Attract Students, Young Professionals & Career Changers to Your Association with Early-Career Microcredentials

Lately I’ve been seeing lots of webinars and posts about strategies for attracting and engaging young members. Here’s a solution.

Students, young professionals, and career changers don’t relish the idea of spending time in unfulfilling entry-level positions. But, in this job market, they need help obtaining those positions. And then they would like to quickly learn what they need to know and accelerate their progress into more rewarding work.

Early-career microcredentials help them get up to speed and get ahead.

What’s an early-career microcredential?

A microcredential indicates a mastery of a specific competency. It has a more focused scope than a traditional credential, like a certification. Learners earn microcredentials after successful completion of a series of modules or a course and an assessment.

Microcredentials can be stacked or combined to demonstrate mastery of a larger set of competencies. Learners advance from one microcredential to another along a learning path.

Upon completion of a microcredential, a digital badge is rewarded—visual and public proof of their accomplishment. Learners can display digital badges on their LinkedIn profiles, websites, and resumes. Embedded in the digital badge is metadata describing the microcredential curriculum, issuing organization, timestamp, expiration, and links to supporting evidence of mastery.

Why do early-career microcredentials attract the interest of students, young professionals, and career changers?

Microcredentials allow learners to…

Quickly gain the specific competencies they need to get hired or promoted. Microcredentials are especially valuable if these required skills aren’t taught in school or college. Degree programs can take at least a year to complete, and even more if learners are trying to work at the same time. In microcredentialing programs, learners can quickly acquire the skills they need.

Differentiate themselves from their peers. Employers seek people who are lifelong learners. When they see digital badges on a job applicant’s resume or LinkedIn profile, they know this person is committed to growth and has invested time in becoming job ready.

Boost confidence. Learners feel a sense of progress and mastery as they add each microcredential to their portfolio. They know they’re more qualified and prepared for the job market. When they upload it to LinkedIn, they get another status boost from the congratulations of their connections.

Find a supportive group of ambitious peers. There’s an audience for microcredentials as a self-study program and as a hybrid cohort program that includes online instruction and discussions with peers. Many young people appreciate the opportunity to connect with others who are pursuing the same credentials and with instructors, mentors, and advisors.

Explore a career without spending too much time or money. If someone is uncertain about a career path or considering a career change, a microcredential program is a more affordable way to explore possibilities. It serves as an orientation to a profession or industry that doesn’t cost as much or require as much of a time commitment as a degree program.

How does your association benefit from offering early-career microcredentials?

Your association will…

Gain an edge on the increasing competition. Colleges and universities are going all-in on microcredentials because that’s where the money is. For example, state universities and community colleges are partnering with local employers to provide microcredentials to future professionals in industries as wide-ranging as medical devices, aquaculture, law enforcement, and cannabis retail management—the list is truly endless, and elite universities are getting in on the action too.

Demonstrate your value to employers. Industry employers know what skills their early-career employees need for existing and future jobs. Involve employers in the design of credentials. When you help employers bridge skills gaps and identify prospective employees, your relationships with them will strengthen.

Support workforce development. By providing a path to hiring and promotions, microcredentials attract people to your industry. You’re helping companies train the workforce and keep the talent pipeline filled.

Attract new members and customers. Because microcredentials are clear evidence of your association’s value, program alumni might become interested in membership. But for the ones who don’t, develop an engagement plan to keep them in your fold. Continue to build trust and deepen relationships with this target audience.

Create lifelong-learning customers. Many people never experience the satisfaction and rewards of professional development. Microcredentials give them a taste of that. Continue to show learners the value of professional development by helping them develop the lifelong learning habit. Introduce them to programs that will put them on a learning path to additional microcredentials or more advanced learning programs and credentials.

Strengthen the learner’s commitment to the industry. Credentials boost a person’s professional identity. Digital badges convey status and help someone differentiate themselves from their peers. People who are charged up by learning are more likely to take other steps to advance their career, like joining your association or getting more involved.

Demonstrate your association’s indispensability to early-career audiences. Market your microcredentials as essential for career advancement. Make sure your audience knows employers helped to design these programs. You’re teaching what employers want their new hires and staff to know. Promote the opportunities learners have to develop valuable relationships with peers, mentors, and advisors.

Generate revenue. If microcredentialing programs are supported by employers, revenue is sure to come.

But let’s address the affordability issue. How does a student, young professional, or someone in between jobs afford these programs? Granted, they’re cheaper than degree programs, but some might still struggle.

•    Subsidize the program with sponsorships 
•    Include membership if the learner pays for a stackable credential series
•    Offer scholarships funded by sponsors
•    Encourage employer matching
•    Allow pay-as-you-go plans

young woman smiling at her laptop after earning early-career microcredentials

Association examples of early-career microcredentialing programs

A quick search on Twitter brought up these examples, but I’m sure a more extensive Google search would surface even more.

The International Sign Association awards digital badges for individual online introductory courses and subject area-specific badges when the learner completes four or more courses within a track. When the learner completes 70% of all the subject area badges, they receive the “Sign Industry Professional” badge, which indicates an understanding of the broad skills needed within the sign, graphics, and visual communications industry.

The Distribution Logistics Leader Micro-Credential & Certification Program offered by the Warehousing Education and Research Council begins with the Fundamentals microcredential, a six-hour course that takes three hours to complete.

The Construction Management Association of America (CMAA) offers four Construction Manager-in-Training stackable credentials that focus on the fundamentals of construction management practice. It’s not exactly a “micro” credential, but the stackable element is attractive.

Another copy-worthy feature is the credential’s mentor program. Mentors help participants create a development plan and stay on track for gaining the program or project experience needed to qualify for CMAA’s more advanced certification.

The American Institute of Chemical Engineers targets its Hydrogen Economy Program at newcomers who want a “competitively advantaged competence” and existing professionals who wish to upskill. This microcredentialing program is offered in 15-hour modules, each over a three-week period. Digital badges are awarded for each module.

ISACA says the first step to becoming a successful IT auditor is taking the IT Audit Fundamentals ten-hour course. A study (exam prep) guide is also available for learners in this self-study course.

People don’t think they have time to learn, but they must make the time if they wish to advance in their career—or find and keep a job in an employer’s market. Early-career microcredentials help students, young professionals, and career changers quickly learn what they need to know and accelerate their progress into more rewarding work. 

Digital Badges
digital credentials
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