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As a regional, comprehensive institution, Florida Gulf Coast University’s mission is to offer programs of strategic importance to Southwest Florida and beyond. As part of this mission and the university’s strategic plan, we focus on building partnerships with area businesses and organizations, five school districts and major employers and industries. These relationships optimize opportunities to put FGCU expertise to work to support the region’s economy, model innovative and sustainable practices and advance the community. 

That’s why we started the micro-credentials—sometimes called “digital badges”—initiative at FGCU. We heard directly from our partners that there are skills gaps for employment or employment advancement opportunities due to rapid changes in technology and business practices. With this initiative, FGCU intends to be part of the solution by offering short-term and high-quality credentials to close skills gaps and meet the needs of the regional workforce and of talent development. 

Micro-credentials are a powerful, relatively new instrument in higher education. They give learners an opportunity to demonstrate mastery of particular skills, abilities and knowledge that are in demand by industries and employers. They can complement traditional (certificate, diploma, degree or post-graduate certificate) or stand-alone credentials. They are mostly short term; in other words, less time-intensive than traditional credentials. 

It should be noted that there are a few differentiators for micro-credentials: (a) they are competency based; (b) they are developed in consultation with industry partners and aligned with current in-demand skills; (c) they are based on assessed competency proficiency so that knowledge, skills and abilities are verifiable to recruiters and employers. Simply put, these credentials give competitive advantages to individuals.

Industry leaders are in the driver’s seat for developing these credentials, with FGCU listening and responding to what is needed for workforce development. Together, they identify the competencies necessary for individuals to increase productivity and work effectively and efficiently. That means job applicants with these credentials become preferred candidates, because they have already demonstrated mastery of the skills necessary to be work ready.

By partnering with regional employers, these programs aim to bridge higher education and workplace requirements. This can be beneficial to high school, technical college and post-secondary students, individuals seeking new career opportunities and employers looking to re-skill or up-skill current employees to meet workplace requirements. 

What does this initiative mean to our region? It means further investment in workforce and talent development, even for alternative, short-term and skill-based programs. This is a call for higher education to develop alternative solutions to connect graduates with emerging employment opportunities. If a university such as FGCU is to be a driver of economic diversification in the region, it needs not only to offer degrees, but to find creative ways to connect traditional degrees to specific careers, jobs and industries. Essentially, we’re building an intentional, meaningful and strategic talent pipeline through micro-credentialing.  

At FGCU, we refer to the combination of credentials as “The Power of And.” It could be your degree, diploma, certificate or experience … “and” your micro-credential that signifies up-skilled qualifications. Together, they position you better to fill the skills gap and advance in today’s rapidly changing workforce environment. 

For more information, visit fgcu.edu/digitalbadges. 

Aysegul Timur, Ph.D., is vice president and vice provost for strategy and program innovation at Florida Gulf Coast University.  

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