Microcredentials and upcoming qualifications changes demystified

The definition of ‘micro’ is extremely small, and ‘credential’ can be defined as endorsement issued to an individual by a third-party detailing competence.
A micro-credential system was first introduced by the New Zealand Qualifications Authority (NZQA) in 2018 to help ensure that businesses could access employees with the skills they need in a world that is rapidly changing.

Complementing longer-duration full qualifications, they enable industry and businesses to identify areas of priority and unmet skill needs and to partner with education providers to develop micro-credentials that respond quickly to these skills and knowledge needs.

What are micro-credentials?

Micro-credentials are small, stand-alone formal awards that recognises the achievement of specific skills, experience, or knowledge.  They are most suitable for people who want to upskill, learn a specific skill, work with rapidly changing technology or acquire specialised skills sought after by employers.  They are smaller than full qualifications at between five and 40 credits and take a shorter time to complete. For example, someone who specialises solely in installing insulation may not need to be a qualified carpenter, so it makes sense for them to complete an insulation installation micro-credential rather than a full carpentry qualification.

Micro-credentials are the right size option for preparation and entry to the workforce, addressing areas of emerging needs and are particularly good for people reskilling or changing careers across sectors.  They can be used to break qualifications into smaller, meaningful chunks, providing greater flexibility to learners and employers.

The changing landscape of qualifications and where micro-credentials fit in

As part of vocational education reform, we’ve been working with NZQA since February this year on proposed changes to the framework and the development of new education products.  Part of this work means that the Education and Training Act has been modified to allow Workforce Development Councils like Waihanga Ara Rau to own, develop and maintain micro-credentials, as well as education providers. Previously, providers were the only entities who could undertake this development.  Providers can apply to NZQA to deliver micro-credentials, including those developed by Waihanga Ara Rau.

We can now legally develop new micro-credentials in partnership with industries where we mutually agree that a micro-credential is the most suitable product to provide successful outcomes for industry. This is incredibly important and will have a significant impact on our ability to shape vocational education and training options on behalf of industry. We have now received ownership of five micro-credentials transferred across from the Building and Construction Industry Training Organisation (BCITO).  We are the first Workforce Development Council to be the standard-setting body for approved micro-credentials.

Other changes related to micro-credentials includes:

  • All Training Schemes are now micro-credentials. For example, Site Safe Passport etc.
  • Micro-credentials can be permitted to form part of a full qualification.
  • Any education provider can develop micro-credentials. It is expected that education providers will require the support of Waihanga Ara Rau to list a micro-credential related to our specific industries.

There are other changes planned for qualifications which will occur over a longer period of time gradually and NZQA will issue guidelines on these shortly after a long consultation period.

From 2023, Skill standards will be introduced, and overtime they’ll replace unit standards.  Skill standards will be the building blocks of qualification and will support the transfer of recognition of skill between programmes, and between qualifications.  For example, if a learner has achieved health & safety skills standards then moves into a different field of work within the industry, their prior achievements are recognised in their new learning programme, without having to ‘redo’ what they’ve previously learned.  Skill standards will be supported by ‘Nga kaupapa’ a set of guiding principles for design and development.  They will only be able to be developed by a standard-setter, such as Waihanga Ara Rau.

New Zealand Programmes

A new product called a New Zealand Programmes will be introduced. These will describe a single common pathway to achieving a qualification.  Only a standard-setting body, such as Waihanga Ara Rau, will specify a New Zealand Programme and education providers will apply for accreditation to deliver them.  Accreditation will include consent to assess any specified skills standards.

The benefits of New Zealand Programmes are:

  • They provide a high level of confidence from industry that graduates meet their expectations.
  • The development process will provide opportunity for collaboration and conversation between all tangata whai mana (interest parties). This will mean a reduction of duplication of effort and consultation fatigue for industry.
  • There will also be an option not to develop a New Zealand Programme, which means this product will only be used where it adds value.

The changes to micro-credential rules and the introduction of skill standards and New Zealand Programmes will provide a much more holistic and connected product suite which will support connections between qualifications and provide clarity for learners and employers.

It may seem a lot to take in, but all these changes to products are the framework and what is most important is the quality of educators, our learning support and other resources which are all very critical to successful educational outcomes.

We have engaged extensively with NZQA and the wider sector over these proposed changes and we will continue to engage with industry and providers as these changes come into effect. We will support you by ensuring we develop the right products for your industry in consultation and engagement with you so that your needs and the needs of the industry are met.

If you have any questions about micro-credentials or upcoming changes to qualifications, please get in touch.