Employers value microcredentials but don’t know how to assess their quality


Dive Brief: 

  • Although a majority of surveyed employers say they value alternative credentials, many also harbor concerns over assessing the quality of education and understanding the skills and competencies they represent. 
  • That’s according to a recent survey of 510 employers from the University Professional and Continuing Education Association, also known as UPCEA, and Collegis Education, a technology services provider for colleges. 
  • Despite their concerns, 23% of respondents said the greatest benefit alternative credentials provide are giving workers real-world experience. Also, 16% of respondents said alternative credentials help employees develop specialized skills and 13% said they improve performance. 

Dive Insight: 

Employers are growing increasingly interested in alternative credentials as a way to find qualified candidates and grow the skills of current employees, recent reports suggest.

However, they may be having trouble navigating a vast market filled with offerings from higher education institutions and alternative providers, such as companies like Google and Amazon. That creates challenges and opportunities for the education providers employers have traditionally trusted most — colleges and universities.

Survey respondents selected challenges they associated with assessing candidates whose resumes include alternative credentials. Almost half of them, 46%, said they were unsure about the quality of the education, while 42% said the same about the skills and competencies credentials represent. And 33% said they weren’t sure how the credentials aligned with job standards.

Some higher education institutions are trying to address these issues. Pennsylvania’s State System of Higher Education, which oversees about a dozen public colleges, recently announced it is creating a credential registry that will help employers identify offerings that are relevant to their open roles. 

The registry, which is slated to go live next year, will include badges, certificates and industry certifications that are offered through the system’s institutions. 

Despite challenges understanding the vast credential market, employers surveyed by UPCEA largely reported positive experiences with microcredentials. 

Nearly three-fourths of respondents, 74%, agreed or strongly agreed that these offerings have helped their organization fill skills gaps, and 73% agreed they improved their workforce quality. A similar share, 71%, agreed that their organization is becoming more accepting of these types of credentials in place of four-year degrees. 

These trends could provide an opening for colleges to make inroads with companies. More than two-thirds of respondents, 68%, said their organizations would want a college to approach them to help develop a nondegree credential for their workers. 

Yet 44% of respondents said their organization had never been approached by a higher education institution to do so. 

Employers were somewhat split over using an off-the-shelf credential or a custom one built for their organization. More than half, 60%, said they would be extremely likely or very likely to use an established alternative credential. 

If their organization worked with a college to develop a credential, however, most employers would want to be involved in designing the curriculum. More than one-fourth of respondents, 27%, said they would want to be extremely active in the design, while 46% said they’d want to be very active.

Only 5% said they’d want to be not very or not at all active. 

The survey includes responses from employers across a variety of industries, including financial services, healthcare, manufacturing and logistics. It was conducted online from Aug. 26 to Aug. 30.


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