials are how a student makes use of what is being learned.

More educational institutions, including University at Buffalo, SUNY Geneseo, and Coppin State University have begun to pair microcredentials with digital credentials because it’s a win for:

  • Students, who now have verifiable evidence of the skills they bring to an employer.
  • HR departments, which have a more detailed picture of their talent pipeline and current workforce.

By pairing microcredentials with digital credentials, institutions and employers can partner to prepare individuals for a changing workforce and make a big impact in three important ways:

  1. Filling a communication gap: telling the full story

Historically, job seekers rely on resumes as storytelling tools designed to showcase their experiences and education. But today’s companies want to know how much proficiency an applicant has with a particular skill.

“Proficient in Microsoft” means different things to different people. A hiring manager may interpret proficiency to mean in-depth knowledge of the suite, whereas an applicant may use the phrase to indicate an understanding of just the fundamentals. Digital credentials define and standardize requirements for both employers and learners to remove any doubt about what’s necessary to earn a credential for a specific skill.

Resumes offer a starting point for recognizing talent, but digital credentials provide quantifiable proof of skills and achievements attained from educational institutions, on-the-job training and more. With their common, standardized language of skills expectations, digital credentials provide substance to support claims on a resume, verifying that incoming talent has the skills and knowledge organizations want.

  1. Building a more equitable workforce

Digital credentials remove the barriers of implicit bias within the hiring process by creating a common currency for two people with the same skills. Regardless of race, disability, age, sexual orientation or gender, individuals have an equal chance at opportunities within organizations through credentials.

Digital credentials don’t solve every challenge companies face in providing equitable hiring practices. They do, however, offer an infrastructure for leveling the playing field for career paths–from recent graduates to tenured employees. For example, students with the same degree from the same educational institution can differentiate themselves from other candidates by emphasizing their skills with credentials.

  1. Supporting the need for skills-based hiring

Educational institutions must provide students a quality education designed to prepare them for a career post-graduation. According to a Gallup survey, 96 percent of university leaders think they’re doing a good job preparing young people for the workforce. But fewer than half of college students–and only 11percent of business leaders–agree.

Institutions committed to developing and implementing skills-based learning and talent management opportunities more successfully prepare their students for the workforce. Digital credentials can complement existing curricula to enrich student knowledge by offering more training within the specific skill sets future careers require and employers expect.

Microcredentials facilitate partnerships between educational institutions and employers to elevate the traditional learning and development expectations by building a tailored approach to learning and training. By taking the microcredential approach to progressive learning paths, and recognizing the learning outcomes that are gained along the way with digital credentials, individuals turn achievements into key qualifications to:

  • Highlight skills, knowledge, and abilities relevant to their targeted jobs.
  • Distinguish themselves from other job applicants.
  • Increase salary and advancement opportunities.
  • Demonstrate a commitment to lifelong learning, career growth and self-improvement.

Microcredentials offer institutions and organizations a powerful tool to support workforce preparedness now and in the future. Those credentials have the greatest impact on the individual, offering them a path to control their learning showcase both hard and soft skills through a verified means–removing any guesswork about their ability.

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