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Rose Murphy: Micro-credentials: Innovative opportunities for our evolving workforce

The pandemic created enormous changes in our workforce and educational systems. Employees, who possess skills that match the needs of today’s evolving industry needs, are in shortage. This “skills gap” makes it a challenge for employers to find workers with appropriate skills and talents. An emerging solution to this comes from higher education. Micro-credentials were created to fill this “gap.”

Stackable credentials and digital badges are ways for individuals to acquire knowledge and skills in small portions. Learning can be directly aligned with workforce needs. By obtaining an assortment of credentials, rather than a single degree, learners progress in a current or future career pathway. By using digital badges and stackable credentials learners are finding opportunities to develop technical and soft skills to demonstrate their proficiencies.

Digital badges are one way to show that you acquired a skill, achievement or experience that can increase your employability. Digital badges may be obtained from a college or university. Online platforms such as edX, or large companies like Google, Microsoft, and IBM offer competency-based digital badges that demonstrate the learner’s mastery of knowledge. Learners can use these pieces of data to verify the training they have received. The metadata holds information about the awarding organization, date of completion, and a description of the curriculum. There are many benefits to obtaining digital badges. They are more affordable and flexible than traditional education. Some are even free. It takes less time to earn a digital badge than a degree, certificate or diploma. In most cases, an individual can increase their skills in months, rather than years. Students can share digital badge information through social networks and communicate this information to employers, associations, or organizations. Badges can be shared on LinkedIn, social media, resumes or CVs and e-portfolios, as well as on college applications. Some badges can be earned in a work setting or in a community volunteer position. Digital badge opportunities are available for students of any age, background and educational level.



One example of an organization that provides useful badges for today’s workplace is Google Cloud. They have over 700 learning activities that include labs, documents, videos and quizzes in a variety of modules. A link to their catalog of badges can be found at https://www.cloudskillsboost.google/.

Stackable credentials make higher education more affordable, manageable and relevant. Stackable credential pathways consist of sequential awards that allow learners to earn higher-level credentials or build a “lattice” of interconnected credentials. Since stackable credentials are obtained in small chunks, it allows more flexibility for the learner. New skills can be stacked onto prior education or training. They can be accumulated over time or help to move the learner along a career pathway. Students have more opportunities to move between college and career or to continue lifelong learning. Like digital badges, stackable credentials focus on critical skills.



In California, with 116 community colleges to choose from, one can find a wide variety of stackable credentials. It is also becoming much more common for four-year institutions to offer shorter term certificate programs to enhance the student’s major. Metropolitan State University, Denver is a leader in the movement of stackable credentials. They are focusing on industries that are in high demand. MSU Denver is concentrating their credentials in cybersecurity, healthcare, space flight, journalism and mass media as well as business. All are obtainable in a short period of time.

To meet the need of a rapidly evolving economy in California, a new online community college emerged in 2021. In April of 2022, Calbright College had awarded its 100th Certificate of Competency. Calbright is an entirely free online college for any adult Californian with a high school diploma or equivalent. It has been designed to support non-traditional learners. Calbright College prepares students to earn industry-valued certifications. They use competency-based education that puts an emphasis on what students learn rather than time spent in class. It allows students to work at their own pace and fit study into their unique schedules. Calbright offers academic and career support. The certificates offered are entirely career-focused and in high demand. Most courses can be completed in less than a year. Currently Calbright College has offered certificates in the fields of medical coding, cybersecurity, information technology and customer relationship management (CRM) administration. A link to their program can be found at https://www.calbright.org/.

Our workforce and educational systems will continue to evolve. Micro-credentials may help bridge the skills gap to help meet the needs of our future labor market.

Rose Murphy is a retired high school counselor now working as an independent educational consultant. She can be reached at abestfitcollege@gmail.com or her website at abestfitcollege.com


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