Community colleges have a long history of engaging local employers to guide curriculum design and delivery decisions. For example, when creating a new Tree Care Technician program at Madison College in Wisconsin, regional employers and current workers met to examine course content, trending skills, and other specialized needs (such as equipment). Validation Of Micro-Credentials. These meetings, in combination with a formal occupational analysis, confirm that the skills taught are in demand and representative of local workforce needs. How is this process replicated with micro-credentials (also called digital badges)?
Like program and course content validation, the first step is to ask employers about skills that might not fit neatly into an existing competency or course. For example, soft skills like “teamwork” or technical skills such as “biotechnology lab skills” are transferable across multiple courses and extremely marketable. At Madison College, an industry survey is deployed every three years to capture local workforce challenges, hiring trends, and key skills or workplace competencies that employers find important. The goal of the survey is to uncover:
- Current hiring climate (ideally in both one and three-year horizons)
- Soft skill trends and progress made in soft skill measurement
- Overall perception of graduates/students in the workforce
- Skills of the future
Ask the Right Questions
Madison College’s survey captures workplace competencies that employers find important/very important. Employers then rate their general level of satisfaction in student/graduate demonstration of the key skills. These questions, over time, provide metrics for gap analyses. Here are sample questions:
Q. In general, how satisfied are you with Madison College students/graduates? On a scale of 4 to 1 where 4 is “Very satisfied” and 1 is “Not satisfied”, how satisfied are you with the following competencies and skills of Madison College students/graduates you have hired? (Select one for each)
Q. How important are the following when hiring? On a scale of 4 to 1 where 4 is “Very important” and 1 is “Not important”, how important are the following competencies and skills when hiring employees? (Select one for each)
To obtain quantitative feedback, ask an open-ended question such as:
Considering the impact of COVID-19, what new skills are required from employees in your workforce?
Are there other general skills you look for in qualified candidates?
When survey results are analyzed, disparities are calculated by the College’s Institutional Research and Effectiveness department to identify gaps between importance and satisfaction. This gap analysis formed the original design of the Madison College Core Workforce Skills in 2014. These are soft skills such as communication, ethics, teamwork, and critical thinking. In 2017, the gap analysis validated continued use of the eight skills. In 2021, significant progress or “closing of the gap” occurred; plus, a new skill emerged: Cultural Awareness. This triggered the creation of a workgroup to further define the skill and design the micro-credential (digital badge).
Create a Small Faculty Work Team
Once survey results are available, assemble a 10-person faculty workgroup to complete a closer review.
In quantitative analyses, identify the skills with the largest gaps. For example, in the chart below, the skills with the highest gaps became digital badges in 2014. Students earn them across a variety of courses and share the credential on social media, such as LinkedIn.
In the faculty workgroup, group the qualitative, open-ended responses into themes. For example, “adaptability” might bubble up from the responses, especially with pandemic-influenced employers. This might be an additional skill worth credentialing.
Finally, to create a tangible, digital emblem and credential, it’s essential to follow a consistent badge template. In the faculty workgroup, specify exactly what the earning criteria will be. For “teamwork”, consider statements such as:
- Contribute to group with ideas, suggestions, and effort
- Complete own share of tasks necessary to complete a project
- Empower team members by active listening and validating other’s contributions
To implement successfully, our faculty team also built a sample assignment or project to use when assessing/measuring each new skill and approved the tags for social media sharing.
Ideally, your micro-credentials should follow a consistent look and feel. (For example, a common branding/color theme and all criteria start with a verb.) Because of the power of social media, the reach of this type of credential—and your brand—is limitless.
Leveraging the expertise of the Digital Credential Institute allowed Madison College to efficiently deploy badges. The partnership has been a huge success! Since 2019, 4,519 digital badges have been issued to students in credit courses when they demonstrate one or more Core Workforce Skill.
As employers are increasingly willing to consider micro-credentials that verify skills, a consistent validation process is necessary. Ask the right questions, harness the energy of a faculty workgroup, and capitalize on an existing, reputable badge system.
DR. ROBIN NICKEL, CURRICULUM AND ASSESSMENT CONSULTANT, Validation Of Micro-Credentials