4 Sector Relations and Employer-Educator Partnerships
So, you want to build a Micro-credential?
There are a few questions you should ask before you begin:
- What opportunities exist for more co-designed and cohesive partnerships?
- How can the employer organization or sector play an active role in co-designing and co-delivering micro-credentials to enable credible and relevant employee and employer forms of certification?
- What industry and professional forums can be used to help broker and facilitate meaningful co-design and co-delivery of micro-credentials (Mhichíl et al., 2021)?
These questions speak to the authenticity of micro-credentials.
Relationships between sector partners and educational institutions should be purposefully driven by two key elements: identifying in-demand skill or upskilling needs, and ensuring that any assessments are in line with job performance (eCampusOntario, 2020).
It is important to involve employers early on in the development. Contact North (2021) identified this as one of the 10 key actions needed to ensure micro-credentials meet the needs of learners and employers. Questions persist about whether students are being taught the skills they will need on the job market. There are varying levels of alignment, or misalignment, between employers’ desired topics and competency levels and what students are taught (Jones et al., 2019). While studies have found considerable overlap between the needs of employers and program focus, gaps have also been identified, especially in the area of self-management (Rhew et al., 2019).
Questions for employer partners
- Are we the right partner for this micro-credential? Can we actually do this?
- Is this going to help us? Does this align with our existing goals? Does it present us with a new goal that works for us?
- Do we currently have all the right skill sets to respond to this need? Are we willing to hire to get the required skill sets if we don’t have them now?
- Can we put our name behind the credential in a way that we are comfortable with?
There is great value in building employer-educator partnerships and collaborations. Educators can work with employers to undertake a needs analysis to identify a skill or competency with sufficient detail to develop a micro-credential. In turn, this can help employers identify discrete needs to support competency and skill-based micro-credentials (Franklin & Lytle, 2015). Tools are often needed to help support this work. For example, the ADDIE model can help design effective learning programs by moving five different phases: Analyze, Design, Develop, Implement, and Evaluate (van Vulpen, 2020).
Tools to support employer-educator partnerships
Academy to Innovate HR (2020). Skills Gap Analysis: A how-to guide for Learning & Development. https://www.aihr.com/resources/AIHR_Skills_Gap_Analysis_L&D.pdf
Centre for Teaching Excellence. High Impact Practices (HIPs) or Engaged Learning Practices. University of Waterloo. https://uwaterloo.ca/centre-for-teaching-excellence/support/integrative- learning/high-impact-practices-hips-or-engaged-learning-practices
Kuh, G. D. (2008). Excerpt from High Impact Educational Practices: What They Are, Who Has Access to Them, and Why They Matter. American Association of Colleges and Universities. https://secure.aacu.org/AACU/PubExcerpts/HIGHIMP.html
Niagara College Canada (2019). Finding and Cultivating EL Partners and Resources. Experiential Learning Toolkit. https://www.eltoolkit.ca/designing-experiential-learning-opportunities/ finding-and-cultivating-el-partners-and-resources/
van Vulpen, E. (2020, Oct.) How to Conduct a Training Needs Analysis: A Template and Example. Academy to Innovate HR. https://www.aihr.com/blog/training-needs-analysis/
Employer partners should understand how competencies are assessed so they are able to accept the micro-credential as part of a validation of the skills of a potential employee. This can be done by engaging the employer in the process of determining which skills are most required as well as understanding the assessment process. The employer lens can highlight which skills are undeveloped in the available talent pool and where skills are migrating between two fields. In this way, the academic rigour can work hand in hand with business needs in streamlining content development that makes learners more employable.
It is particularly important to engage employer organizations or professional bodies in determining which skills and competencies will be assessed and how the assessment will be delivered: “The key is that employers agree that a specific micro-credential and its assessment provide a sufficient basis for employability” (Contact North, 2021).
Stories from practitioners
Ontario Tech University did a partnership with Lakeridge Health where we developed a micro-credential designed to provide the skill in transfer of a patient (e.g., moving them from one surface to another) to other paraprofessionals as it is currently taught to nursing students. The pandemic started right at launch time and the result was a confidence from Lakeridge Health in the quality of the education that they were able to take the content and use it to provide the training to their own staff. – Fiona McArthur
Industry input can influence content, delivery, and assessment of competencies that promote job-ready skills in a variety of ways. However, not all industry partners will want to be actively engaged at the same level. Different layers of engagement and collaboration with employers are possible; for example:
- Consultation (one-time, or pre- and post-micro-credential offering)
- Ongoing, intermittent advisory role (like a program advisory committee)
- Industry accreditor
- Supplier for industry-led micro-credentials
- Industry-led quality assurance
Leveraging existing mechanisms: Program advisory committees (PACs)
PACs can provide links between programs and the respective sectors they serve at Ontario’s colleges. PACs play an important role in helping ensure programs meet the changing needs of the labour market. They are generally made up of a cross-section of external college stakeholders with direct experience in the particular areas addressed by college programs (Ontario Ministry of Training, Colleges and Universities, 2008). Established PACs are uniquely positioned to provide advice on the development of part-time professional development and workforce training, including micro-credentials.
Future directions to consider for educator-employer partnerships might include any of the following:
- Co-create protocols and rubrics for assessing work-integrated learning.
- Build ways to recognize non-formal credentials from employers (see the Credit Bank at Thompson Rivers University).
- Adapt and co-create competency frameworks with employers that can drive learning and recognition.
- Explore a contract training model, as practised by Humber College in Canada, Otago Polytechnic in New Zealand, and VIA University College in Denmark: assess the workplace against a target framework, recognize current skills, identify gaps, and develop learning and recognition strategies for the workforce (Presant, 2020).
- Develop credentialed training for employers (managers) to be workplace assessors or advisors.