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Micro-credentials: The new way forward to plug talent gaps and support lifelong learning
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Micro-credentials: The new way forward to plug talent gaps and support lifelong learning

With ‘skills currency’, it is time for adult learners to prepare for the future of work through a revolutionary approach to learning.

This article is brought to you by Singapore Institute of Technology (SIT).

With a vibrant ICT ecosystem and region-wide digital connectivity, Singapore has built a reputation as a growing technological hub over the years. The nation is home to both global and regional technology firms from Google to Grab, and has been lauded for its capabilities in infrastructure, digitalisation, and talent. In fact, Singapore was ranked fourth in the IMD World Digital Competitiveness 2022 Ranking after Denmark, the United States and Sweden, which measures how prepared countries are at adopting new digital technologies in government practices.

However, the global issue of attracting and retaining talent remains prevalent in the post-pandemic world. In the ICT sector specifically, Singapore faces a talent gap of 19,000, particularly in roles like software engineering and development. As one tech leader pointed out: “Singapore is home to 80 of the world’s top 100 tech companies and over 3,800 tech enabled start-ups, yet one of the nation’s biggest challenges that persists is talent shortage.”

As a whole, Singapore needs 1.2mn additional digital workers by 2025 to remain competitive, according to a report commissioned by Amazon Web Services.

Clearly, there is a need to nurture a strong pipeline of local talent, including fresh graduates and mid-career professionals, while ensuring our existing workforce remains relevant and competitive in this fast-changing digital economy.

What are our best areas of opportunity to tackle this issue?

For one, there is a pressing need to equip Singaporeans with the necessary skills to compete on the global front. At the national level, the focus is on retraining and upgrading up to half a million adult learners each year, as part of workforce transformation. However, experts know that Singapore has always believed in a tripartite approach – and for this to come together, it is critical for value-chain partners such as the Institutes of Higher Learning (IHLs) to contribute to this national effort.

Leading the way in this response is the Singapore Institute of Technology (SIT), which is pioneering a new competency-based stackable micro-credential (CSM) pathway in collaboration with three industry partners (namely, NCS, Singtel, Singapore Computer Society), and three polytechnics (namely, Nanyang Polytechnic, Singapore Polytechnic, and Temasek Polytechnic).

Pioneering a new approach to learning: Micro-credentials

This new CSM pathway is SIT's response to the government-wide call for workforce transformation, keeping in mind the needs and profile of learners in Singapore, who typically comprise working adults striving to balance work and life.

As Minister for Education Chan Chun Sing (pictured above, standing, centre) highlighted while officiating the launch of the CSM pathway: “For adult learners to reskill and upskill themselves, it takes effort. They have many competing priorities – family responsibilities, financial commitments, time constraints and other responsibilities in life. 

“The question is not whether adult learners should upskill or reskill, but rather, how can they do it at a comfortable pace? And how can we enable them to do this at speed and at scale?"

Recognising this need, the pathway was developed as a way forward to arm these learners with new competencies, while remaining in full-time employment.

Here is how the CSM pathway works:

  • Each micro-credential is attained through a short programme of study and/or workplace learning that culminates in demonstrated mastery of competencies in a particular area. These are organised into competency blocks that cover competencies sought after by the industry.
  • A typical micro-credential will take around four months to complete. Such modality of learning supports lifelong learning and encourages adult learners to take up short, ‘just-in-time' training.
  • Learners can sign up for individual micro-credentials as required for their work. As it is also stackable, those who aspire to gain a university education may stack up multiple micro-credentials and complete a capstone project to fulfil the requirements of an SIT degree.
  • The micro-credentials will mainly be delivered via a combination of asynchronous and online synchronous learning, augmented by face-to-face physical sessions for practical and laboratory experiments — maximising flexibility for learners to balance their studies, work, family, and other commitments.

This CSM pathway is the first of its kind to be offered through such a collaboration. It will be made available through SIT's existing Bachelor of Science with Honours in Applied Computing degree programme from academic year 2023/2024, with an initial cohort of about 150 learners from partnering organisations, and may be expanded to more degree programmes in future.

The promise of micro-credentials

As recently as a few years ago, and even today, some employers would tend to focus their time and attention on candidates with degree or diploma qualifications. Increasingly, however, as we move forward, there is a greater need to help our workers demonstrate their prowess in terms of specific skillsets rather than just academic credentials.

Beyond the first diploma or degree, the more progressive employers will encourage employees to take up micro-credentials that are competency-based.

With the competency-based approach, learners not only gain the knowledge and skills of a domain, but also gain the competence to apply these at work. This assures both learners and employers on the applicability and relevance of their newly gained knowledge and skills to their work.

The competency-based approach also facilitates the recognition of a learner’s formal and informal prior learning such as work experience, portfolios and industry certificates. As such, learners will have the opportunity to receive digestible education, all without compromising on quality.

This stresses the importance of ‘skills currency’ in the modern-day career portfolio – whereby keeping up to date with the latest skills is now key for employees to take on larger roles within their organisations or pivot to emerging technologies. It no longer is just about years of experience or qualifications.

As affirmed by Minister Chan, skills currency must take precedence. In line with this need, full degree or diploma qualifications, while still relevant, must increasingly be complemented by ‘just-in-time' upgrading modules that can plug specific skills gaps within firms.

Overcoming the challenges to articulate the demand for new skills will require everyone - including individuals, companies, trade associations, unions and the Government - to work together to scan the horizon and conduct regular dialogues to identify these new skills.

Lead image / SIT Photo: Keng Photography/Tan Eng Keng

Follow us on Telegram and on Instagram @humanresourcesonline for all the latest HR and manpower news from around the region!

Follow us on Telegram and on Instagram @humanresourcesonline for all the latest HR and manpower news from around the region!

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