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What Will It Take for Employers to Accept Microcredentials

The journey toward making open, shareable, and verifiable digital credentials has come a long way. 1EdTech’s Open Badges and Comprehensive Learner Record allow learners to capture, share and articulate their skills and knowledge with potential employers. The next step is to get more employers ready to accept non-degree credentials. 

At the Digital Credentials Summit, in a workshop organized by 1EdTech, in coordination with the Credential Futures Coalition, we brought together a panel of industry leaders from major companies, including IBM, Google, and AT&T, as well as employment experts from MITRE, SHRM, and WorkCred, to discuss how education providers and employers need to partner like never before to support talent development needs. 

There is no question from educators or employers that digital credentials hold extraordinary promise when it comes to solving multiple challenges in the workforce, including equity, affordability, and meeting the demands for qualified labor. However, to achieve these goals, a few things still need to happen: 

  1. Higher education institutions need to find industry partners to help identify, define, and then validate the skills required in the workforce;
  2. Higher education needs to rethink its processes, so it can more quickly adjust to industry needs that can change overnight; and
  3. Higher education institutions and larger employers must start using credentials in hiring practices and creating the technology needed to implement the changes to make it a more realistic lift for smaller businesses.

For any credential to be valuable, it must show that the candidate has skills that align with employers’ needs. While the general feeling is that the traditional college transcript is imperfect, employers at least know what to expect from it. By partnering, higher ed institutions and employers can co-define the knowledge, skills, and abilities needed to ensure quality and trust of the credential and the process.

“Understanding your labor market, and being able to communicate in workforce language is necessary to create valuable credentials,” said Dr. Luke Dowden, Chief Online Learning Officer, at Alamo Colleges District. “When we consider microcredentials, we should ask if this credential will get a person into a job with a livable wage. Is there a demand for it? Being able to answer yes to both of those questions means you have a valuable microcredential.”

“We also need to ensure students can articluare their skills in the language of employers,” said Sarah DeMark, Vice Provost of Workforce Intelligence and Credential Integrity, Western Governors University. “By making clear connections to credentials and degrees to job skills and workforce needs will help learners be more successful because they’ll understand what they need to earn to achieve their career goals.” 

It can take time, but by building a credentials program with employers in the market, institutions can ensure students leave with valuable skills that are not only needed by employers but also understood by students. It will also help highlight where programs need to be flexible and able to make real-time adjustments to the curriculum as the needs of the industry change. 

Doing this is vital because, right now, higher ed is moving too slowly for business. In fact, some major employers gave up waiting and started creating their own credentialing programs to fill this very real need. Higher education has a role to play in this transformation. By partnering with employers, they can work together to find where adjustments need to be made and how institutions can support employers of all sizes. 

recent report from Northeastern and 1EdTech, sponsored by Walmart, found that most talent acquisition systems aren’t prepared to take in non-degree credentials. At the same time, job candidates’ applications and resumes can currently go through multiple software systems, potentially introducing inconsistencies and data loss. There is growing interest in skills-based hiring, but the return on investment for new or updated hiring systems isn’t there yet, particularly for smaller businesses.

Panelists pointed out that 99% of jobs are with employers that have less than 1000 employees. They’re small businesses that don’t have the time or resources to implement new technologies that aren’t widely available. That is why it is up to higher education providers, who are developing microcredentials, and larger employers to scale the technology and processes to the point that it’s an easier lift for everyone.

“We need to get the technology and processes to the point that they are easy to scale and easy to use because employers are ready to embrace skilled credentials for hiring,” said Clayton Lord, Director of Programs, SHRM Foundation. “Useable, scaled skills-related HR technology will help employers find the right people and grow and retain them by opening up more and clearer pathways for workers looking to advance their careers by gaining relevant skills.”

This is where we come back to the standards that are already there. Human resources and talent management technology are where employers and institutions already overlap in transitioning learners into employees. Standards like 1EdTech’s CLR, Open Badges, and CASE can help organizations of all sizes move forward more quickly. Together, we can power learner potential and open new opportunities for success. 

The collaborations, conversations, and work will continue at the Learning Impact Conference in Anaheim, California, June 5-8, including a two-part workshop exploring strategies for how higher education institutions can engage deeply with industry and better understand current and future skill requirements. We’ll also examine recent research on how employers use competency frameworks and their readiness for digital credentials in the talent management process. We hope you can join us. 

You can also listen to a follow-up interview from the panel with Margot Baron, Google Cloud Certifications Lead and Credential Lead at Google, on the Illumination podcast by Modern Campus.

About the Authors

Rob Coyle

Rob is the technical program manager for digital credentials working with Open Badges and Comprehensive Learner Record standards. He has more than 20 years of education and edtech experience working in K-12 and higher education, both public and private, as well as corporate training and development, helping learners acquire knowledge and develop new skills both as a teacher and by collaborating with other educators to create meaningful learning experiences for students in a wide variety of disciplines.

Kelly Hoyland

Kelly Hoyland serves as the director for higher education at 1EdTech, where she works with members to meet the challenges they face in the rapidly growing and evolving digital teaching and learning landscape. This includes working across K-12, higher education, and corporate education to make life achievements more accessible, personalized, and equitable from the start for every learner. Kelly began her career in K-12 education, serving as a teacher, virtual school coordinator, and technology director. She then transitioned to higher education. Her focus has been to find ways to use technology to support teaching and learning.


Published on 2023-04-20

PUBLISHED ON 2023-04-20

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Rob Coyle
Digital Credentials Program Manager
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Kelly Hoyland
Director, Higher Education Programs
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