5 ways microcredentials could help you in a changing job market

Industry wants validation that employees have specific skills

According to a recent report, 50% of jobs that exist in Canada today will require significantly different skills by 2030.

Add in a pandemic that’s disrupted entire industries, and there could be a lot of Canadians who need to upgrade or transfer skills just to stay in their fields or to transition to new careers. When it comes to reskilling and professional development, there’s an emerging trend to think small – micro, in fact.

“Microcredentials are a certification of specific skills or competencies that are valuable to employers,” explains Brock Olive, NAIT’s director of Continuing Education.

“Microcredentials are a certification of specific skills or competencies that are valuable to employers.”

Companies such as Coursera, edX and Udacity have gained attention for being early leaders in introducing the concept. Canadian post-secondaries are now rolling out microcredentials of their own as a way to diversify learning pathways for students and employers.

Olive and Natasja Saranchuk, director of academic excellence, are leading a microcredential pilot at NAIT. The first batch of offerings, focused on project management, launched in October.

We asked the duo to share how microcredentials differ from degrees, diplomas and certificates, why they’re attractive to learners and industry alike, and how it’s possible to earn one – sometimes without taking a single course.

1. You can prove to employers you have important skills

“Microcredentials are meant to be bite-sized – even one course can lead to a microcredential,” says Saranchuk. “They can give you a leg up on your career or allow you to step into a different career path.”

Microcredentials provide recognition of competencies gained through learning and demonstrated with an assessment. (Students can also be assessed without a formal learning component, but more on that later).

“Microcredentials are meant to be bite-sized.”

When a student successfully demonstrates their competency, they earn a corresponding microcredential – represented by a digital badge – that can be shared on social media accounts such as LinkedIn. Saranchuk says one of the reasons microcredentials have gained in popularity is because they give students a new way to showcase competencies beyond transcripts and portfolios.

“Potential employers can find these details by clicking on the badge,” she says.

2. It’s a way to build on that degree, diploma or certificate

Unbundling education into smaller, flexible credentials has been viewed by some as an unwelcome disruption to higher education and traditional degrees, diplomas and certificate programs.

But Olive views microcredentials as a complement to “traditional education,” not competition.

Microcredentials are a complement to “traditional education,” not competition.

“They’re really meant to help somebody navigate their professional development and career – and can be earned before, during or after a degree, diploma or certificate,” he says. “The employment market still values traditional credentials.”

3. You can test out new career waters

One of the advantages of microcredentials, Saranchuk says, is students can dip their toes in a field without having to commit to a multi-course or multi-year program. This ability to “learn as you go” could be powerful for learners who aren’t sure if a program matches their interests.

“Now there will be opportunities with microcredentials to dabble until you’re ready to pursue a larger credential.”

4. Skills can “stack” for a larger credential

Another draw of microcredentials is the ability to “stack” skills. Students can earn a single microcredential as proof of competency, and they can also combine them to obtain a larger credential such as a certificate.

Olive equates the idea to building with Lego. Even small bricks can be used to build a structure like a house; you don’t need to reach for the biggest, fanciest pieces.

“You can build an entire Lego community with a two- or four-unit block. It scales.”

For job seekers, stacking can show an employer they have specific competencies related to individual job functions. They can also prove a breadth of competencies in a profession or across several fields, Olive says, including those valued in an increasingly specialized workforce.

NAIT’s project management pilot, he adds, will include 11 microcredentials – each of which is aligned to specific competencies valued within industry and can be combined for a certificate of achievement. This type of learning path allows for gradual upskilling, which could be of particular interest to those working full time.

“You can prove and demonstrate your competencies earlier, which gives people more flexibility and mobility within the labour market.”

5. You can leverage what you’ve learned on the job

A key difference with NAIT’s microcredential offerings, at least in the near future, is people will be able to earn one without taking a single course. That means if someone gains competencies on the job or through previous training but doesn't have a recognized credential, they can come to NAIT for an assessment to validate those abilities, Olive says.

That could be particularly useful for people changing careers and looking to transfer skills from one industry to another, such as oil and gas workers looking to get into digital or IT industries, he says. It could also be helpful for people coming from other countries who have valuable skill sets, but whose credentials aren’t recognized within Alberta or Canada.

“If I already have competencies that industry values, I can demonstrate them through an assessment at NAIT, a recognized and trusted institution.”

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