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Micro-credentialing gaining popularity in Iowa, helping people acquire job skills
The education section of someone’s resume soon may list something other than the job candidate’s school degree and grade-point average.
Many economic development leaders are hoping for a line about micro-credentials there, too.
“The big buzzword with training is going to be micro-credentialing,” said Debi Durham, the director of Iowa Economic Development Authority.
It’s different from the traditional degrees someone might have on their resume.
“It’s not a two-year degree, it’s not a four-year degree,” Durham said. “But it’s some kind of specialized training and certification that makes me a more valuable employee.”
Durham gives the example of a factory worker having a cybersecurity badge rather than a full degree in cybersecurity.
Kim Becicka, who retired this year as vice president for continuing education and training services at Kirkwood Community College in Cedar Rapids, said micro-credentialing can apply to students first getting a degree or for those returning to school.
“The philosophy behind micro-credentialing is that individuals using micro-credentialing can build their own pathways, so to speak,” to make certain job skills visible to future employers, Becicka said.
While Kirkwood does not use the term “micro-credentialing” for any of its programs, some programs have similar, smaller credentials or certifications as part of a larger degree.
“We embed industry credentials into many of our programs,” Becicka said.
Kirkwood’s welding program, for example, includes certification with the American Welding Society as a step in its program on the way to a degree.
Other Kirkwood programs may include certification with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration that comes in addition to the degree title.
“That could be considered a micro-credential,” Becicka said.
For students first going to school, the hope is that they “stack” micro-credentials on the way to a degree.
“The two-year degree absolutely remains valuable because the more micro-credentials that you are in the pathway along, the better level position and wages you’re able to obtain,” Becicka said.
For graduates needing new experiences to keep up with their degrees or change career paths, it’s an opportunity to quickly gain skills.
“If I, say, decided to change careers — and part of my degree is in computer programming — and I wanted to go back into programming, I might consider getting an industry credential in the Java programming language and project management for IT to add to my resume along with my education already,” Becicka said.
Iowa Economic Development Authority commissioned a report released in January 2021 that included micro-credentialing as part of its “strategic plan for Iowa’s manufacturing industry.”
The 120-page report recommended two-year and four-year colleges in Iowa provide stackable micro-credentials to help retrain Iowa’s workers for future jobs.
Micro-credentialing helps employers find workers with the necessary skills, experts said.
“An employer can look at that credential and say, ’OK, I know exactly what they got there,’” Becicka said.
If an employer is paying for a worker to get more training, micro-credentialing could offer some hidden savings, said Tom Banta, vice president of Iowa City Area Development Group.
“By shortening the time to have that competency — even if it’s the same price as a 10-week course and if you do it in six — I think there’s some inherent value to that shortened time frame,” Banta said.
Many are bullish on the possibilities the concept provides for workers as well.
Durham expects it to translate into higher wages because it will be easier for workers to add valuable skills and communicate them to prospective employers.
Becicka sees the concept also fitting with the changes in what students want following the pandemic.
“Students are becoming much more consumer-driven,” Becicka said, “and for them to continue to invest in higher education, they need to see the value and the direct tie of that particular program or micro-credential to getting employed.”
Joe Murphy, the executive director of the Iowa Business Council, sees the smaller-scale return to school as feasible for many workers.
“We’re oftentimes talking about individuals who have families and careers already,” Murphy said. “Offering the micro-credentialing opportunity helps them complete that task in a more timely basis.”
Widespread implementation comes with a host of challenges.
Banta and Becicka pointed to accreditation as a major obstacle that keeps a school such as Kirkwood from implementing micro-credentials right away.
“What we want to do in higher education is really ensure your education is portable,“ Becicka explained. ”Some credentials may or may not be mapped within the higher education majors and programs that we have, and universities may or may not accept them as articulated credit or credit for prior learning.“
Becicka said community colleges need to see the demand from prospective employers before embracing micro-credentialing.
“We would need to become more consistent across our employee base to really help the micro-credentialing to be consistently delivered, popular with students and documented on a resume for the employers to then recognize,” Becicka said.
In the meantime, many employers are turning to online training programs such as Coursera to fill some of the void, Banta said.
Micro-credentialing is hardly a new topic, Becicka said. But it’s now gaining more popularity.
“It’s kind of had a resurgence,” Becicka said. “It’s popular, then you don’t hear much and then it comes back. And it’s back again.”
She’s confident in micro-credentialing sticking around this time, though, even if there is plenty of work to be done.
“Unfortunately, micro-credentialing is still just a bit nebulous,” Becicka admitted. “I think it will happen in time, but again, I really think the first step is you have to have the demand.”
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