Despite a highly educated workforce and a fast-growing population, Canada’s digital economy faces an acute and long-term labour and skills shortage.

One way to leverage Canada’s immense economic potential and growing workforce is to provide targeted training and upskilling interventions to develop desperately needed skills within the country's digital economy. To meet current and future talent needs, Canadian employers are increasingly looking for a balance of job-specific technical skills and transferable social-emotional skills. Micro-credentials provide one such avenue for needed training and upskilling.  

Micro-credentials are a relatively novel education model, and definitions of what constitutes a micro-credential vary, but in general, digital economy micro-credentials can be understood as short-duration, targeted, and skills-based learning focused on helping learners develop and demonstrate a predefined set of competencies.  

Unlike a traditional academic degree or diploma, which is longer and teaches a wider range of generalized skills and theoretical knowledge, micro-credentials focus on imparting one specific, workforce-ready, and demonstrable skill to learners over a short timeframe.  

ICTC’s March 2024 report Accelerating Canada's Workforce outlines a framework of five must-have elements for digital economy micro-credentials in Canada: (1) connection to labour market needs, (2) proof of mastery, (3) validation process, (4) portfolio-based learning, and (5) flexible delivery. Micro-credentials may also be designed to be stackable or a ladder into larger academic or professional credentials, such as certificates, diplomas, degrees, or professional designations in some cases.  

The following seven attributes outline how micro-credential providers—such as higher education institutions, professional associations, and private training providers—can operationalize these essential elements in their micro-credential program design and delivery.  

Attribute 1: Micro-credentials are structured around practical, skills-focused learning

Micro-credential providers should focus on practical, skills-focused learning in the design and delivery of their programs. Practical learning helps to bridge the gap between theoretical knowledge and practical application. Skills-focused learning is tailored to develop specific competencies directly relevant to job performance. Ensuring learners gain hands-on experience and skills that can be immediately applied in the workplace is an effective way for micro-credentials to enhance learner employability. By emphasizing practical, skills-focused learning, micro-credential providers can best position their programs as workforce development tools, delivering tangible value to learners and employers.

To ensure the skills are aligned with current industry needs, institutions should work directly with industry when developing programs, and both parties should maintain ongoing relationships throughout each micro-credential lifecycle. This alignment with industry not only benefits learners by making them job-ready but also meets the expectations of employers who seek candidates with proven, demonstrable abilities.

Attribute 2: Micro-credentials use project-based assessments

Alongside adopting a practical, skills-focused learning approach is providing project-based assessments. Competency-based evaluations, based on practical projects, can demonstrate that learners understand a concept in both theory and practice and emphasize learners’ proven ability to complete tasks. This involves developing practical, project-based capstone or final projects that directly correlate with job performance and address specific workplace needs. Such evaluations ensure that the skills acquired through a micro-credential are relevant and valuable in a professional setting. Project-based assessments allow learners to build a portfolio of work that effectively demonstrates their newly developed skills to potential employers.  

Attribute 3: Micro-credentials are developed and delivered with support from and in direct collaboration with industry  

Welcoming and soliciting industry involvement during the development and delivery of micro-credentials is an essential activity that ensures program curricula are aligned with contemporary labour market needs. Industry involvement, which equates to direct collaboration with employers, is not only a requisite when developing new micro-credentials but should also be leveraged throughout a micro-credential’s entire lifecycle. One strategy for maintaining direct collaboration includes the establishment of governance bodies, such as industry advisory councils.  

Industry advisory councils for micro-credential programs should not be carried out in a pro forma manner but as a committed and ongoing dialogue between micro-credential providers and their industry stakeholders. Individual council meetings should be approached with a high level of importance. Providers should thoughtfully consider input, ideas, and feedback from industry. If ideas or recommendations from an industry advisor or committee are not adopted, providers should offer clear, practical reasons for their decisions. Additionally, individual members of the industry advisory council should be encouraged to commit to long-term involvement.  

Attribute 4: Micro-credential programs include embedded career development and job search services

A key element for creating a stronger connection to the labour market is to provide embedded career services for micro-credential courses. These can include job search assistance, career coaching, and resume review. If the resources are available, providers could even consider developing work-integrated learning (WIL) programs, like internships and practicums, to coincide with micro-credential offerings.  

Such embedded services help job seekers secure gainful employment upon completing their micro-credential studies, as well as help those already employed develop tactics to highlight their newly learned skills and advance their careers. Micro-credentials that can demonstrate direct employment and career results will enjoy enhanced credibility among employers and learners.  

Embedded job search and career supports should be a part of the core services offered by micro-credential providers. While smaller resource-constrained providers may struggle to provide beneficial career supports to learners, they may be able to partner with career service organizations that have the needed programs and services. For larger providers, such as colleges and universities, campus career service offices can offer tailored career supports for micro-credential learners.  

Attribute 5: Micro-credential program performance metrics place emphasis on learner employment and career outcomes  

When micro-credential providers develop performance metrics for their programs, it is imperative that they emphasize learner employability and post-program career outcomes. Other measures of program performance, including financial stability and enrolment, are also key considerations, but learner career outcomes are the most vital.  

While measuring graduate career outcomes is notoriously difficult, the reduced scope and focus of micro-credentials on specific skills and industries make the process of defining success more straightforward than, for example, an academic degree program.  

Micro-credential programs that produce revenue and enjoy sustained and strong enrolment numbers but do not help learners find relevant employment or career advancement post-program cannot be considered effective. In fact, micro-credential programs that do not deliver positive career outcomes for learners, even if popular among learners, could be seen as exploitive.  

Attribute 6: Micro-credentials embrace inclusive design principles

Adopting inclusive design principles helps ensure program development is driven by the needs of both learners and employers. Micro-credential programs that focus on delivering a high-quality learning experience can help to minimize the perception of micro-credentials as cash grabs. Quality micro-credentials should be inclusive, targeting a diverse audience and not only current students and youth but also alumni, working professionals, and newcomers to Canada who seek upskilling, skills validation, and credential recognition.  

Short, flexible micro-credentials are particularly beneficial for meeting the needs of a broad range of learners and employers. Additionally—where possible—programs that can be part of publicly subsidized education offerings rather than fee-for-service models help improve affordability by prioritizing inclusivity.  

To incorporate greater inclusivity into program design, providers can also consider offering the opportunity to stack or “ladder” their micro-credential programs with other academic or professional credentials, such as certificates, diplomas, and degrees, or professional designations. In this way, micro-credentials can act as pathways to further education. This approach helps learners with a wider variety of educational backgrounds signal their skills and knowledge to prospective employers and provides greater context about a candidate’s skills to employers.  

Attribute 7: Micro-credential marketing and promotion is directed at both learners and employers

Traditionally, the marketing and promotion of micro-credentials has been wholly focused on potential enrollees. Yet, this approach leaves out one of the key consumers of digital economy micro-credential programs: the employers who will hire learners once they successfully complete their micro-credentials. After all, the core value of digital economy micro-credentials is the practical and labour market skills they impart.

Forward-looking micro-credential providers can strive to make employers aware of relevant micro-credential program offerings and regularly touch base with employers to ensure these micro-credential offerings remain aligned with industry and employers’ contemporary needs. Micro-credential providers should inform employers when new cohorts of learners graduate from micro-credential programs of interest. Ideally, employers with job openings should watch for applicants graduating with relevant digital economy micro-credentials.  


In the face of a sputtering Canadian economy—which is suffering from ongoing skills and labour shortages—developing human capital by creating upskilling and retraining opportunities for the country’s workforce is an important consideration to improve Canada’s current economic situation. For the digital economy, micro-credentials offer a format for upskilling and talent development that provides targeted, skills-based training over a short timeframe. These attributes make micro-credentials ideal for job seekers and workers seeking to upgrade their skills to participate in Canada’s growing digital economy. ICTC’s recent report, Accelerating Canada's Workforce, discusses these attributes in more detail.  

Providers of micro-credentials, such as higher education institutions, professional associations, and private training providers, can follow the seven good habits outlined above when developing and delivering micro-credentials that are useful for employers and effective for learners.  


Heather McGeer and Erik Henningsmoen are Research & Policy Analysts with the Information and Communications Technology Council (ICTC). They are authors of ICTC’s March 2024 report, Accelerating Canada's Workforce: Micro-Credentialing in the Digital Economy.