What exactly are microcredentials?

Many workers and employers unaware, confused about mini qualifications or ‘nanodegrees’

What exactly are microcredentials?
After learning about the definition, about 60 per cent of employers say that microcredentials would increase their confidence in a job candidate’s skills.

When it comes to microcredentials, there is an awareness gap among Canadians and employers about what they are and how they work.

Even among postsecondary institutions, the term is used inconsistently, according to a report from the Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario (HEQCO).

A microcredential is a representation of learning, awarded for completion of a short program that is focused on a discrete set of competencies (such skills, knowledge or attributes), and is sometimes related to other credentials, according to the council.

However, nearly six in 10 (59 per cent of) Canadian employers are “not familiar at all” with the term, and only 10 per cent indicate they had a good understanding of the matter.

This is the case even though in 2020, Ontario invested $59.5 million over three years to expand micro-credential retraining programs.


After learning about the definition, about 60 per cent of employers say that microcredentials would increase their confidence in a prospective employee’s skills.

Microcredentials are highly favourable for employers if they are:

  • directly related to the job being applied for (66 per cent)
  • competency-based (66 per cent)
  • accredited (64 per cent)
  • industry-aligned (56 per cent)
  • issued by a Canadian university (50 per cent)

However, in an internal staff training and development context, employers prefer microcredentials that are competency-based (69 per cent), flexible (61 per cent), industry-aligned (60 per cent), accredited (59 per cent) and affordable (52 per cent).

Bow Valley College in Calgary has worked to validate sector-wide recognized micro-credentials related to both technical and soft skills.

Most employers (70 per cent) say that microcredentials could facilitate employee retention, according to the HEQCO report, based on a literature review, interviews (44), and surveys of Canadian employers (201), prospective students (2,000 Canadian adults) and postsecondary institutions (105).

Also, about 60 per cent thought it would make sense to develop and offer microcredentials in-house for employees, and 54 per cent are open to working with postsecondary partners to deliver them.

Overall, 69 per cent of employers see microcredentials as meeting a need for upskilling adults without previous post-secondary experience, and 73 per cent said the same for adults with previous post-secondary experience.

Micro-credentials are designed to “fill Canada’s largest skills gap,” says Tracey Taylor-O’Reilly, assistant vice president of continuing studies at York University in Toronto.

Worker preferences

Among workers, only one-quarter had heard of microcredentials, and just 19 per cent could provide some kind of definition.

But when they were made aware of the definition, 74 per cent say they are interested in microcredentials for either professional development or personal development, and 78 per cent say upskilling and continual education will be important for “future-proofing” their careers.

However, there are a few considerations: cost (60 per cent); perceived value by the industry (53 per cent); perceived legitimacy by their employer (49 per cent); and comparative value (43 per cent).

Last month, the Future Skills Centre (FSC) announced it is investing $32 million to provide practical solutions for thousands of workers and employers impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, and prepare them for jobs of the future.

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