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MicroCreds: A ‘bite-size’ learning approach to fix industry skills shortages

21 Feb 2022

MicroCreds is a €12.3m multi-university accredited flexible learning project in Ireland designed to propel workers to fill industry skills gaps.

As part of a bid to bridge the gap between higher education and industry in Ireland, a new initiative has been set up by the Irish Universities Association (IUA) to tackle skills shortages.

The project, called MicroCreds, is a multimillion-euro collaboration between IUA universities and some of the country’s big employers. It received €12.3m in funding from the Higher Education Authority’s Human Capital Initiative. 

MicroCreds will provide a national framework for people to take micro credentials, or short college courses, which they can enrol in flexibly and receive accredited qualifications to use to progress in their careers.

Dr Lynn Ramsey, programme lead for MicroCreds at IUA, filled SiliconRepublic.com in about why and how the project, which is the first of its kind in Europe, was developed.

Several higher education institutions, including Trinity College Dublin and Dublin City University, are running MicroCreds courses already as part of a pilot programme that began last year. At Trinity, for example, there’s a 12-week course in cyber-physical systems, a six-week course in leading with business analytics and big data, and a 12-week course in solar energy conversion and applications.

Ramsey’s team is currently working with University of Limerick and other universities as they begin recruitment for programmes that are going live at the moment.

MicroCreds is working towards a full launch from next January, Ramsey said, adding that she and her team are working “with different types of learners, with different enterprise, with the university partners to see what flexibility and agility looks like” for all involved.

From a learner’s point of view, MicroCreds aims to provide opportunities to learn in a very flexible and agile way. In its pilot phase, it has been geared towards “people who are looking to upskill and reskill” as well as those “who are largely already through third level and are already working”, Ramsey explained.

She added that it offers learners “a bite-size approach”, taking into account any other commitments they have in their lives.

‘We would like to get a place where learners come and work with us in a very flexible basis over their lifetime and think more of it in terms of lifelong learning, rather than this one shot’

Addressing some of the industry skills shortages is part of the reason the programme was set up, but its focus is also on rethinking what a good quality working experience is like. Crucial to the programme is the hands-on involvement of industry partners, who can advise from first-hand experience how the courses can be designed to retain talent in the workplace.

A member of the initiative’s enterprise advisory group is Siobhan O’Shea, client services director for CPL Resources. According to her, employability is critical now, particularly since the onset of the pandemic. “There’s been a massive redeployment of talent and a need to evolve people’s skills and to leverage new opportunities that have emerged as a result of the last two years.”

MicroCreds, she explained, provides a “cost-friendly” way for employers to “engage more” in education due to the short duration and practical nature of the courses. From an employer’s perspective, paying for an employee to do a year-long postgraduate degree may not be financially rewarding. MicroCreds, however, “opens up the doors and the gates completely to a whole new way of approaching learning”.

That approach could be beneficial when it comes to skills shortages in areas such as digitalisation and the green agenda, which O’Shea singled out as areas where Ireland does not have the skills to be able to meet the needs of industry and enterprise. In a dynamic and high-tech economy, Ireland must be equipped to deal with its skills shortages efficiently, she added.

“I think there’s now a recognition that doing your college undergrad is no longer sufficient, and you need to keep embracing learning over your entire lifetime,” O’Shea said, adding that she has taken measures herself to upskill in her career.

CPL has “invested significantly” in learning and development, and this enabled her to qualify as an executive coach. She also qualified as a chartered director over recent years.

“We’re seeing that more organisations understand that [upskilling] is a really important component of your people value proposition,” O’Shea said. “In order to be able to differentiate yourself in the war on talent, you have to be meeting the needs and the expectations of your current employees and future employees.”

Ramsey agreed, adding that she believes the programme is about “reimagining that university experience and reimagining it on a lifelong and life-wide basis”.

“It’s not just something that finishes when you finish your undergraduate degree or you finish your master’s degree because the pace of change in the world of work, and those global challenges out there, is incredible.

“We would like to get a place where learners come and work with us in a very flexible basis over their lifetime and think more of it in terms of lifelong learning, rather than this one shot, you get everything you need … because the pace of change is such that that’s no longer the answer.”

According to Dr Aisling Soden, talent transformation and innovation manager at IDA Ireland, the MicroCreds project could come to be a “huge part of Ireland’s value proposition”. IDA Ireland is also an enterprise partner on the MicroCreds initiative.

“It’s wonderful for any company that sets up here and has already established here to continue to develop their talent,” she said. Ireland is so far the only country in Europe to offer a coherent national framework for accredited micro credentials. MicroCreds courses are also ECTS certified, which could be attractive to employers and employees alike all over Europe.

Soden said that IDA Ireland’s client companies are looking for workers with “hybrid or T-shaped” skills, meaning they have both deep specialisms and the ability and desire to upskill in certain areas.

“It’s been driven by rapid technology change,” Soden added, explaining that many client companies she deals with are “very enthusiastic” about MicroCreds and the “add-ons” it can potentially provide to already skilled workers.

“I think what’s a really wonderful part of the MicroCreds project is that it’s across seven universities; you can mix and match different courses from different universities, and develop your own curriculum. You can really tailor what you need to learn to your own your own career path and what the employer needs as well,” Soden said.

“So, if we deliver this to the quality that it looks like it will be delivered by Lynn and her team, it’s a real game changer for Ireland.”

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Blathnaid O’Dea
By Blathnaid O’Dea

Blathnaid O’Dea worked as a Careers reporter until 2024, coming from a background in the Humanities. She likes people, pranking, pictures of puffins – and apparently alliteration.

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