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Ready for the future: Bolstering students’ job competitiveness

Ready for the future: Bolstering students’ job competitiveness

FIU offers strategic micro-credentials as a complement to solid academic degrees. These no-cost resume boosters focus on skills that employers say they look for in potential hires.

April 8, 2024 at 10:00am

A few years ago, FIU took a bold, intentional step to catapult soon-to-be graduates into the jobs of their choice. In a rapidly evolving labor market, the university looked to ensure that those entering the workforce for the first time had the specialized skills – in addition to their solid degrees - critical for success in the 21st century. 

The university began offering “micro-credentials” as a relatively easy way for young people to get up to speed in specific areas not traditionally taught in a formal setting. The non-credit minicourses focus on developing proficiencies useful to students with any major. 

FIU has long promoted so-called soft skills – the critical thinking, leadership characteristics and teamwork orientation that help new alumni stand out during job interviews – and now makes available micro-credentials to help students further distinguish themselves from the pack. 

Working with an industry advisory board, a faculty committee identified areas important for every student to have knowledge of, and the university created three micro-credential courses that align with what organizations say they seek in new hires. These three micro-credentials have been promoted as part of the university’s Quality Enhancement Plan: Artificial Intelligence: How it works and its impact; Thinking and Communicating with DataUnderstanding Emotional Intelligence. 

The push for micro-credentials – dozens of others are also available - came out of a recognition that skills needed in the workplace change over time, explains Jennifer Restrepo, assistant vice president for academic planning and accountability.

What might not have been important across the board a generation ago – think, for example, of artificial intelligence and its growing ramifications in 2024 – now increasingly must have a place in the basic skillset of many working people. 

The ultimate goal, say administrators, is to reinforce the idea that competencies require continuous upgrading. It’s a fact borne out by a recent survey conducted by FIU’s Metropolitan Center in partnership with the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce. 

Students’ initial deep dive into a particular area of concentration should set them up for a lifetime of learning –  “It’s a continuum,” Restrepo says  – that could include on-the-job training, continuing education courses, professional development or an advanced degree.

Since the rollout in the fall of 2021, thousands of Panthers have completed one or more micro-credentials in either of two ways: as part of regular FIU classes to which a professor has added the micro-credential as a component or as a standalone online course that students choose to enroll in on their own time. 

As a standalone, the micro-credential is the equivalent of a 16-hour commitment, Restrepo explains. Students complete modules that include assigned readings and videos. A trained instructor facilitates the course, and assignments and assessments are graded to measure student competency. A minimum overall grade of 80 percent must be attained to pass.

Restrepo notes a growing interest by faculty to incorporate the micro-credential option directly into courses they are already teaching. “They embed it so a student enrolled in their class can earn the micro-credential as an added bonus,” she says. Professors have the chance to review the micro-credential content and decide if and how it aligns with what they are teaching and can even receive training on how to do that.  

Students end up with a digital badge upon successful completion. These can be included on a resume or an email signature by an individual to reinforce their value to an organization or their ability to serve in a specific role. 

Teaching professor Michael Creeden has made the emotional intelligence micro-credential a part of his professional writing courses. The response has been tremendous, he says. 

“I have gotten a lot of feedback from students. They basically said, ‘This content is so useful to me. I can’t believe I was never introduced to this before,’” he explains. “A student said, ‘I’m surprised I didn’t learn this in high school or middle school because it’s so fundamental.’” 

The emotional intelligence credential works especially well in a class geared to “writing in the workplace,” Creeden explains, as the content directly complements the professional development focus.

“It's basically managing your thinking, mindset and emotional reactions to challenging stiuations,” he says. “It also includes skills in effectively listening and empathy.” 

Highly valuable, say both Creeden and Restrepo, are the self-reflections students must compose as part of the required assignments. These have students connect the dots between what they’ve learned and how they expect to use that learning as part of a job, in graduate school or in life in general.  

"One of the things the micro-credentials do is give them an opportunity to talk about how they think having better emotional intelligence, for example, makes them a better student or makes them more employable,” Creeden says, “or how knowing about artificial intelligence makes them more informed as a citizen, and likewise with data literacy, potentially giving them skills that they can apply in the future.” 

Alumna Katie Grillo has taken all three micro-credential courses. With an undergraduate degree in English under her belt and working on a graduate degree in mass communications at the time, she fit the instruction into her already busy schedule because she saw the topics as interesting and potentially useful. “That these were 21st century skills is what drew me in,” she says. 

Currently a senior academic advisor at FIU’s College of Arts, Sciences & Education and preparing to start a Ph.D. in higher education, Grillo says the content of the emotional intelligence micro-credential is something she has used daily in her work, both with colleagues and students. “What I really like about that course,” she says, “is that it gives you specific strategies on how you can build effective and productive relationships with the people around you.”

The other two micro-credential courses posed an opportunity to gain knowledge of computing, analysis and tech-related practices that she felt she lacked. The artificial intelligence instruction drove home that every industry will eventually be impacted by its use, and employees will have to adapt accordingly.

Grillo’s experience has her encouraging advisees to take their own leap with micro-credentials. “Learn any relevant skills now,” she exhorts the students. “That will make you more competitive once you’ve graduated.” 

Students, get started here.