The skills gap is a growing issue for organizations of all types and sizes. In fact, in a 2018 survey, 83% of talent development professionals told ATD that their organizations were already facing skill gaps — especially with skills like communication, leadership and critical thinking — and 78% said they expect this challenge to grow. Organizations need better ways to track skills, pinpoint gaps, align stakeholders and motivate employees to develop core competencies.

Micro-credentialing is one tool your organization can use to build and demonstrate the skill sets we’ll all need to succeed in the future of work.

Understanding Micro-credentials

Micro-credentials are representations of a person’s participation, progression, completion or demonstration of a given competency. They are typically created using the Open Badges standard, which is managed by the IMS Global Learning Consortium and is described as “a method for packaging information about accomplishments, embedding it into portable image files as digital badges, and establishing resources for its validation and verification.”

Put simply, micro-credentials tell you who earned the social badge, what criteria he or she met to earn it, and who issued it. Learners can share them in a variety of ways — including as part of a professional portfolio, across social media and in email signatures — with individuals, institutions and organizations. They can also be confirmed at any time to ensure users aren’t misrepresenting their accreditation.

How Micro-credentials Benefit Individuals and Organizations

Leveraging micro-credentialing can have a number of important benefits for both individuals and organizations.

For the recipients of micro-credentials, it comes down to portability, simple proof of skills and motivation. Individuals can:

Take accreditations anywhere. Since users can export micro-credentials and save them in “digital backpacks,” these credentials travel seamlessly. Learners are never left wondering where on earth (or where in the basement) they stored them.

Provide rapid insight into ongoing professional development. Micro-credentials enable users to showcase their learning beyond formal education. As changes in the world of work push us toward continuous-learning lifestyles, professionals must be able to show that they didn’t stop learning after graduation.

Become inspired to seek new skills. A well-constructed system of micro-credentials can galvanize employees to pursue new learning experiences, take part in more and different training opportunities, and define their own paths to career success.

Micro-credentialing also benefits employers through skills development, engagement, productivity and retention. Organizations can:

Understand where skill gaps exist and how to solve them. Micro-credentialing enables organizations to identify employees’ skills and how they achieved them (through avenues such as coaching and mentorship, courses or projects). Then, they can use that data to develop solutions that tackle skill gaps at both the individual and the organizational levels.

Boost engagement and productivity. After IBM launched its own micro-credentialing program, it immediately saw enrollment jump by 125% and completion by 226%. Learners said they felt more engaged, and sales professionals who completed badging programs were more likely to achieve sales quotas than the ones who hadn’t.

Build a culture of continuous learning. A key component of shaping future-ready paths for professional development is recognizing the types of skills the organization will need over the coming years and creating learning models to address them. With micro-credentials, organizations can give employees incremental ways to progress and improve and show that they genuinely care about enabling their career growth.

4 Best Practices for Micro-credentialing

Make Them Transparent

Learners must clearly understand how to earn the micro-credential. Are there multiple courses or modules they must complete? Does the badge require any projects or on-the-job actions? Are there any competencies the learner must demonstrate or credentials he or she must already hold? It’s important to ask these types of questions beforehand.

In addition, anyone evaluating a micro-credential must be able to readily understand what it is. What skills does the badge owner have? Who issued the credential? Especially if it’s a time-sensitive competency, when did the person earn it? The answers to these questions must be apparent to anyone evaluating the badge.

Make Them Meaningful

To have the greatest impact, micro-credentials must be relevant and beneficial. Employees want to be able to learn and enhance skills that will make tangible differences to their jobs and long-term careers, and organizations want their workforce to develop skills that will drive future results. When done right, micro-credentialing makes both of these outcomes possible.

Make Them Portable

One of the most enticing aspects of micro-credentials is the flexibility they offer. To this end, there are two considerations to think about as you’re setting up micro-credentialing programs:

  • What common frameworks will you use? Micro-credentials are most useful when everyone (employers, employees, academic institutions, training providers, membership associations and other parties) understands them.
  • What happens after someone earns a micro-credential? What other badges could the person earn, either to advance the same skill or nurture a competency in a complementary area?

Don’t Stop Developing Them

Organizations implement micro-credentialing to help individuals and teams within develop the knowledge and skills they’ll need to bridge gaps and succeed now and in the future. As your organizational needs, goals and business models evolve over time, so should the ways you use micro-credentialing.

At the end of the day, micro-credentialing can become one of the most important tools you leverage as part of your larger learning strategy to forge skill connections and drive success in the future of work.