Incremental steps, big wins

We are all acutely aware of the strains that are placed on employers as the result of a shortage of workers available to meet workplace needs. In recent years, the concept of micro-credentialing has emerged as a way to upskill candidates with targeted technology and soft skills desired by dynamic workplaces.

The pandemic world of virtual learning hastened the advance of credentialed learning and certifications as a means to retool in a rapidly changing world. A decade ago, the development of MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) laid the groundwork for the creation of micro-credential programs.

The National Education Association offers a simple definition of micro-credentials as “a short competency-based recognition.” Evidence of achievement is based on rigorous assessments of competency elements. Often, the preparation involves self-paced learning aimed at preparing the student to take a certification exam demonstrating their skills in a narrow area of expertise such as digital marketing or data analytics.

Once certified, these specific skill sets may be enough to enhance employment mobility, land an internship, earn a promotion, or inspire pursuit of a degree.  Related certifications are easily stacked to build increased levels of expertise in areas of interest leading to attractive job opportunities.

Micro-credentials generally involve completion of an online course but may also be delivered through in-person teaching or blended learning approaches. Validation of credential completion is overseen by institutions including universities, colleges, professional associations and companies. An emerging trend is financial support for the cost of certification, coupled with mentoring and coaching to optimize preparation.

In the Northeast Ohio region, many colleges and universities are providing this flexible learning option. Lorain County Community College, for example, now offers free or low-cost micro-credentials for students who are underemployed or unemployed, with support from Ohio’s Individual Micro-credential Assistance Program. Industry-specific credentials in the fields of coding, cyber-security, programming, data management, production and soldering can be achieved in about 16 weeks, and many programs are accessible online.

Cleveland State University is launching three industry-based micro-credentials in smart manufacturing, geared to addressing hiring priorities of Northeast Ohio industries. The micro-credentials program in smart manufacturing provides greater educational opportunities for a transitioning industry critical to Ohio’s economy. This specialized program is offered online as a hybrid of self-paced learning and expert-led discussion.

At Baldwin Wallace University, time-pressed students aspiring to earn their MBA can pursue stackable certificates, earning credits toward an MBA degree. At BWU, stackable certificates allow students to earn a specialized MBA in the area of their choice (business analytics, health care management, management, human resources, sport management or strategic marketing) by completing two to three certificates, supplemented with required MBA courses. Coursework for each MBA type addresses targeted skills aligned with personal goals and employer needs.

Micro-credential earners can add certificates to their LinkedIn profiles and resumes as a way to document their special skills and accomplishments. While micro-credentials are gaining significant traction based on their utility and flexibility, education experts believe certificate programs and traditional degree programs will continue to work in tandem, preparing students for bright and resilient futures. ●

Deborah D. Hoover is CEO of Entrepreneurship Education Consortium

Deborah D. Hoover

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