Digital transformation company FX Innovation had been struggling for years with its talent pipeline long before the pandemic exacerbated a labor shortage in the tech industry. The company has consistently found that applicants lack the modern cloud computing skills that are critical to its work; The field is developing very quickly and some of the new skills are not taught in post-secondary courses.
So, the Montreal-based company partnered with the University of Ottawa and the Canadian nonprofit Center for Technology Excellence in Next Generation Networks in 2021 to launch CloudCampus, a microcredit program to train Canadian tech talent.
“We urgently need to fix the skills challenge,” says Katia Reno, director of talent development and education ecosystem at FX Innovation, who adds that the program is aimed at helping the entire IT industry. “We are more like a firefighter than anything else at the moment because we are dealing with a talent shortage, but we believe CloudCampus will provide us with the means to take a long-term strategic approach.”
What are mini credentials?
CloudCampus is just one of a growing number of micro-certification programs in Canada designed to help speed up workers in rapidly evolving industries and help solve staffing shortages. Experts say partial credentials — short courses that focus on a specific skill or area of knowledge — are a way for people to advance in their current jobs or develop skills that could make them a new skill. They also help employers raise the skills of employees to respond to the needs of the changing industry – particularly in the flamboyant technology sector – while attracting and retaining employees.
Micro credentials are offered by many Canadian universities, such as the University of Toronto and Victoria University, and even by some employers themselves, such as IBM’s Digital Credential Program, which contains courses in business intelligence analysis, predictive analytics modeling, and artificial intelligence. After completing the course, learners receive a digital badge that certifies their new skills.
The courses also cost much less than a degree or diploma program, and usually only take days or weeks to complete. Furthermore, they are stackable: while learners can only attend one course to develop a skill important to the job, they can also build toward a larger qualification, such as a certificate or even a degree.
How micro-certifications can help the Canadian workforce
Canada faces a huge skill shortage in areas such as technology, healthcare, and hospitality, to name a few. This is a challenge that, according to the Bank of Canada’s Business Outlook Survey, is holding back business growth. In 2020, Ontario announced it was investing $59.5 million over three years in a partial certification strategy to encourage workers to take short courses to access more opportunities or upskill for in-demand jobs, such as caregiving and advanced manufacturing. The British Columbia government has allocated $5 million in 2021 to help workers develop skills through micro-courses in post-secondary schools, and Alberta has launched a micro-accreditation pilot project in 2021 as well.
These efforts show promise for significant gains: According to a May 2021 report by the Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario, about 60 percent of employers said partial certifications would “increase their confidence” in potential employees’ skills, favoring courses that were competency-based. and directly related to the job in question.
One advantage of mini-certificates is that many courses have no prerequisites and learners can register and get started quickly, says Christine Mulligan, interim director of PowerED, Athabasca University’s Continuing Education Unit, which offers micro-credentials and other short online courses. “There is an immediate benefit and a rapid impact for workers and the workforce.”
Mulligan notes that partial certification programs, which are typically offered online and contain asynchronous components, give working Canadians the flexibility they need. According to LinkedIn’s 2020 Workplace Learning Report, 49 percent of employees globally feel they don’t have the time to learn on the job. “The online micro-learning experience can fit into the small pockets of time people have throughout the day,” she says, adding that these short courses can also help people explore new career paths without fully committing to an undergraduate or graduate degree.
For workplaces that want their employees to hone their skills or learn new ones, they should consider paying for continuing education. Mulligan says when employers support employees to earn small credentials, it shows they are investing in their personal and professional development. This, in turn, can help retain employees and even attract new talent.
Most Popular Micro Certifications: Environment, Leadership and Technology
Post-secondary institutions have focused heavily on developing partial dependence on developing sectors, or where labor shortages are particularly acute. As part of the provincial government’s strategy, eCampusOntario is launching 22 new pilot projects in 2020 with colleges and universities across the province for rapid training in sectors including personal support business, caregiving, electric vehicle maintenance for batteries, and digital marketing. Several institutions, including the University of Saskatchewan and seven post-secondary institutions in British Columbia in a partnership called the Adaptation Learning Network, have launched small credentials related to jobs in adaptation to the environment and climate change.
Mulligan says Athabasca’s partial certification courses on leadership and project management have been consistently popular: They are widely applicable across sectors and employers of all kinds are looking for these skills. There is also strong employer interest in PowerED’s accurate credentials on digital wellness, alliance adoption, and inclusion in the workplace.
Technical skills are also incredibly in demand, as companies like FX Innovation are involved in developing micro-accreditation to improve the talent pipeline in the industry. CloudCampus, for example, teaches very specific cloud computing skills, such as DevOps for experts and security at DevOps.
Renaud says existing employees can get a little credential to upgrade their skills, and the company is now allowing employees to put in four or more hours a week to learn. FX Innovation also plans to make accelerated training programs part of the onboarding process for new employees. “The demand for these skills is much higher than what is in the market,” she says. “It’s a quick win for our ecosystem.”