The Micro-Credentials Movement Has Arrived

When companies as widely recognized and well established as Boeing, Walmart, and IBM start moving in a similar direction on something, it’s safe to say the idea has legs.

In this case, companies are looking towards skills-based hiring in tandem with degree-based hiring. The idea here is for companies to remove “must-have” barriers around hiring—such as “must have an MBA” or “must have a four-year degree”—in favor of hiring for the skills they need in a specific candidate.

There’s some notable science behind this approach. According to an oft-cited piece of research, hiring for skills is five times more predictive of job performance and, ultimately, results in a better-prepared workforce.

Tech companies—those disruptors of all that are stagnant or outdated—have, of course, long employed this practice. If they needed a good Python coder to fill an open position, they didn’t concern themselves with whether that candidate had a master’s degree or not. They just wanted to bring a quality coder on board ASAP.

The fact that blue chip companies are now embracing  this approach means that a focus on skills-based hiring has gone mainstream, and that micro-credentials have arrived as a legitimate tool for advancement.

In contrast to degree-based credentials like an MBA or a bachelor’s, micro-credentials are acquired through shorter quality programs—anywhere from one week to eight weeks—that allow a participant to quickly gain fluency in a particular skill, whether it’s digital marketing, data analysis, or financial decision-making.

For companies wishing to take advantage of this shift, there are several things they should do.

First, they should assess what might be missing in their organization from a performance standpoint. If sales are up, expenses are down, and efficiencies are high, then maybe everything is functioning like a well-oiled machine.

But if it’s not, companies need to assess why it’s not and then figure out how they can quickly introduce the necessary skills into their organization to address any organizational weaknesses.

As part of this self-assessment, companies should ask themselves questions like: Is there a specific skills gap that exists that’s keeping us from growing sales 10% year over year? Is there a missing skill set that’s preventing us from properly analyzing data  and making better business decisions? Are we missing a set of skills set that could help us develop and launch new and innovative products or services?

If the answer to any of these questions is yes, then organizations should consider a quicker and more flexible approach to obtaining these critical skills. Sales cycles, for example, are examined quarterly, and the business landscape doesn’t stand still for very long.

If companies want to acquire those missing skills quickly, that’s where micro-credentials come in.

Where possible, companies should also contribute to defining and shaping the content that goes into credentials designed specifically for their employees. After all, companies know exactly what skills will be most useful to their organization and their industry.

Keep in mind that there’s not a national standard when it comes to micro-credentials, so the quality of the credential or certificate can be tied directly back to the granting institution. Ideally, it will be a reputable institution of higher learning or ed-tech brand. That’s often a good sign of a rigorous certificate or credential evaluation process.

More than just making their companies more competitive, the adoption of micro-credentials is also an effective recruiting and retention tool. In turn, employees feel like their employers are actively investing in their continuing education and success, which is a valuable perk in a tight labor market.

To be very clear, nobody’s saying that four-year degrees are obsolete or that colleges no longer serve a purpose. There will always be a demand for the combination of education, emotional maturity and experiences that educational institutions provide.

But it’s also important to understand that the speed of business is accelerating, and that means the number of skill gaps aren’t going to decrease; they’re only going to increase. Hiring for micro-credentials represents an opportunity for companies and employees to keep pace with the skills they need to succeed.


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