Annie Graham-Riley looks at the new bite-sized qualifications that look set to change the relationship between work and study.

New Zealanders young and old are about to benefit from a new qualification pathway that will formally acknowledge skills and study at a level other than that of certificates, diplomas and degrees.

Micro-credentials are, at their core, certifications offered for taking courses and developing skills in specific areas. Sometimes called badges, nano-credentials or nano-degrees, these credentials promise recognition for workforce upskilling and reskilling.

The component of learning undertaken is validated in a micro-credential and is important in itself; it is not simply a stepping stone to any subsequent qualification.

NZQA is currently running a pilot programme (running from 1 August 2017 to 30 June 2018) and is working alongside Otago Polytechnic, The Lion Foundation Young Enterprise Scheme (YES) and Udacity to co-create programmes and ensure that the skills taught align with those deemed essential by employers of the future.

Exciting potential

Micro-credentials have exciting potential and may change the direction of tertiary education in New Zealand. It’s anticipated that micro-credentials will be deemed invaluable by employers in the future, who will quickly be able to ascertain whether a potential employee has the skills required for a role. Moreover, employers will be able to encourage employees to upskill in a quick and timely manner, should the nature of their roles change.

Micro-credentials are more specific than other tertiary qualifications. They generally require a lower level of commitment and are less intense than a traditional degree programme, but are intended to serve an important role in acknowledging skills that may be otherwise missed in traditional education. Oftentimes micro-credentials can be attained while the recipient continues full-time work or other education, such as secondary schooling.

Whilst still in the preliminary phrases in New Zealand, micro-credentials may be able to offer opportunities for professionals wanting to explore alternative career options and impress employers with more specific knowledge.

Udacity leads the way

New Zealand’s first micro-credential, issued by Udacity, became available in August 2017. Online education provider Udacity offers a range of nano-degrees and credentials in partnership with international companies including IBM and Mercedes-Benz to provide present- and future-designed courses.

Udacity spotted a gap in educational services and realised a need to acknowledge skills that are not always taught or recognised by traditional training providers. Those who are interested in developing virtual reality applications or exploring robotics may be marginalised by university education but can be accredited through Udacity at the completion of an online course.

Interestingly, the first micro-credential offered in New Zealand by Udacity, announced by Tertiary Education, Skills and Employment Minister Phil Goldsmith, is a self-driving car nano-degree. The programme is assessed by NZQA and provides 60 credits at Level 9 of the New Zealand Qualifications Framework. As with any micro-credential, this credential would be documented on an individual’s record of learning and could be easily accessed by a potential employer.

EduBits joins in

After liaising with NZQA, Otago Polytechnic is now the leading tertiary education provider for micro-credentials in New Zealand, with their micro-credential service, EduBits. Otago Polytechnic and NZQA now jointly award micro-credential EduBits, which recognise sets of skills and knowledge and have the potential to provide ongoing upskilling and reskilling.

NZQA has also been working closely with YES, which will soon begin offering micro-credentials to those taking part in the hands-on learning experience.

Terry Shubkin, Young Enterprise Chief Executive Officer (also known as ‘Chief Excitement Officer’), acknowledges it has been important for them to remain relevant and up to date since first beginning the YES in-school programme 36 years ago. She believes micro-credentials are the perfect avenue through which to do this and was thrilled to be able to take part in NZQA’s pilot.

Skills employers want

“YES has morphed over the last 24 years. We recognise those skills that are not necessarily taught in the classroom but are the future [in terms of] what employers are looking for. It’s very good that NZQA recognises what employers are saying they are looking for,” she says.

YES is hoping to continue its close relationship with NZQA, anticipating that, from July 2018, students completing the YES programme will be issued with 24 Level 3 credits under the NZQA framework.

“Currently, YES is only acknowledged as being ‘equivalent credits’ so it doesn’t appear on the record of learning under NZQA, but a micro-credential will appear, so it will be recognised in a broader sense,” says Shubkin.

No need to leave the workforce

Importantly, such a micro-credential may mean that young New Zealanders don’t need to spend three or four years out of the workforce, studying full-time, in order to have recognisable qualifications: “We’re talking about building lifelong learners, but a lifelong learner isn’t always going to stop what they are doing to do a three-year degree,” she adds.

YES, which is supported by The Lion Foundation, BP and the Ministry of Youth Development, praises the fact that NZQA is keeping up with the times and leading the way when it comes to formally acknowledging non-traditional forms of education.

“We [New Zealand] are definitely keeping up with the global trend of acknowledging learning that is not traditional,” says YES Head of Curriculum Yolande Rosario.

Future-focused Shubkin has applauded NZQA for “looking to recognise 21st-century skills that are not normally taught in the classroom”.

“Gone are the days when you needed a multi-year degree,” she notes.

What are micro-credentials?

Micro-credentials are not simply stepping stones to any subsequent qualifications. They allow people to upskill and explore multiple career pathways while continuing to work, complete other study, or even parent, while not having to commit to a full-time course load or face-to-face classes.

Micro-credentials can be delivered in a variety of different ways and may include short courses delivered online, in the workplace, or at training institutions face to face. Micro-credentials can be at any level of the qualifications framework and individuals would typically be awarded between five and 60 credits.

Importantly, micro-credentials will be acknowledged formally on an individual’s record of learning.


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