Chair, West Regional Skills Forum
Dr Emma Francis
MicroCreds Project Officer, Irish Universities Association
Micro-credentials are short, sharp, flexible courses that allow individuals to engage with lifelong learning while they are working. They’re the perfect way to upskill.
“In Ireland there is fierce competition for talent. Every big company in Ireland is fighting for the same cohort of graduates and the same experienced workers. So smaller firms must be able to unlock the potential of their workforce to fill the skills gaps they face. If they don’t, it will hinder their capacity to grow.” Explains Dr Emma Francis, MicroCreds Project Officer at the Irish Universities Association.
On the face of it, Ireland doesn’t lack trained and skilled workers. After all, it has a reputation as one of the most productive countries in the world, notes Mark Gantly, Chair of the West Regional Skills Forum, a government-sponsored forum that aims to improve engagement between enterprise and the education and training sector. “But look behind that headline, and you’ll notice that multinationals play a big part in driving those impressive productivity numbers,” he says. “Meanwhile, Ireland’s small and medium enterprises (SMEs) are struggling to catch up.”
Workforce dilemmas micro-credentials can help with
Multinationals find it easier to invest in the education and training of their people — whereas small and medium-sized companies may not. For one thing, it can cost a substantial amount for an SME to release a team member to, say, study a post-graduate degree for months. It also makes a dent in productivity because — who covers for that employee while they’re away?
Ironically, those same small and medium enterprises urgently need to reskill and upskill their staff if they are to deal with any challenges coming down the track. “Companies of every size are being impacted by the pace of digital transformation and achieving Zero Carbon targets,” explains Dr Francis.
Micro-credentials are a short, sharp and flexible way for individuals to engage with lifelong learning.Dr Emma Francis
Micro-credentials: cost-effective way to solve skills challenges
Micro-credentials are an important part of the solution. These university-delivered programmes can be accessed in multiple ways (in person, online or hybrid) over a relatively short period of time, and a diverse range of cross-sector topics are available.
“Micro-credentials are a short, sharp and flexible way for individuals to engage with lifelong learning,” says Dr Francis. “They’re much more time-effective and cost-effective than a traditional course, which makes them a suitable option for anyone in the workforce who is looking to upskill to develop their professional career pathways. They’re also suitable for anyone who is between roles or looking for a new opportunity or promotion.”
Micro-credentials are also a benefit from an employer’s perspective because leaner, more targeted, enterprise-led courses give staff the specific knowledge, skills and competencies they need to thrive in their roles.
Building confidence and making learning a habit
“Micro-credentials tick a number of boxes,” says Gantly. “They offer quality education and training in a granular form that is more digestible — and, importantly, accredited. If people haven’t experienced education for a while, taking a shorter course can help build their confidence and make regular learning habit-forming.” That’s essential as continuous learning is becoming increasingly necessary.
It’s not always easy for people to engage with micro-credentials because information about these types of courses has been fragmented. Now, however, MicroCreds — a flexible learning project led by the Irish Universities Association (IUA) in partnership with seven of the founding IUA universities: University College Dublin, University College Cork, University of Limerick, Trinity College Dublin, Dublin City University, University of Galway and Maynooth University aims to address this.
The new MicroCreds.ie platform, which launched in April 2023, aims to promote greater awareness of micro-credentials as a valuable form of upskilling and lifelong learning in Ireland for both individual learners and enterprise.
Going forward, SMEs will have to upskill and reskill staff to stay relevant and remain competitive. “Firms need to future-proof their workforce by equipping them with different skills,” says Dr Francis. “Micro-credentials are an effective way to do that.”