In no small measure: Micro-credentials boost businesses and careers

As the business world changes rapidly, education and training have to keep up with the needs of the modern workforce and it’s true now more than ever. Technology is disrupting industries at the same time organizations are grappling with the tight labour market (not to mention the many issues the pandemic keeps bringing up). This perfect storm is creating opportunities in post-secondary education to boost skills in a new way.

A new type of post-secondary training is coming to the forefront—the micro-credential. Micro-credentials are accredited, short training programs aimed at addressing both industry needs and specific skill development. These courses can be a way to advance or change a career without needing to enroll in often lengthy, traditional university or college education. While degrees and diplomas are still incredibly valuable to employers and workers alike, micro-credentials provides skills training that can build capacity, increase productivity and improve engagement.

Developing programs to increase skills

Micro-credentials are gaining popularity, and the COVID-19 pandemic has hastened their growth even more. A 2021 study by the Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario (HEQCO)—Making Sense of Micro-credentials—found that 51 per cent of the post-secondary institutions surveyed in Canada were already offering micro-credentials and 83 per cent had leadership encouraging their development. As well, 62 per cent said the COVID-19 pandemic had increased the need for micro-credential programming.

There is, however, there is a lack of knowledge among learners about micro-credentials. Seventy-five per cent of the working-age adults surveyed were not familiar with the concept, and neither were 59 per cent of employers surveyed. That gap has not slowed the growth of micro-credentials. Most post-secondary institutions see that micro-credential programs are a new way to attract students and further relationships with industry.

The Saskatchewan perspective

The province’s post-secondary institutions have started offering micro-credentials in many areas. The University of Regina’s (U of R) Centre for Continuing Education (CCE) has been a long-time provider of professional development courses and in June 2021 announced the launch of their Professional Micro-credentials. The programs are designed to help career development for learners and help organizations upskill or reskill staff. “Across Saskatchewan and beyond, there’s increasing demand for training in specific skills and knowledge that support industry and employers, as well as individuals growing within a career or growing into a new career,” Dr. Christie Schultz, director of the CCE said with the launch last June. “Our Professional Micro-credentials were developed out of an identified need for high-quality, specialty focused, quick training that will fill skill gaps identified by Saskatchewan industries and employers themselves. They are currently being offered through remote delivery and can be taken anywhere, with more micro-credentials anticipated for Winter 2023. We are also customizing our micro-credentials to meet individual organizations’ specific needs and schedules.”

Saskatchewan Polytechnic (Sask Polytech), like U of R’s CCE, has offered professional development and flexible learning options for years. In September 2020, Sask Polytech created its School of Continuing Education, and a year later launched its Surge Microcredential programming. Courses offered cover a variety of fields including business, education, manufacturing, leadership and more.

“The need to upskill and reskill was already evident before the rise of COVID-19. The pandemic has only made this necessity more urgent,” said Dr. Larry Rosia, Sask Polytech president and CEO when Surge was announced in October 2021. “There have been a tremendous number of layoffs in some sectors while others are in desperate need of more qualified people. As well, many workers have come to realize that they need to upgrade skills to maintain their careers or transition to new ones. Surge micro-credentials are the fastest way to upskill and reskill. Learners can obtain new skills in weeks, not years.”

In December 2021, the University of Saskatchewan (USask) announced its foray into micro-credentials. In early 2022, the first course began through the School of Environment and Sustainability (SENS). A second program recently launched by the Edwards School of Business executive education program. “The potential for USask credentials to be industry-aligned, skills-focused, short and accessible has never been greater,” said USask Deputy Provost, Patti McDougall in December 2021. “We will be among the highest quality of micro-credentials in Canada, that is both in line with the Province of Saskatchewan’s recently announced definition, and is a certification of an authentically assessed, specific and relevant set of skills or competencies.”

First Nations University of Canada formally launched of Indigenous Continuing Education Centre (ICEC) at the Regina Campus in January 2022 after announcing its plans for its own micro-credential programming in December 2021 with the provincial government’s release of Saskatchewan’s Guide to Micro-credentials. “First Nations University of Canada’s development of several new micro-credentials is a step toward providing new opportunities for learning and filling gaps in the workforce when it comes to Indigenous knowledge and perspectives,” First Nations University of Canada Vice President Academic Dr. Bob Kayseas said in December.

The road ahead

Post-secondary education providers in the province continue to develop micro-credential programming to meet the needs of students and employers. As Saskatchewan emerges from the pandemic, with technology disruptions and a competitive labour market, micro-credentials offer a way to build on existing skills or create new ones that can both advance professional development and industry needs.