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Students turning to micro-credentials to boost education and land jobs

Students and graduates are turning to online skills certifications to boost their CVs and win jobs they might not otherwise be qualified for, according to research published today (1 February).

While half (50%) of students and graduates find it hard to understand what employers are looking for from candidates, nearly all (87%) said entry-level skills qualifications from large tech companies like Google and Meta would help them land a job in 2023.

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The research, from skills platform Coursera, also revealed 80% of UK employers look beyond degrees when hiring graduates to find job-relevant skills.

More than three quarters (71%) said a professional certificate would influence their decision to hire a candidate.

Hadi Moussa, Coursera’s vice president EMEA, told HR magazine that these smaller certifications are seen across a number of industries. 

The technical qualifications, he added, are very popular among graduates of non-technical degrees, who want to prove themselves capable of taking on a technical role, or join a tech-based company.

He said: “Micro-credentials and certifications are certainly common in STEM fields, but we are seeing that careers even tangentially associated with technology are considered by applicants to help bolster their CVs and demonstrate technical prowess to employers, which is becoming increasingly more attractive in the digital world of work.”

The increase in focus on relevant skills by recruiters has come at the same time as a devaluation in degree-level education, according to Victoria Short, chief executive of HR service provider Randstad UK.

She told HR magazine: “Sadly, I can confirm degrees are worth less to employers than they once were. Indeed, we’ve removed the need for degree qualifications within our own job requirements. This shouldn’t come as a surprise to universities. In 2011, only 15% of graduates received a first. In 2021, 36% achieved a first. [...]

“It's certainly a far cry from 1990 when only 25% of the population went to university and only 10% of those graduates came out with a first. Grade inflation has eroded employers’ trust in degrees — the qualification has lost some of its credibility.”

She warned, however, that micro-qualifications were not a golden ticket to landing a job, adding: "A relevant internship could work far better."

Around half (48%) of graduates asked said they regularly use the skills they learned at university in their job.

Jill Cotton, careers advice expert at employer review site Glassdoor, told HR magazine that the increase in young people taking up minor qualifications would only prove beneficial to both parties in the hiring process.

She said: “Job seekers may not have the same stronghold on the jobs market as they did last year, but the reality is that many companies are still struggling to find and retain talent.

“Employers are beating the tight labour market by seeking out previously overlooked workers to widen their talent pools. This includes considering candidates with non-traditional career paths or transferrable micro-qualifications and those who could bring the all-important soft skills to a role.”

She added that many young people decided to stay in education rather than enter the workforce, leading to hot competition between graduates post-pandemic.

She said: “Micro-qualifications show a hiring manager the job seeker is committed to broadening their knowledge and gaining the specific skills they need for a role, and also help to show what a candidate is capable of when they have limited work experience on their CV.”

Coursera surveyed over 2,400 students and graduates, and 1,200 employers across eight countries including the UK.