Do people really change careers five or six times during their lifetime? Is that number growing as millennials take over the workforce? The average number of career changes is debatable since agencies like the Bureau of Labor Statistics don’t track that information. But everyone agrees that people are shifting gears and reinventing themselves more frequently in response to the changing economy, job market, and technology.
Here’s the question for associations: How will your certification programs hold up in this new environment? Sure, many professionals continue to seek out certification but what about the people who:
• Are entering or trying out your profession?
• Don’t have the college degree or job experience required for certification?
• Want to demonstrate their skills and knowledge but aren’t interested in certification?
What type of credential can you offer to them? It might be time to consider the benefits of micro-credentials for your association, industry employers, and members.
Many in your target audience don’t think they’re a fit for your certification programs. Early professionals don’t have the required experience or budget to attend conferences where they can earn necessary credits. Other professionals aren’t sure they want to make a commitment to the long road to certification. They aren’t willing to invest that much time and money with no guarantee they’ll pass the exam and earn those coveted designation letters.
Micro-credentials offer a way for these professionals to acquire and demonstrate new skills and knowledge. Micro-credentials can help nudge them onto the certification pathway, encourage them to keep pursuing their goals, and give them a sense of accomplishment along the way.
What is a micro-credential?
A micro-credential indicates demonstrated mastery of a specific competency. It has a more focused scope than a traditional credentialing program, such as a certification. Learners earn micro-credentials in a number of ways, for example, after successful completion of a course or series of modules, skills demonstration, traditional assessment, or submission of a work product.
Micro-credentials can be stacked or combined to demonstrate mastery of a larger knowledge and skill set. Learners can advance from one micro-credential to another along a learning pathway. This pathway could lead to certification, or it might lead to a certificate instead.
The National Education Association (NEA) offers more than 100 micro-credentials that help teachers in many states earn the professional development units they need to renew their license. Most of their micro-credentials take about ten hours to complete. NEA members developed these micro-credentials. They also review the submissions of their fellow educators and provide direct feedback to them.
What’s the connection between a micro-credential and digital badge?
Associations and other organizations issue digital badges to learners who have earned micro-credentials. A digital badge is the visual representation of a credential. Recipients can display their digital badges on resumes, social media profiles, email signatures, websites, and digital badge backpacks like OpenBadges, Credly, and Badgr.
The metadata contained in the digital badge verifies the learner’s mastery. It includes data about the learner, credential, issuing organization, date issued, criteria to earn the credential, and a web address with supporting information. This information helps an employer understand the criteria met to earn the micro-credential as well as the authority of the organization issuing it.
Benefits of micro-credentials for the learner
A micro-credentialing program provides a focused curriculum that meets the needs of learners and their employers (or prospective employers). Learners get the opportunity to acquire and demonstrate mastery of practical—and immediately applicable—skills. They can develop a portfolio of marketable skills by acquiring additional micro-credentials.
The self-directed and on-demand aspect of micro-credentials appeal to many learners. They can decide what credentials to pursue, and what learning pathways to follow based on their interests and needs. They can set out on a learning pathway leading to a micro-credential any time they wish.
Micro-credentials, along with their corresponding digital badges, make it easy for professionals to show exactly what skills and knowledge they bring to a new position or project. If a respected trade or professional association backs the micro-credential, it makes an even stronger impression.
Benefits of micro-credentials for your industry
Micro-credentials help employers identify job candidates who have the required skills. The proof is in the digital badge. Employers can also rely on micro-credentialing programs to provide the right type of focused training to new or transitioning employees who need to improve their skills.
Associations usually work with members (and member companies) to develop micro-credentialing programs that solve workforce challenges. In industries or professions where compliance with standards or standard practices is critical, micro-credentialing programs can help train professionals to those standards.
Benefits of micro-credentials for your association
Micro-credentials serve the needs of a changing workplace. As an alternative to certification, they help fulfill the needs of membership and audience segments that:
• Don’t qualify for or aren’t interested in certification.
• Are on the path to certification but want to show progress.
• Are new to your industry or profession.
• Work in a specialized market.
• Work in related industries or professions.
Micro-credentialing programs are certainly a good source of revenue, but they are also an engagement generator too. They can be a stepping-stone to other credentialing programs, like certificate or certification programs. Learners earn the credits they need for traditional credentialing programs but have something to show for their efforts—digital badges. You could even offer advanced-level micro-credentials that function as deeper dives for certification candidates who wish to highlight their specialized expertise.
What to consider before starting a micro-credentialing program
Micro-credentials must have market value. They must fulfill both learner and employer needs. You can be sure they do by developing micro-credentials in collaboration with employers—that will also ensure their support later.
Think about what you want learners to know or know how to do as a result of completing a micro-credential. Figure out what evidence they can provide that proves their mastery of the skills or knowledge in question.
Don’t assume your volunteer leadership and industry employers understand micro-credentials. This is still a new frontier for many. Take time to educate them on how micro-credentials fit into and complement your educational offerings, and how they can benefit members, employers, and your association.