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Lifelong learning is now a part of work

03 June 2022

Micro-credentials are helping to bridge the skills shortage gap as businesses scramble to upskill “just in time” to meet market trends and challenges head on.

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Therese Raft

Micro-credentials are helping to bridge the skills shortage gap as businesses scramble to upskill “just in time” to meet market trends and challenges head on.

While not a new concept, micro-credentials are coming into their own to quickly build skills and knowledge across a broad spectrum of business imperative topics such as ESG, cybersecurity, supply chain and even entrepreneurship and employee wellbeing.

Universities are partnering with industry to create short courses to allow leaders to get on with the job at hand. Designing these short courses as credentials that can be stacked together towards other postgraduate accreditations provides greater incentive for people to invest in lifelong learning.

“We’re in the midst of the fourth industrial revolution and for many workers across the globe, the nature of work is changing. For some industries that means they are adapting to the change – investing in cloud computing, AI, blockchain, or AV production, for example, and all of which require capability uplifts in their workforce,” Professor Simon Barrie, deputy vice-chancellor (academic) at Western Sydney University says.

Professor Elizabeth Johnson, deputy vice-chancellor (academic) at Deakin University, agrees that market forces and industry demand are behind their stackable micro-credentials offering.

“Topics tend to be where there is a lot of movement. So, you’ll see a lot of short-form learning around IT and technology. You’ll also see a lot of short- form learning around business because it builds upon that idea of moving through a management and leadership pathway and acquiring those skills as you go along,” Professor Johnson says.

Partnering with industry has revealed new opportunities to further diversify the way micro-credentials, or AltCreds, as Western Sydney University calls them, are applied.

‘What we’re creating is a pathway. And a pathway isn’t linear.’

— Professor Elizabeth Johnson, Deakin University

“Our industry partners are always seeking to find that 1 per cent that differentiates them from their competitors, and more and more organisations are approaching us to develop customised AltCreds for the purposes of upskilling their workforce. The nature of work is changing so rapidly, and the pandemic has really forced businesses to consider how they compete more effectively,” Barrie says.

Speed and innovation are hallmarks of the micro-credential. While your typical university degree can take years to design and implement, micro-credentials are proving to be responsive to market trends with turnaround times to develop a micro-credential short course hovering between three to six months.

“The key here is to build out a model that you can repurpose,” Johnson says.

Deakin’s approach is to pair industry subject-matter experts with learning design teams to create a comprehensive suite of materials across self-paced online learning, intensives and master classes that best suits the subject and the way people learn.

The healthy pipeline of upcoming AltCreds at Western Sydney University includes additive manufacturing, leadership and management for sustainable development, sustainable water management, entrepreneurship, cybersecurity, and artificial intelligence.

Self-starters keen to succeed

Deakin University has also been working with Coventry University in the UK to develop a series of micro-credentials around entrepreneurship.

“That interest in entrepreneurship is something we’d really like to bring back to the Australian market. It’s an area where you have a lot of self-starters and then you’ve got companies that are in the early stages of their development. And that understanding of how entrepreneurial business works and on how entrepreneurship and creativity works is crucial for them to succeed,” Johnson says.

Micro-credentials could also provide the gateway to whole new careers, allowing people to learn more about different sectors or skills which can be stacked towards a degree later on.

“What we’re creating is a pathway. And a pathway isn’t linear. People try things and then they think ‘no that wasn’t for me, I want to look at something on sustainability’, or whatever it might be. So you’ve got multiple pathways for people to try things before they dive into learning,” Johnson says.

“We are also seeing a strong trend towards unbundling postgraduate qualifications and integrating these into professional learning and on-the- job development,” Barrie says.

What this means is that there will be more competition in this space. That competition will be great for consumers and businesses because this ultimately drives quality and accessibility,” he says.

Moving between careers

It’s an important shift in the higher education space that could foster genuine lifelong learning. With lifelong learning could come more flexibility for people to move seamlessly between careers, a trend we’re starting to see now with more people looking to make a career switch.

“The so-called ‘great resignation’ seems to me to be about taking back control over our career and work so it better matches our aspirations and desires. That’s a good thing,” Barrie says.

“It is about a new freedom to change our work that isn’t just driven by a pandemic – it’s a response to workplace disruption. It is often about doing something different, doing something slower, doing something new. Education that is designed to support such career changes will be an enabler of that increased agency,” he says.