SHRM Says: Employers Value Alternative Credentials—An Opportunity for Your Association

Associations are longtime issuers of ‘alternative’ credentials, but now everyone else is catching up thanks to a report released last month by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), The Rise of Alternative Credentials in Hiring. According to SHRM’s survey, 87% of executives, 81% of supervisors, and 90% of HR professionals believe people who hold alternative credentials bring value to the workplace.

At this point, you might be wondering, what’s up with the word ‘alternative’? Association-issued credentials along with skills-focused credentials issued by MOOCs, companies, and boot camps are considered ‘alternative’ when compared to ‘traditional’ credentials (degrees) issued by colleges and universities. But traditional credentials aren’t as popular as they used to be because they’re too expensive and require students to take on too much debt. Plus, college students are not always taught the skills they need to enter and advance in many professions and industries.

Alternative credentials help people who are changing jobs or entering industries to get quickly up to speed. “The shorter-term, non-degreed credentials actually lead to increases in earnings of between $2,000 and $6,500 a year, while costing obviously a fraction of the money and time that a college degree has on average,” said Wendi Safstrom, president of SHRM.

alternative credentials

The good news from SHRM about alternative credentials

Most people are already big believers in alternative credentials. SHRM found that 45% of the U.S. workforce has an alternative credential and 49% have considered earning one. 72% of workers say credentials are an affordable way for them to gain the skills and knowledge needed for employment. 77% believe having a job-relevant alternative credential increases their chances of being hired.

Beyond the perceived value of alternative credentials, employers have another reason to like them. 81% of executives, 71% of supervisors, and 59% of HR professionals believe including alternative credentials in hiring decisions can improve workplace diversity. Too many qualified people who can’t afford college are eliminated from hiring consideration when employers favor or require college degrees.

The bad news: what SHRM learned about barriers to recognizing alternative credentials

In 2021, the number of digital credentials issued grew by 67%. The demand is expected to explode this year. With nearly one million unique credentials on the market, there’s a lot to choose from. That’s the problem, said SHRM’s survey respondents. They don’t know which credentials are better than others or which skills certain credentials signify.

Perhaps this uncertainty explains why executives ranked the importance of alternative credentials during hiring decisions in sixth place, while supervisors relegated them to 10th and HR professionals to 11th. Ouch.

SHRM learned of another barrier that prevents credential-boasting resumes from even being seen by recruiters. 45% of HR professionals said their organization uses automated prescreening to review resumes, but only one-third of them said their automated system recognizes alternative credentials.

The report warns of “employer reluctance to recognize a new way to validate these skills.” Recruiters have always used college degrees as indicators of competencies, especially in entry-level jobs. To overcome these barriers, associations must educate employers—executives, supervisors, and HR professionals—about their credentialing programs and take the lead in advocating for credential-friendly HR software.

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How to increase employer interest in association credentialing programs

Associations have a few advantages over any other player in the alternative credentialing market: the trust factor, brand recognition, and a reputation as an industry leader. You are much better positioned than a college, boot camp, or for-profit learning platform to partner with industry employers on the design and promotion of certification and certificate programs. Unlike colleges, your focus is national, yet you can also have a local presence via your chapters, if you wish.

The SHRM report recommends employers educate their HR teams and hiring managers about industry credentials, especially since their acceptance can lead to a more inclusive hiring process. This is where you can make a difference.

Educate HR professionals, supervisors, and executives about your credentialing programs. Whether through meetings with company reps, virtual town halls or webinars, or continuous marketing campaigns, explain to employers what your credentials represent—the relevant competencies they teach or validate—and how they can help an employer fill skill gaps. Remind them how their support for professional development and credentialing programs can improve employee recruitment and retention.

HR professionals said they want to see clear signs of credential quality, for example:

•    An exam is passed and work experience is required to earn the credential. Regularly review your credentialing programs to make sure they teach or validate relevant skills. The credential must mean what it says. An employer advisory council can provide valuable guidance on program content and requirements.

•    Industry organizations with strong reputations endorse the credential. You’ve got that covered!

Now, the software barrier. Taking a leadership role on an issue like this is what associations were born for. Put together a task force whose charge is to convince software companies to release updates that include the recognition of industry-recognized credentials. Dangle a carrot in front of these companies. Would they like to be the association-endorsed provider of this type of software for the industry? Perhaps an affiliate marketing relationship could be part of the deal. Maybe they’d be interested in a sponsorship package.

The SHRM report has been a frequent headline in the higher education media. Many colleges and universities already offer certificate and certification programs, but the ones who don’t are scrambling to get into the market—and some of them are getting assistance from their state.

The Oklahoma State Regents of Higher Education allocated $1.8 million in microcredential and rapid re-employment funds to encourage microcredential use in the state. Dr. Janet Buzzard, Dean of the College of Business & Technology at Northeastern State University, said, “We are breaking down our traditional credit-hour system into more of a competency-based achievement.”

Colleges are coming after your rightful share of the credentialing market—their future depends on it. It’s time to take full advantage of your industry position, brand recognition, and relationships and power up your marketing engine so employers and employees look first to your association for education and credentialing.

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