Serious cultural change is needed in how UK businesses and policymakers value and deliver learning if the country’s economy is to recover from Covid and harness the power of new technologies, writes Alan Hiddleston, and micro-credentials provide part of the answer.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson recently outlined the UK’s post-Covid roadmap. It calls for a skills “revolution” with loans for adults wanting to retrain, and more powers to deal with struggling colleges as part of the UK’s post-Covid recovery plans. This acknowledges what businesses have foreseen for quite some time.
Micro-credentials allow for skills to be quantified against set metrics. Desirable traits can be compartmentalised into different categories, enabling learners to pick and choose their courses as they please”
The reskilling challenge or skills gap is nothing new. Emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics have been disrupting the job market for the past few years, redefining job roles and the skills required in the workplace. Naturally, the pandemic has brought this issue to the forefront and accelerated some of the major themes.
Companies across the board have rolled out extensive digital transformation programmes in order to navigate the hurdles of the last few months, and in doing so, have increased their adoption of digital and collaborative technologies, placing employees in a precarious position. Many have had to learn how to use new software or devices to continue working remotely, while others have perhaps had to consider alternative job roles or retraining as a result of these transformation initiatives.
Learning and skills
In fact, a recent report by the charity Nesta indicates that the pandemic has exposed digital divides, with 42% of the EU population now at risk of digital exclusion. Leaders have a responsibility to address the widening skills gap and ensure staff and young professionals are equipped to handle the transition to a digital-based economy. However, the learning opportunities required to meet these constantly changing demands are simply not keeping pace.
Even prior to the government’s pledge, the skills gap has been acknowledged at an intergovernmental level. As part of its European Skills Agenda and post-Covid recovery strategy, the European Commission launched a five-year plan, where it will prioritise equal access to education, training, and learning, and focus on green and digital programmes. Policymakers and businesses alike will look to micro-credentials as a new way of assessing skills and development in both higher education and enterprise L&D.
Micro-credentials – assessing and stacking future skills
Technology is constantly evolving and changing the concept of work, and L&D teams have been trying to speed up the delivery of corporate learning programmes to keep pace. Now, L&D and HR departments are prioritising shorter courses, ones that enable skills and abilities to be learnt more flexibly and in bitesize chunks.
Micro-credentials allow for skills to be quantified against set metrics. Desirable traits can be compartmentalised into different categories, enabling learners to pick and choose their courses as they please, and HR leads can design more tailored learning programmes for specific individuals. Ultimately, they provide employees with an opportunity to build in-demand career competencies and top-up their skills on a more regular basis, stacking their credentials as they go.
The way in which we value, deliver and measure learning will need to be reviewed, with increased collaboration between educational institutions and corporate learning”
Given the flexibility of these types of programmes, L&D departments will be able to customise skills sets for specific individuals, and adapt their courses as required to fit specific business needs should circumstances change.
A significant advantage of micro-credentials is being able to matchmake skills to individual job roles and learner needs. For example, if a member of staff is put forward for a promotion and likely to take a management role requiring leadership, communication and project management skills, they can acquire these traits through a series of short modules. Similarly, there may be some overlap for certain job titles, one role may require leadership and creativity, and the individual’s learning pathway can be built and adjusted accordingly.
In an ideal scenario, HR and L&D teams should work together, building more comprehensive training modules that are specific to individual job roles and employee needs, based on feedback from line managers. Rather than relying on peer-reviews or personal objectives, desirable skills and one’s ability will be measured against real-live data, and all parties can work together to help staff achieve personalised goals.
The importance of lifelong learning and collaboration
As the past year has proven, the job market is in a constant state of flux. Initially, as businesses entered the pandemic, the focus was very much on industry 4.0, with L&D departments prioritising soft skills. Now, the workplace has been disrupted once again. Flexible working is likely here to stay, and many companies are reconsidering the traditional 9-5 working pattern. As businesses prepare for the road ahead, L&D will require a different tactic, especially if it is to tackle the widening skills gap.
Universities and colleges must provide more flexibility and cater for lifelong learners”
In the future, there needs to be collaboration between government, education and enterprise. All have a joint responsibility to help prepare individuals for both the jobs of today and tomorrow. As indicated by the government’s plan, the demand for training programmes and opportunities will likely continue to grow after the pandemic, so lifelong learning will remain a constant feature of working lives. Similarly, students will need to be reminded that learning does not stop after tertiary education.
Universities and colleges must provide more flexibility and cater for lifelong learners. Businesses will require short courses that enable current employees, many of whom will be mature learners, to easily re-enter the education system and attain new skills periodically. Working with industry, institutions can ensure desirable skills are embedded within their curriculum and delivered across all courses.
As the UK prepares for its post-Covid recovery, there will need to be a serious cultural change. The way in which we value, deliver and measure learning will need to be reviewed, with increased collaboration between educational institutions and corporate learning. Only then can we truly address the skills gap and future learning concerns from all angles, helping kickstart the UK’s economic recovery.
As the debate on standards for micro-credentials continues to unfold, governments, businesses and institutions must recognise the opportunity it presents, to reimagine and explore new approaches to workforce development and learning.