Skip to main content
Adult using phone whilst studying, thinking about career progression.

What are micro-credentials? And why are they important?

Micro-credentials are small, certification-style courses that focus on a particular area of study to hone proficiency over the shortest possible time.

One of the side effects of a rapidly evolving workplace is the so-called ‘half-life’ of professional skills. In other words, how quickly the things you know, the things you picked up at university, become obsolete. It’s hard to put an exact figure on this, obviously, but the World Economic Forum estimates the average half-life of professional skills is now just five years (and shrinking).  

That means, in five years’ time, most of what we think we know will be wrong.  

Faced with that sort of galloping, warp-speed progress, tertiary institutions have had to adapt: make courses shorter, cheaper, more targeted, more flexible. More consistent with industry best-practice. And that’s where micro-credentials have come from. 

So what are micro-credentials? Do you need them? And why do employers view them so favourably?  


micro-credentials are also much quicker and cheaper than most formal qualifications, which means students can upskill quickly, without sacrificing their day job.  

What is a micro-credential? 


Micro-credentials are exactly what they sound like. They’re small, certification-style courses that focus on a particular area of study. Unlike a broad three-year Bachelor’s degree, micro-credentials tend to pick one skill, one niche, and hone proficiency over the shortest possible time. Think of them like digital merit badges. A fast and practical way to upskill.  


What sort of micro-credentials exist?    


Some micro-credentials tackle broad themes (digital leadership, self-management or teamwork, for example) but most are focussed on one particular aptitude. You can get micro-credentials for ‘hard skills’, like data analytics or Python coding; or ‘soft skills’, like communication, critical thinking or creativity. Unlike some diplomas or graduate certificates, micro-credentials are designed to meet very specific industry needs. They’re also usually quite short, taking anywhere from 1 to 10 hours to complete. ( For comparison: Online short courses on the other hand usually take around 6 weeks to complete)


Why are micro-credentials so popular? 


The advantages of micro-credentials are obvious. For one thing, because they’re short, bite-sized curriculums, they can be easily updated, tweaked and modernized. micro-credentials are usually much more practical, more industry-relevant, than traditional degrees (RMIT Online, for example, designs each micro-credential alongside leading industry professionals like Accenture and Amazon). micro-credentials are also much quicker and cheaper than most formal qualifications, which means people can upskill quickly, without sacrificing their day job.  

micro-credentials allow you to personalise your career development, broaden your CV, boost employability and expand your options.  


How can micro-credentials help your career? 


Micro-credentials are one of the most time and cost-effective ways to upskill. And trust us, upskilling has never been more valuable. According to Deloitte, two thirds of all Australian jobs will be soft skill intensive by 2030. Ernst and Young reckons approximately 40 per cent of existing university degrees will soon become obsolete. The workforce is in flux, and in times like that, the future belongs to the agile. Micro-credentials allow you to personalise your career development, broaden your CV, boost employability and expand your options.  


What counts as a ‘credential’? 


This is where it gets a little tricky. “Another part of the challenge of micro-credentials,” says Forbes journalist, Peter Greene, “is just how micro to make them.” Greene mentions the case of Relay Graduate School of Education, which offered a micro-credentials in ‘Checking for Understanding Using Gestures’ (in other words, how to raise your hand in class). There is probably an invisible point at which micro-credentials become so niche, so ridiculously specialised, that they lose their value. It’s hard to say where this point exists, but hand-raising sits pretty firmly on the wrong side of it.  

Then there’s the question of reputability. Because micro-credentials are small, fast and usually available online, they’re easily marketed by institutions that (let’s be frank) offer a questionable level of education. Before you sign up for a micro-credentials, make sure it’s with a reputable, industry-approved provider, like Udemy or  RMIT Online. Check that the organisation is registered with the Australian government, and stay away from ‘free’ certifications. There’s no such thing.  


Do employers value micro-credentials? 


Employers value skills, and they value initiative. micro-credentials are evidence of both. If you can show experience, training and (best of all) effort in a particular skillset, that will go a long way to improving your employment opportunities. “I believe anything you do that can earn you valuable skills will make you a valuable candidate in the job market,” says author and entrepreneur, Scott Young. Sean Gallagher, founder of Northeastern University’s Centre for the Future of Higher Education and Talent Strategy, says that global expansion in tech has “really highlighted the fact that there’s a gap between the supply of people in the workforce coming out of university with skills to fill the gaps employers are looking for.”  


Want to learn more about micro-credentials? Head to our page and scroll down to check out the micro-credentials section here.

This article was originally published on 17 September 2020