Over 200 participants from 40 counties in Europe and beyond joined a lively discussion in Cedefop’s virtual conference on microcredentials, on 25 and 26 November, demonstrating that the topic is of global appeal.

The key message was that microcredentials are not objectives in themselves; they are tools. And the focus was the presentation of the interim findings of Cedefop’s project on ‘Microcredentials for labour market education and training’.

Cedefop’s approach to open exploration and consultation was highly appreciated by participants. The event was an opportunity for policy-makers, stakeholders, experts and researchers from education and training, industry and beyond, to understand the emerging roles of microcredentials in supporting labour-market-related and employment-relevant education, training and learning.

In his opening remarks, Cedefop Executive Director Jürgen Siebel noted that the conference complements the ongoing political discussion on tools and initiatives to support people in lifelong learning, as put forward in the European skills agenda, the Council Recommendation on vocational education and training (VET) and the Osnabrück declaration.

He argued that microcredentials will have a more important role in the future: ‘It is expected that the economic recovery from the crisis will favour increased short-learning options. We have already seen interest in online learning during the pandemic going through the roof.’

Cedefop Head of Department for VET and Qualifications Loukas Zahilas highlighted that ‘the portability and transferability of microcredentials largely depend on their visibility and perceived value to others, notably to education institutions and employers.’

Uncertainty regarding definition and function

Cedefop experts Anastasia Pouliou and Jens Bjørnåvold presented the project and its outcomes, and participants were given the opportunity to reflect on microcredentials’ broader uptake and function.

The study looked at:

  • mapping microcredentials in European labour-market-related education, training and learning;
  • microcredentials and evolving qualifications systems;
  • microcredentials and the added value for end users.

The interim findings show that a lot of uncertainty has been linked to the naming and function of microcredentials, with a tension on how they’re being identified. In addition, microcredentials are emerging mostly in areas such as engineering, manufacturing, and construction, but also in sectors such as hospitality, human health, and social work.

Most respondents in Cedefop’s stakeholder group survey see clear benefits of microcredentials with regard to the flexibility and responsiveness to labour market needs. However, more work needs to be done on building trust in them, as those which are more trusted are more linked to formal, nationally recognised qualifications.

There also needs to be a wider awareness of microcredentials, as the specific term has not been commonly used in the national contexts, even when there is a longstanding practice in many countries to offer shorter learning experiences.

Broader views

The European Commission’s Chiara Riondino said that microcredentials are part of the Commission’s action plan on lifelong learning and the idea is to establish a European approach to the issue.

On the social partner front, Business Europe’s Robert Plummer sees added value to microcredentials to open access to education and training: ‘We’ve started to develop a common understanding of what they mean; they will be beneficial for employers and learners.’

The European Trade Union Confederation’s Agnes Roman stressed that a common definition of microcredentials should be the starting point of discussions; they can be added value for workers, increasing access to lifelong learning but they must be quality-assured, accredited and recognised.

A broader perspective was discussed by a panel of international experts from the OECD, UNESCO and the European Training Foundation.

Find out more about the conference here and stay tuned for the final results of the Cedefop study in 2022.