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When we talk about employee upskilling, one topic comes up again and again: microcredentials. Many in the training and development industry seem to agree that microcredentials are a good idea. In fact, Penn Foster, in partnership with Credly, the industry-standard digital credential platform has already issued nearly 2,000 microcredentials in the form of badges.

Yet, some chief learning officers and other learning and development leaders have yet to add this offering to their training toolbox. They still have questions. Questions like: What can we gain from using microcredentials? How can they fit into our talent development strategy? And how do we know a credential is legitimate?

How we define credentialing

In the past, businesses had fairly narrow ways to define credentialing. The learner was considered credentialed if they completed a course of study that resulted in a certificate, degree or diploma. This framework is still in place today, but it presents several challenges in the modern talent landscape: Earning a degree or diploma can take months or years. Employers and their employees must wait a long time to see a return on their training investment.

Because traditional credentials are mostly time-based (i.e. a two or four-year degree) the focus is on logging hours not building skills. There’s no guarantee that the learner gains the specific skills your business needs. Learners may get discouraged and give up because they can’t measure their own progress or aren’t sure that what they’re learning will translate to their jobs.

With the current “new normal” atmosphere in response to the COVID-19 crisis, many essential businesses can’t afford to wait years for workers to earn traditional credentials. They want to track the skills that workers are building in real time and prepare new hires to take on tasks as quickly as possible.

That’s where microcredentialing shines. Learners earn a credential by showing their mastery of a particular skill set. They can take a test, upload a project, or prove their skills in any other way the credentialing organization allows. In return, they get a badge that they can display on their LinkedIn profile or resume. Badges and microcredentials allow employers to see at a glance whether employees have the skill sets they need to meet business goals.

How employees earn microcredentials

Working learners can earn microcredentials in a couple of ways. They may complete targeted short-form courses with the goal of earning a credential. These courses are designed to quickly teach the learner a specific skill set that might be essential to their job or help them get a promotion.

A learner may also earn badges on the path to a traditional credential. Take, for example, a working learner enrolled in the Administrative Assistant program at Penn Foster. The learner must take nine courses to complete the program. In each of those courses, they learn vital skills that could be immediately applicable to their job. In the past, an employer may not know what those skills were or whether the learner had mastered them. With microcredentials, the learner’s achievements are recognized as they worked through the courses.

So the aspiring administrative assistant might earn a badge in Microsoft Office Basics or Records Management months before reaching the end of their course. They can then share these badges with their employer and even post them on LinkedIn, other social media, or personal website to let employers know what skills they have.

Microcredentials add value to the training landscape because they’re competency-based not time based. They are awarded when the student proves their ability in certain areas. Unlike traditional degrees or many certification programs, there is no requirement that a student put in a certain number of learning hours before they earn their microcredential. That means the student can be recognized for and start using their skills right away.

Microcredentials as a talent development strategy

Microcredentials are rarely a stand-alone talent development strategy. They should be combined with traditional credentialing in the form of certificates, degrees and diplomas. However, expanding how you define credentialing to include microcredentials can strengthen your talent development strategy.

When you include microcredentials in your talent development strategy both your business and your employees benefit. Microcredentials help you to:

  • Measure return on investment. See the return on your talent development investment at a glance by monitoring the number of badges each employee has earned.
  • Track skills development. Since each badge represents a skill, you can easily see whether, and how quickly, your employees are learning the skills you need them to.
  • Improve completion rates. Microcredentials improve persistence by recognizing employees for the work they’ve done so far. They don’t have to wait months or years to celebrate their effort.
  • Boost engagement. The opportunity to learn and be recognized encourages all employees to engage in training and development. Microcredentials show you when it's time to recognize an employee’s efforts with a bonus, promotion, or words of encouragement.

Legitimacy in microcredentialing

So far, there is no centralized authority with the power to approve microcredentials in the way that accrediting bodies approve universities. Instead, we have a handful of organizations that oversee the awarding of badges or claim to authenticate micro credentials. While some of these organizations do their due diligence, others may just be out to capitalize on a new trend.

As the person responsible for training and development in your organization, how do you tell the difference between a legitimate micro credential and a pretty graphic? The best way to authenticate a badge is to look at the organization that awarded it. Does that organization have a good reputation in the industry? Have they been providing education and development opportunities for a while? Trustworthy microcredentials come from organizations you know and trust.

Integrating microcredentials into your talent development strategy can help you track employee development and fill talent gaps. They are a powerful tool that can make your talent development tool box more robust.

Adapting to a new normal economy

As COVID-19 continues to make a near-devastating impact on industriesy worldwide, shifting workforce needs and demanding lay-offs, employers have to develop effective strategies for not only following CDC guidelines, but maintaining productivity and positive sentiment. Waiting for the current displaced workforce to finish college degrees or in-depth training programs before beginning work may no longer be fiscally sound, leaving the workers you do have struggling to maintain a pre-pandemic level of productivity with less staff. Instead of attempting to maintain an outdated status quo, offering the opportunity to upskill and prepare for work through online training and microcredentials can not only prepare your workers to meet the needs of your company, it can build a strong talent pipeline you can use to improve retention.

To start preparing for the future of work, contact a Penn Foster training expert today.