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Micro-credentials are a convenient way to future-proof your career

With increased need for upskilling, micro-credentials provide an agile alternative to higher-commitment courses

Are there any jobs that don’t require continuous upskilling and learning? It’s been a long time since a chunk of post-school training set you up for life but today, in a time when many professionals (including this journalist) are shuddering at the thought that artificial intelligence may make them redundant, it has become more important than ever to stay a step ahead of the machines. Think of it like a teacher who just needs to be one page ahead of their students at all times.

And, like it or lump it, education is the main way to future-proof your career. While some people love learning and others just want to get on with the job at hand, micro-credentials are a way in which career professionals can access the relevant industry knowledge.

“In a nutshell, micro-credentials are small, accredited courses designed to meet the upskilling demands of learners, enterprise and organisations,” says Dr Emma Francis, senior project officer for micro-credentials with the Irish Universities Association (IUA).

For education observers the presence of the IUA (which represents Irish universities) in this sphere is a serious indication that micro-credentials have moved into the mainstream. Pre-pandemic, this pioneering approach to education was usually the preserve of smaller or more independent training providers. Today they are being offered by universities, technological universities, fee-paying colleges, further education and training providers, private companies, and State and semi-State companies – even this newspaper has got in on the act.


Micro-credentials are drawing in a whole new cohort of learners who want – or need – to be up-to-date on the latest developments in their industry.

These are just some of the options available for learners:
  • City of Dublin ETB: Education and training boards are among Ireland’s providers of micro-credentials. The largest, City of Dublin, has more than 30 apprenticeships and hundreds of courses running in its 12 campuses.

“We have over 1,000 micro-credentials available that can be offered as bespoke courses for employers,” says Blake Hodkinson, director of operations and quality (FET) with CDETB.

“Most of these are free to employees and small to medium businesses. These micro-credentials are targeted to meet the needs of business and include industry-specific qualifications such as the Google Professional Diplomas.”

  • Irish Times Training: “With learning now being included in the flow of work, we devised a short series of bite-sized, impactful webinars with our faculty,” says David Magee, director of Irish Times Training.

“Thematically we covered areas of skills that are in demand today, from change, communication and coaching to resilience and digital readiness. It is clear that digitisation and the ever-evolving climate change agenda will require increased and continued upskilling and reskilling across all industry sectors.

“The Power Hour Skills Series will continue in 2024, introducing more hot topics and new thought leaders to audiences throughout the year.” IrishTimesTraining.com

  • Irish Universities Authority: “Some IUA courses are online and some on site, allowing a chance for the campus experience,” says Francis. “Learners have access to university resources and our approximately 400 courses include business and management, IT and computer science, law, healthcare, medicine, agriculture, teaching, humanities, law, science and engineering.

“Companies both large and small come to us with specific needs, particularly around digital transformation and sustainability, and we can go to the universities and see who is best suited to help them. Our MicroCreds Innovate sessions, meanwhile, bring together the key decision-makers in enterprise to help address skill gaps,” says Francis. Microcreds.ie

  • Kirby Group: Many companies, such as Kirby Group, run their own internal continuing professional development (CPD) opportunities, either with the support of an education provider or through their own experience and knowledge.

Kirby has apprenticeship programmes for electrical and mechanical employees, says Fergus Barry, HR director with the engineering and construction firm.

“We have graduate engineering and quantity surveyor programmes as well as a graduate business programme (24 months duration),” he says.

“We have developed a Kirby Academy which runs all our training initiatives and have an online Kirby learning management system that enables us to efficiently schedule all training and also enables delivery of online programmes.

“This includes a set of online learning materials that enable our people to learn wherever they are and at any time that suits them.

“We also have clearly specified career stepping stones to enable staff chart their careers and we have structured leadership and high potential development programmes that help employees prepare for leadership and promotional roles.” kirbygroup.com

  • Solas: “We recognise the current challenges faced by employers and the need for relevant industry skills,” says Mary Lyons, director of enterprise, employees and skills at Solas, the further education and training agency.

“In collaboration with the Education and Training Boards (ETBs), industry partners, companies, QQI and the Regional Skills Fora, we have co-designed a suite of FET micro-qualifications in priority skill areas to support upskilling in SMEs.

“These include the recently launched, subsidised, Skills to Advance micro-qualifications in areas such as sustainability, digital, robotics, aquafarming, business innovation and market development. FET micro-qualifications generally take 50 hours to complete with approximately half of this time involving work related projects.”

Since 2019, more than 60,000 people have attended a Skills to Advance course. Provided by the ETBs across the country, the courses are delivered in a flexible, blended learning format, with tutor support and online digital resources to enhance the learning experience to suit operational requirements of participating companies and their workforce.

The courses are available at little or no cost and delivered locally by the ETB network in a flexible, blended learning format, with tutor support and online digital resources, all geared to fit around busy work schedules.

Lyons says that micro-credentials could be key to addressing some of society’s most pressing challenges.

“With climate change and environmental sustainability among the most compelling issues of our time, many businesses are now looking for ways to adapt to the green transition by reducing their impact on the environment and ultimately becoming more resilient in the face of new challenges,” she says.

“Upskilling staff in sustainability skills is becoming recognised as an essential part of future-proofing businesses, while empowering employees to act as agents of change in tackling climate change.

“The suite of FET micro-qualifications in sustainability provides an excellent starting point for companies looking to take the first step on their sustainability journey.”

Jon Geary, co-founder of Little Mama’s Gelato, an award-winning handmade gelato shop in Donegal Town, recently completed the environmental sustainability in the workplace micro-qualification course run by Donegal ETB as part of the Skills to Advance initiative.

“The course is a fantastic opportunity for any business owner or staff member to learn about all the actions that can be introduced into their business to help with sustainability and protecting the environment. If everyone tries to do their best, it will make a huge difference globally,” says Geary.

Solas also offers eCollege, a national online service for FET and provides a range of high quality interactive online learning courses, available at any time, for those who wish to learn at their own pace.

“Upon signing up, learners can access courses for all levels, from basic computer skills through the European Computer Driving Licence (ECDL), right up to courses in programming, from HTML and CSS to JavaScript and Python,” says Maria Walshe, director of communications with Solas.

“The certified programmes are free of charge and allow learners to study at a time and place that works best for them, while gaining industry-recognised qualifications awarded by Microsoft, Adobe, Digital Marketing Institute, CompTIA and Pearson IT Specialist.” eCollege.ie; solas.ie/programmes/skills-to-advance

  • Trinity College micro-credentials: “At Trinity, all our MCs are quality assured and developed and delivered by thought leaders and research experts in their fields,” says Orla Bannon, head of careers and development at Trinity College Dublin.

“They are relevant to a wide range of learners including working professionals, graduates wishing to upskill, entrepreneurs seeking to diversify, lifelong learners or those seeking to return to work/education and reskill.

With a focus on future skills needs for a rapidly evolving economy and society, Trinity MCs are industry-informed and offered in areas of high demand including sustainability and environment, healthcare and wellbeing, leadership and business, technology and data science allowing learners to develop skills that are real-world relevant. tcd.ie/courses/micro-credentials

How micro-credentials are transforming careers

All the buzz may be around artificial intelligence but there is another, quieter revolution happening in education.

Micro-credentials are transforming who learns, what they learn, when they learn, why they learn and how they learn. Instead of having to commit to longer, larger courses of a year or more, people looking to develop specific skills in a specific area can instead opt for a micro-credential, teaching them what they need to know in a significantly shorter time span.

“They provide a more flexible and approachable way of upskilling and reskilling, which better fits around work or life commitments,” says Dr Emma Francis, senior project officer for micro-credentials with the Irish Universities Association (IUA).

“A certificate or diploma was a big commitment financially but micro-credentials are more agile and fit around your life.”

Orla Bannon, head of careers and development at Trinity College Dublin, says that the way in which we approach learning has changed since the pandemic.

“We recognise that many people have busy careers and life responsibilities so this type of ‘bite-sized’ learning, usually lasting between six and 12 weeks, opens up learning to a diverse range of learners who can access education at a time and in a way that suits them,” she says.

“Many are delivered online or through a combination of online and in-person sessions and start at different times throughout the year offering the agility that learners need. People can undertake multiple individual MCs to build their knowledge and skills across a broad range of subjects.

“They can help you to develop essential skills, increase your confidence, improve your job satisfaction and help you move forward in your career.”

Blake Hodkinson, director of operations and quality (further education and training) at the City of Dublin Education and Training Board, says the pandemic gave people time to reassess what they wanted from their lives and the bite-size nature of micro-credentials appeals to those who are time-poor.

“Quick, bespoke and often free courses that give highly sought-after skills and competencies in areas like analytics, cloud computing or project management are providing opportunities for people to access jobs that may not have existed five years ago,” he says.

Fergus Barry is HR director at Kirby Group, where staff regularly engage in CPD.

He concedes that micro-credentials “are not the great panacea to solve all our skill challenges”.

“But they are an important part of the solution and their growth is based on providing opportunities for people to develop and learn throughout their lives,” he says.