Industries across the U.S. have been sounding the alarm about a growing “skills gap” that’s affecting their ability to attract and retain employees. Healthcare, construction, and transportation are just a few of the industries that are having trouble hiring people who have the appropriate skills for the jobs they are asked to perform. And if you couple the skills gap with the thousands of people who want to switch careers, you have a perfect storm that requires job and skills training on a large scale – and a perfect opportunity for associations.
Associations are well positioned to champion certificate and credentialing programs for those trying to enter a new or different profession or for those who want to add to their education and skills as they advance in an existing career. Training, certification, and credentialing programs hosted by associations are key sources of post-secondary workforce education and are often important non-dues revenue streams for their associations.
Many individual companies, however, see a downside to hosting or funding the comprehensive training programs that are prevalent today. These programs tend to require a substantial investment of time and money for both the employee and the sponsoring company. Employees are likely to change jobs many times during their careers, and companies are reluctant to lose the thousands of training dollars they’ve invested in personnel who may jump ship to the competition.
Microcredentialing is an answer to developing a skilled workforce. Associations that sponsor microcrendentialing are an answer to providing training throughout an entire industry.
What is microcredentialing?
Microcredentials are tightly focused qualifications that demonstrate knowledge, skills, or competency in a specific area. They are generally earned by completing a specified course or a series of modules, demonstrating skills, submitting a work product, or participating in a traditional assessment.
Microcredentials are flexible. Some courses can be finished in days or weeks, rather than in months or years. They can be combined to show that a student has mastered a larger skill set or body of knowledge. They can cover broad topics or can be tailored to specific skill sets or industries.
Who is the audience for microcredentialing?
Almost anyone in your membership could be interested in microcredentials. Younger members can use them to add specific skills to their resumes or round out an internship. Older members may need to master a new technology or explore new ways to accomplish their goals. Everyone can benefit from leadership training or how to use data in their current roles.
Trade associations have a ready-made audience for these programs. Member companies don’t have to develop their own programs and can rely on their trusted association partner to meet their education needs.
What are the benefits of microcredentialing?
Although everyone can benefit from microcredentialing, your younger members may expect this type of learning opportunity to be available throughout their careers. They may choose one company or industry over another based on their perceived ability to develop their skills and advance. A robust microcredentialing program could encourage talented people to choose your industry.
In the past several years, we’ve seen how important flexibility is to modern businesses. The pandemic and associated supply-chain challenges, combined with disruptive technology, can make quick pivots essential to survival. Microcredentialing programs can help provide the training employees may need to stay competitive and do it at a reasonable cost with a short development cycle.
The cost of earning microcredentials is generally less than a formal university degree program. It can also be less than earning an industry credential that requires continuing education or attendance at annual conferences. This could be especially attractive to younger employees who may not have the funds to pursue either a degree or industry credentials.
How can you start a microcredentialing effort?
If you’re considering creating or adding a microcredentialing program for your association, you’ll start with a needs assessment. Working with your industry, you’ll ask what training is needed, for whom, and in what format. Once you have determined the needs and objectives, you can decide how to offer the program.
Some associations choose to develop the program themselves, either creating something new or adding to an existing certificate, certification, or credentialing program. Others, having researched what they need, partner with colleges, universities, and technical schools. They use existing university courses taught by experienced instructors and develop a series of modules that leads a learner through the program.
Developing a microcredentialing program can benefit almost everyone – the association, the learner, the industry, and the public. Successful programs offer learners a great deal of autonomy in the selection of topics and timelines, even when certain modules must be mastered before moving on to more advanced training.
Learners tend to find starting these programs to be less intimidating than applying for a degree program at a university. They can take a single course to test their interest in pursuing a new career avenue. Or they can explore new facets of their current jobs. They can work at their own pace, or their education can be framed as part of their job responsibilities.
As a final note, if you plan to host a microcredentialing program within the structure of your association or an established credentialing program, make sure your existing membership technology can handle the new stresses the new program will create. You’ll want a system that can process the increased registrations, modules, and reporting you’ll experience, as well as a system that can make communication with learners easy.
Microcredentialing is proving to be more than a fad. It can help solve real challenges modern companies face in attracting and retaining the best employees possible.
Emma is the Marketing Manager at Rhythm. When she's not thinking about all things content-related, you can find her traveling or shooting 35 mm film.