By Daniel Hill, Regional Vice President of EMEA, Instructure
While the education sector has largely returned to normalcy after COVID-19, the pandemic has left an indelible mark on higher ed, highlighting challenges the industry was already facing. The skills gap plays a large role, as graduates aren’t equipped with the tech know-how needed to thrive in their careers beyond the classroom.
According to the Learning and Work Institute, such a gap could cost the UK £120 billion by 2030. This negative impact on productivity poses a current challenge to businesses, higher education institutions and students alike. What are the emerging solutions to address the pressing need for businesses and educational organisations?
Micro-credentials: Narrowing the skills gap
New, mini-digital certifications are being used to provide opportunities to university students and those in the labour market. Often referred to as “micro-credentials,” these digital badges are being used to validate and demonstrate skills in a specific area – coding in Python, knowledge of cloud environments or even soft skills like teamwork are all being presented via this intuitive approach.
Compared to traditional degrees, micro-credentials enable students or employees to take courses that are modular, flexible and more focussed than traditional, wider degree programmes. At the same time, they also enable learners to show that they have current, up-to-date knowledge in a specific area.
Micro-credentials courses can evolve more rapidly to reflect the changing skills needed to narrow the skills gap. Not only will they enable students to be more employable out of university with job-applicable skills, it enables employers to quickly upskill their staff, rather than putting them through traditional degree programmes. This is critical at a time when 81% of UK bosses, according to AND Digital, admit that the skills gap is hurting their respective businesses.
Readying for the world of work
Preparing students for the world of work should be a main priority for higher and further education institutions in the UK. However, there’s a current gap between what higher education institutions want to provide students, and what skills they’re leaving university with. According to a recent survey from Instructure, maker of Canvas, more than half of respondents in the UK (61%) said that work and career readiness are crucial when measuring student success over the next 12 months, while only 27% of respondents across Europe, the Middle East and Africa believed institutions were preparing students for the world of work.
Micro-credentials are designed to maintain the value of traditional education. Yet, the value of a university experience is being questioned as jobs now require more skills developed beyond a degree cohort.
Micro-credentials play a key role in narrowing the skills shortage, particularly in STEM subjects. Students need more opportunities to learn about technologies and platforms they’ll use in the world of work – it plays a significant part in career preparation. This includes data science, machine learning, coding and virtual reality.
Beyond this, micro-credentials are also becoming more popular in the workplace, particularly in business and project management, alongside engineering. These too are key areas needed to narrow the skills gap in the UK. No matter if it’s a student at university or an employee already in the world of work, micro-credentials provide a multitude of opportunities to learn practical skills that will set them up for success in their current roles, and in the future.
What employers want: micro-credentials
Skill diversity will become more critical over the next 12 months, revealing that a set of wider ranging skills are becoming increasingly more important, according to Instructure’s latest survey. This reflects the current business environment – which faced many challenges during the pandemic, now encountering a combination of the cost-of-living crisis, the Great Resignation and the looming recession.
Micro-credentials empower both graduates, job seekers and current employees with qualifications in their longer-term educational journey. It will ultimately enable them to up-skill to progress in their current role, or to make a professional change –either way, increasing employment opportunities across the board.
The interest in micro-credentials showcases a mindset shift, as it means that job seekers won’t just be considered on the basis of their university or degree course, but rather on their set of skills and how they can meaningfully contribute to the workforce. Learning applicable skills through short digital courses delivers competencies aligned to emerging practices. Micro-credentials showcase their skills within a specific discipline compared to what traditional degree courses offer.
The rise of micro-credentials now is no coincidence. It shines a light on the current changes in the education sector. Educators can incorporate online learning at an affordable price in a shorter period for students, increasing the validity, affordability and accessibility for students. This return on investment and the range of micro-credentials courses empowers students, job seekers and employees to own their professional futures unlike any generations have ever seen before.