Career-boosting benefits of microcredentials

Dave McCool is CEO of Muzzy Lane. Since founding the company, Dave’s goal has been to build technology that empowers authors to create compelling online experiences and helps students practice skills with guidance and feedback.

Some estimates say a third of Americans have left their jobs in the past two years. Economists are calling this wave of quitting “the great resignation,” but I see it more as “the great reboot,” in which workers are looking to upgrade to new careers that offer more flexibility, higher compensation, and greater job satisfaction. For workers with advanced degrees and years of experience, the great beboot might be as simple as an actual reboot, but it’s much more challenging for the more than 39 million Americans who have attended college, but earned no degree. But there is a pathway for them, too.

The challenge of degree requirements

The 39 million people who have attended college but not earned a degree can learn and display the skills they need in a matter of months, not years. Many individuals had to leave college to support their families, had accumulated an unsustainable student debt load, or didn’t have the time or money to go to 2- or 4-year college.


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The Opportunity: Employers are beginning to expand their thinking when it comes to qualifications. As an example, let’s look at an upskilling pathway for someone who dreams of a job in IT but who started college, dropped out for financial reasons, and is now working at a fast food restaurant to pay student loans.

Use free or low-cost learning tools: Udemy offers more than 200,000 online video courses including, for example, a complete Python course for $18.99. Udacity, with its “nanodegrees,” is more expensive, but offers mentors and career support as well as courses that can be completed in a matter of months.

Develop your “soft skills”: Mastering Python in just the beginning. Today’s employers are looking for soft skills that include creative problem-solving, oral communication, empathy, and collaboration. But critical thinking underpins the rest of them. To make the leap from fast food to IT, you need to be able to critically analyze situations that are new to you. Here’s the tricky part: If you don’t have IT experience, you need a way to show employers that you have that skill.

Earn and display microcredentials: The good news is that companies like Education Design Lab, with its XCredit and vsbl projects, offer microcredentials in all the soft skills I mentioned above. These are short courses that end with a skills-based assessment, which means that you test yourself by working through a simulated situation rather than watching a video and answering multiple-choice questions.

A word of caution: There are currently millions of microcredentials available online, and not all of them are useful. If you’re considering a specific microcredential, I recommend looking for outside validation from groups like the American Council on Education. Once you’ve earned the badge that comes with a microcredential, you can make it visible to employers by storing it in a “wallet” hosted by sites such as Territorium, where it will support your career reboot in a number of ways.

Benefits of skills-based credentials

  1. Get more interviews: A 2020 US Chamber of Commerce Foundation survey of US hiring managers found that 74% require job applicants to submit a credential, and that they’re “preparing for a world where competencies—not degrees—are the most important factors when filling a job.”

  2. Experience virtual internships: Earning credentials by passing assessments that use simulations create virtual internships, which give you valuable job experience and self-confidence, especially if you’re looking to move from one field to another.

  3. Send a strong signal that you can do the job: If our fast-food employee is lucky enough to get an interview for that dream IT job, checking their references is a traditional part of the human resources (HR) process, but it’s a weak signal. The only things that three glowing references prove is that you have three people who will say nice things about you. Skills-based assessments are a strong signal because they show that, as an applicant for an IT job, you have experience analyzing a series of cyberattacks, identifying the attack method used in each case, and recommending appropriate countermeasures to prevent future attacks.

To be a part of the great reboot, the 39 million need skills that they don’t have, and they need them relatively soon. Finding an affordable and time-efficient path to those skills will benefit them and the companies that hire them. HR departments are now trying to democratize things like coaching and professional learning that were once only available to the C-suite. Not only do they want people who are better trained when they arrive, they want to develop them once they’re hired, because it’s key to retaining them.

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