Using micro-credentials to address a skills shortage


Following a feasibility study evaluating their use as a tool to address skills shortages, micro-credentials aimed at increasing the supply of infrastructure asset managers will be launched this year.

Using digital badging to increase the supply of infrastructure asset managers

The digital badging feasibility study was one of five funded by Engineering e2e to investigate the potential for micro-credentials (small packages of learning) to offer a more flexible engineering education pipeline. Micro-credentials could be used to increase the supply of suitably qualified Infrastructure Asset Managers (IAMs).
See our info sheet on micro-credentials/feasibility studies

IPWEA’s Fostering our Future project

The study forms part of IPWEA NZ’s (Institute of Public Works Engineering Australasia) Fostering our Future project. Established in response to critical skills shortages in public works engineering, the project has also involved IPWEA in collaboration on a pilot degree apprenticeship programme – the Bachelor of Engineering Technology in Infrastructure Asset Management.
See Case Study: Fostering our Future
See Case Study: A new employer-led engineering pathway

Focusing on the career needs of learners

Digital badging of industry-created micro-credentials is aimed at increasing the number of well-rounded infrastructure asset managers. People working in this role have a variety of qualifications and work experiences, and to be effective need skills in maths, science, finance, economics, sociology, public communications and strategic thinking.

The sequencing, or stacking, of many digital badges has been quirkily termed ‘I.AMs’, an abbreviation of Infrastructure Asset Manager and a reference to the personalised learning journeys that digital badges now enable.

I.AMs are designed to focus on the career needs of those already in the role or aspiring to work in this area. Learners can complete an individual micro-credential or a sequence of micro-credentials that better reflect a role or set of necessary skills to undertake a job.

Employers and educators developing micro-credentials

The I.AMs are designed around stakeholder requests, and to fit learners’ development and career pathways, from school leaver to experienced engineers/ scientists and anyone else working in the infrastructure asset management field.

Employers and educators are developing the I.AMS using rapid prototyping (the Agile product development system, in which each iteration is tested before work starts on the next) in order to more rapidly respond to industry skill gaps. The desired outcome is that any investment learners make in gaining skills will now greatly increase their chances of getting a job, as well as companies filling much needed positions, faster.

“The goal is to allow industry to be more self-sufficient in meeting its learning needs,” say Researchers Vaughn Crowther and Sharon Cartman, Utility Ltd., “Technology has dropped the barrier to accessing and sharing knowledge immensely; it is completely disrupting the education arena. Digital credentialing is simply the necessary technology that turns knowledge into employability.”

Addressing known gaps in competency

They envisage each micro-credential as “A mix of existing programmes, recognition of prior learning but predominantly active teaching. I.AMs aim to address a known gap in competency, rather than solely offer an avenue to gain recognition of prior skills.”

“The intent is that the framework enables teaching and assessment to be completed by the industry where possible, with oversight from educators. Quality is underpinned by industry, not regulators, because industry have told us what skills they need.”

“We can turn micro-credentials around rapidly, and change them rapidly, without going through a myriad of hoops. However, this does not mean we cannot gain access to government subsidies via the New Zealand Qualifications Authority, but that is the path we have to take to address our skill gaps, faster.”

Shifting focus to understand industry needs

The feasibility study was set up to look at applying micro-credentials as a solution to the shortage of infrastructure asset managers. However, consultation with stakeholders revealed that many in industry were not actively pursuing learning journeys for their staff, so the project team changed the focus to first build a more thorough understanding of users’ needs.

They consulted with people working in the industry by doing design sprints, and created 10 ‘personas’ of their customers (employers and learners engaged in infrastructure asset management). This allowed a deep insight into what each type of employer or learner would require of micro-credentials. 

“The much deeper engagement allowed us to realise that micro-credentials are just part of the solution and anything developed would have to address the following problems:”

Barriers to upskilling

The project team found that the skills shortage is compounded by various barriers to people upskilling; these include:               

  • Motivation and incentive: different career goals/life situations; lack of understanding around what a qualified IAM is; and a desire for greater recognition of what they do than a New Zealand Diploma in Infrastructure Asset Management (NZDIAM)
  • Low industry awareness of NZDIAM
  • Inflexible learning style: the NZDIAM assumes learners already have an IAM job
  • Confidence to invest: employers lack good information about competencies people hold and educators about competencies needed in industry, which makes it difficult for both to prioritise investment
  • Why bother with training? The skills shortage means the jobs are there so less incentive to provide/do training
  • Speed to market: the massive skills shortage means the public works profession needs a faster model to train people
  • Uncoordinated and siloed: training options aren’t well coordinated so often duplicate competencies or offer some of little value for industry needs.

Benefits of I.AMs

“I.AMs enable a completely new form of learner journey by placing the needs of the employer at the centre, and then redesigning the education system around it.”

Benefits of this new model of learning include:

  • Co-developing within a rapid prototyping environment, offering recognition of prior learning, and teaching new skills
  • Providing career pathways for young and old within a profession where lack of formal qualifications is a challenge.
  • Sharing and celebrating: the aging workforce means there is a huge pool of knowledge to share, and this platform incentivises people to become trained educators and mentors to transfer it into the bright young minds of tomorrow
  • High quality and relevant: responsibility for development and assessment done by employers, educators and learners
  • The model can be applied to other sectors, with qualifications tailored for any industry.

Phase 2: implementation

Phase 2 of the project is now under way, with six badges in development; these will be endorsed by NAMS (National Asset Management Support) and IPWEA NZ.

The first set of badges will be launched in June this year, delivered in partnership with iQualify.

Our thanks to Vaughn and Sharon for their time and advice; if you have any queries please contact

April 2019