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Higher ed and micro-credentials for intensive on-job training

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Micro-credentials can be from organizations
such as the American Welding Society, which
recognizes skills in welding technologies.
Micro-credentials can be from organizations such as the American Welding Society, which recognizes skills in welding technologies.

Many changes and innovations have evolved in the workplace the past several decades.

From email and video conferencing changing how we communicate to shifts in the way work is done, we are seeing a new approach to work and education for today’s careers. Jobs in most industries now require advanced skills which need to be continually updated.

Being a lifelong learner is now part of the price to pay for working today. Higher education is meeting these changes by providing new, adaptable and customizable solutions for meeting the needs of today’s workforce.

The traditional path in education usually involves long periods of study. These courses can be credit or noncredit but usually involve many months or years training for a specific industry. Though this method is still beneficial in some areas, the technologically advanced workplace of the 21st century requires a new approach to providing the distinctive and changing skills for workers.

And this need is being met through micro-credentialing and digital badging.

Micro-credentials are competency based programs that are intensive job-embedded professional training.

These training programs are connected to the daily skills required for success by professionals in their respective industries.

These programs of study are rigorous and content specific. They allow the student to immediately enter the workforce with the skills required for their field or to be promoted in their field.

Since these courses are tied to specific competencies, or skills, they are recognized by the majority of industries.

For example, a workforce course in industrial mechanical automation may cover topics such as basic electrical, hydraulics, pneumatics and mechanical drives. This course can take three or more months to complete.

Breaking down the courses into smaller credentials, retaining the rigor and teaching to improve skills allow people almost immediately to begin applying their skills. This helps because it allows the person to gain employment and it allows businesses to benefit much sooner from the increased skills of its staff.

This is critically important because many industries could see a large percentage of its workforce retire in the coming years.

Developing a strong pipeline of skilled employees to replace these retiring workers is an increasing priority.

Micro-credentials are an important piece to this puzzle as they allow customized and adaptable plans to meet each employee’s needs and the goals of every business.

These credentials are tied to improving specific skills and are often aligned with national credentials or certificates recognized by industries.

These credentials can be from organizations such as The Association for Packaging and Processing Technologies or the American Welding Society, which recognize skills in packaging and welding technologies, respectively.

Another benefit to micro-credentials is that they can be stacked. That’s when someone earns similarly themed micro-credentials to receive a certificate or get credit toward an associate degree in that field.

A worker at a beverage manufacturer may take a set of several micro-credentials related to his field that are somewhat different than someone working in packaging.

Many courses may be similar, but because of the specific needs of these industries, employees will choose courses that best fit the requirements of their profession.

This is also beneficial to companies when providing training because they can build the training curriculum that aligns most with the skills required for all positions.

Meanwhile, skills badges are becoming increasingly popular. Skill badges, badges or digital badges are shorter courses centered around specific skills not necessarily required for the job but generally improve the workplace.

These are often related to soft-skills training in the workplace. Communication, leadership and teamwork often are examples of soft skill badges that can be offered to create a more rounded course of study.

These courses, perhaps only a half- to full-day, are not nearly as rigorous as the micro-credentials and are not necessarily aligned with specific industry certificates. They do, however, expose the learner to a greater understanding of important skill areas essential in business.

Much like micro-credentials, these are customizable according to the needs of the business and the employee’s development plan.

As innovations continue to shape the modern workplace, higher education is partnering with local industries to provide programs of study that are the most beneficial to their workforce.

By providing a customizable and stackable set of programs centered around various industry needs, higher education is proving to be a vital cog in the economic development engine in the regions it serves.

This will continue to enable industries to be lean, adaptable and proactive in meeting the changing needs of today’s economy.

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