Whether by necessity or by choice, countless workers from a range of different sectors have found themselves making career changes in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Although the economic chaos caused by the pandemic presents a significant obstacle for any job seeker, those in search of new careers don’t always need several years of additional education in order to become employable in a brand new field.
A rapidly growing slate of microcredential programs – short-term courses that deliver targeted skills training for in-demand roles – is creating a landscape where workers in need of refreshed or upgraded skills and competencies can access fast-paced training that allows them to pivot quickly and find new work opportunities, often in roles with little to no direct connection to their previous job, or even their post-secondary degree.
Karin Deane is a Training and Evaluation Supervisor in Workforce Development at WoodGreen Community Services in Toronto. In the summer of 2020, WoodGreen partnered with Lighthouse Labs to offer job seekers a microcredential course that provided training in web development and data analytics, as well as soft-skill job development. Short-term programs such as these, Deane said, have “made a big change” to people pursuing new careers.
“In the past, it might have been that somebody would have to have a degree,” Deane said. “But now a lot of organizations, especially in tech, are just looking for those skills. So that’s a real positive change. As long as they have those skills, they’re getting hired.”
WoodGreen has also seen “really positive” results, Deane said, in a similar program targeted to the in-demand field of VFX compositing, which involves integrating digital effects with live-action footage to create special effects for movies and television shows.
“All of last year’s participants secured full-time or freelance employment in the field based on the skills they demonstrated in the program,” Deane said.
As skills training is adapting, so are the evaluation methods leading employers use to assess candidates, noted Harvey P. Weingarten, Principal of the Michener Institute of Education at University Health Network.
Where once employers looked to certain well-regarded colleges and universities to provide a steady pipeline of the young talent they needed, many now prefer to put applicants through “a rigorous screening process for skills and competencies” in-house before hiring.
Weingarten is a past president and CEO of the Higher Education Quality Council of Ontario, and also served as President and Vice-Chancellor at the University of Calgary. In his book Nothing Less than Great: Reforming Canada’s Universities, he explains why he believes Canada’s post-secondary institutions must modernize curriculums to put skills and competencies on a level footing with content delivery.
“The future of higher education has less and less to do with the transmission of content and information, and more and more to do with the fostering of skills, and credentialing of skills,” he said. “That’s what’s going to serve people well in their future careers and, frankly, in their future personal lives.”
Workers of the future are likely to face increased volatility and precarity, Weingarten said, with the expectation that many will change careers five to seven times over the course of their working lives. Those in the gig economy are likely to experience even more frequent change. Many jobs that will exist in the future don’t exist today, meaning there’s no way to train for them. In addition, field of study doesn’t always correlate with eventual line of work.
All these factors, Weingarten said, further underscore the importance of an increased emphasis on developing skills and competencies, better preparing workers for their inevitable career pivots.
“Post-secondary institutions have to get in the game in terms of recognizing this change, adapting how they teach, what they teach, what they value, and assessing,” Weingarten said. “Microcredentials are terrific for that.”
When examining microcredential opportunities, Weingarten said, it’s essential to choose something that satisfies the most important constituency of all: employers.
“The employer has to recognize it,” Weingarten said. “Employers won’t have confidence in it unless they think there’s been a rigorous assessment and credentialing of the skill.”
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