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Testing the Market Value of Micro-credentials at a Virtual Career Fair with Employers

The BadgedToHire vFairs main hall, where students can navigate to employer booths, presentation halls, and varying chatrooms.

 

How do we make 21st century skills visible through micro-credentials to better connect learners to jobs? How can the Lab’s 21st Century Skills Micro-credentials connect learners to employers? Will employers recognize these micro-credentials as signals of career readiness? And, does the earning of these micro-credentials give learners an advantage in an increasingly tight job market? 

The Lab has been working to answer these critical questions through our BadgedToHire initiative launched in 2019, which works across the country at University of Maine System, Central New Mexico Community College, and San Jose State University. Understanding the value of micro-credentials is integral to scaling each institution’s existing micro-credentialing program, which in the past year have collectively reached over 1,000 learners, and are providing higher ed with answers to these pressing questions.  

On November 4th, the Lab hosted a virtual career fair (using vFairs’ dynamic and collaborative platform) and invited nearly two dozen local and national employers representing manufacturing, health care, education, business, retail, financial services, recreation, environmental services, and technology to meet students participating in BadgedToHire who have earned or were in the process of earning one or more of the Lab’s 21st Century Skills Micro-credentials. Due to the economic challenges facing all college students, the fair was also made available to students not participating in BadgedToHire. 

The immersive experience allowed employers to post job openings (338 jobs were posted) and communicate with students in ways we are all becoming more accustomed to operating, via individual and group chats and video calls. The fair led to multiple on-the-spot interviews and the submission of 17 job applications.

 

Top to bottom: A virtual and interactive meeting space within the career fair where students and employers can meet and chat. An overview of the various chatrooms that were live during the fair; that of Northern Light Health is in focus, showing conversation between students and Northern Light Health’s HR representative.

 

The Lab observed interactions between job seekers and employers, ran focus groups, and surveyed students in an effort to gauge how employers value 21st century skills. And, how, if at all, students who have earned or are earning micro-credentials were more advantaged. 

 

What We Learned: the Fever Pitch of 21st Century Skills

Demand for 21st century skills is at a fever pitch. It is mission critical for employers to recruit and hire for these skills, even at the entry level. 

Many of the participating employers were explicit about the 21st century skills they are seeking, and how they believe they complement traditional credentials.  Here is a quote from the chat rooms themselves by an employer: 

 

Of the Lab’s eight identified most in-demand 21st century skills (that each correlate to a micro-credential), collaboration, critical thinking, creative problem-solving and empathy topped the list for participating employers. With the exception of jobs in healthcare, hospitality, and retail, empathy has historically been towards the bottom of the list for employers. The devastating impact of COVID-19 and the country’s racial awakening may be contributing to the increased interest in empathy.     

Attendees without 21st Century Skills Micro-credentials expressed an interest in earning one and are convinced of their importance in getting hired.

 

The Path Forward: We Need to Normalize Micro-credentials as a Signal to Connect Learners with In-demand Jobs

Despite the current unemployment rate of 6.9%, our ongoing work with employers continues to present a common theme: there is a scarcity of talent with the skills that match the current and future needs of employers. Amidst mass unemployment, housing and food insecurity, racial uprisings, and a shifting political landscape, understanding the path towards connecting learners with in-demand jobs is more urgent than ever and micro-credentials have a role to play. 

This year’s virtual career fair demonstrated the need for higher ed to invest in the intentional acquisition and practice of 21st century skills, and the need to educate employers about how 21st century skills micro-credentials can be the signal of career readiness they are asking for.

How are you seeing learners engage with micro-credentials? Employers? Email us your thoughts at microcreds@eddesignlab.org!

Learn more about: the Lab’s 21st Century Skills Micro-credentials, vsbl, and our efforts to catalyze the transition to skills-based hiring

 

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