B.C. colleges, institutes, and universities embrace microcredentials to create a more skilled workforce

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      One of the hottest buzzwords in B.C.’s postsecondary world is microcredentials.

      In September, the Ministry of Advanced Education and Skills Training released a framework document with a set of guiding principles to ensure a consistent and coordinated approach to microcredential programs across public colleges, institutes, and universities.

      According to the ministry, microcredentials can be credit- or noncredit-bearing—and this must be made clear in advance to anyone who enrolls.

      “Microcredentials support lifelong learning by enhancing access to postsecondary education through shorter, competency-based training opportunities,” Advanced Education and Skills Training Minister Anne Kang said in a news release. “Our government recognizes the need for opportunities to upskill and reskill, and these microcredentials will assist workers who want to transition to in-demand jobs.”

      One of the first institutions out of the gates with microcredentials was Vancouver Community College. Last year, as a Certiport-authorized testing centre, it began offering a Microsoft Office Specialist exam.

      Those interested in this microcredential have the option of taking VCC courses in Microsoft Word, Excel, and PowerPoint to improve their skills. Students who pass the test receive digital badges that can be posted on Linkedin profiles.

      The B.C. Institute of Technology offers microcredentials in three areas: digital transformation, essentials of natural resource and environmental protection, and introductory studies in mass timber construction.

      Capilano University is also promoting microcredentials through its continuing studies department.

      "I’m proud of our postsecondary institutions for stepping up to the challenge and delivering these courses to help meet the needs of a rapidly changing workforce,” Kang said in September.

      In September, the B.C. government announced $5 million in funding to support the creation of 35 more of these programs at public postsecondary institutions.

      VCC’s dean of continuing studies, Adrian Lipsett, told the Straight by phone that his school is developing a microcredential in ecommerce that will include three courses.

      “It doesn’t need to be yearlong,” Lipsett said. “It can be quite short—quite compressed—and meet the student where they need it.”

      He pointed out that ecommerce skills would be useful to VCC students in many programs, including fashion, in which graduates can benefit from creating online shopping portals. Lipsett said that emerging technologies in areas like clean energy, sustainability, and the automotive sector offer other opportunities to develop more microcredentials.

      Then there’s cybersecurity, which is a key concern for many organizations in the wake of high-profile ransomware attacks.

      Lipsett is happy that the Continuing Education and Training Association of B.C. is coordinating efforts by individual institutions to develop “collective efficiencies”.

      “For instance, if one of us develops a microcredential or a particular program and we’re running it down here in the Lower Mainland…[there’s] an easy opportunity for us to license that out or share that out in some way with other institutions,” Lipsett said. “Really, the question we’re all trying to answer is, ‘How can we best serve our community, not just now but five years from now, 10 years from now?’ ”

      He would also like to see more systematic communication between industry groups and the postsecondary sector.

      “We need to work with and ally with industry to make sure we’re collaboratively moving our province forward,” Lipsett said, “so we don’t leave students waiting in the wings for a program to be developed that should have been developed two years ago.”