Experience and skills learned on the job might count for little without a re-think about how qualifications work. Experience and skills learned on the job might count for little without a re-think about how qualifications work.
News National The coming age of ‘micro-credentials’ Updated:

The coming age of ‘micro-credentials’

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Gaining career recognition for additional study isn’t a problem until it is – and then it’s a big one indeed: a problem all concerned agree is long overdue for setting right.

How big a problem? Big enough to have spawned a new term you’ll be hearing a lot more in future: micro-credentials.

Let’s say you graduated in 2006 with a degree in information technology and have built a career since.

You have kept up with a mind-blowing plethora of developments, which has been a daily challenge in a field evolving and expanding so quickly that tomorrow’s great advance is yesterday’s dog-eared tech almost before you know it.

The original BlackBerry: Only slightly less out of date than the Australian Qualifications Framework. Photo: BlackBerry

Not so long ago, for example, the original BlackBerry was the toast of technophiles for its square little phones’ then jaw-dropping ability to pipe emails straight into your pocket. Today, even the cheapest smart phones can do that and so much more as well.

You’ve kept pace with all of that – staying on top of apps and computer languages and operating systems, which surely deserves some career reward, if only as a series of formally recognised updates on your CV.

Trouble is, there are official guidelines for recognising credentials, the Australian Qualifications Framework, and they haven’t reflected your personal knowledge base or anything like it.

Indeed, in 2013 – when the AQF was last updated – videos were still being rented over the counter and Netflix, which would soon put those mum-and-dad shops out of business, was just kicking off the enormous streaming boom that began in earnest when it produced House of Cards’ first season.

What needs to change and soon? One heck of a lot, according to a 218-page report compiled for the AQF by consultants PhillipsKPA and released late last year.

“Modern awards may specify given qualifications in the context of job descriptions, wage rates and allowances linked to holding or obtaining a trade certificate, licence or qualification,” the report says.

“In general, reference to qualifications relates to either the classification of workers or to their remuneration.”

Cut through the consultant-speak and that boils down to a grim proposition: all that extra study you did, those skills you acquired, most likely won’t put another dollar in your pay cheque – a particular blow to those on industrial awards that neglect to make allowance for additional qualifications outside the AQF’s antiquated guidelines.

That deficiency has been noted elsewhere as well. In a submission to a parliamentary inquiry on reforming the AQF and quoted in the Phillips report, an unnamed university administrator put it this way:

“The nature of competition, changing public sector expectations and policy create a dynamic tertiary sector environment. Timely and responsive mechanisms will be required to ensure that the AQF does not constrain institutional and sector competitiveness, nationally and internationally.”

How those reforms are to be achieved might well see Australia follow the lead of New Zealand, where training schemes offering less than full qualifications can gain official approval and recognition if they are deemed to be genuinely needed by learners and stakeholders.

On top of that, New Zealand offers accreditation for individual units of learning offered by other than registered tertiary providers, as do Ireland and other European nations.

Where reforms will go and what they, in turn, might produce is much debated, one fear being that the rise of micro-credentials could spawn chaos.

“Education futurists point to the disruption of internet-empowered education interlopers, offering global reach in digital learning and corporate packaging of industry-endorsed ‘just when needed’ learning,” observes tertiary education analyst Dr Craig Fowler, who nevertheless recognises that change is warranted and overdue.

There is “opportunity for intermediary standalone qualifications, supplemented by skill sets and/or ’micro-credentials’, aligned to evolving and emerging jobs, as well as tiered-levels of professional qualifications supporting job progression.

“This may work best with vocationally-specific qualifications in fields such as engineering, design, architecture, IT technologies, management/finance, nursing, etc. and linked to professional registrations and credentials.”

“Mature professionals often want fresh, smaller credentials to signal their skills or experience,” the Phillips report says, putting it in a few short words.

“The age of micro-credentials is well and truly upon us.”

Upon us it might be, but until the AQF catches up with fresh approaches evident across the Tasman and around the world, Australia’s credentialling system risks become every bit as out of date as a video store owner hunting for emails on his BlackBerry.