Can Micro-Credentials Keep SMBs in the Game?

Copy of Digital Credential (5)
Condensed certification programs are on the rise. Here’s why that matters to inclusivity and the pending recovery of the Canadian economy.


If recent changing technologies, consumer behaviours, or globalized access to goods did not prompt a small or medium-sized business (SMB) to pivot their business strategy, COVID-19 has forced them to. 

Widely recognized as an integral part of the Canadian economy, SMBs account for 90% of the private sector and employ over 10 million private-sector employees. At the onset of COVID-19, however, retail, tourism, food services, and entertainment were among the hardest hit

With economic recovery efforts underway, one common component of recovery plans is to increase business resilience through the rapid upskilling of SMB business owners and their employees.

Enter: Micro-credentials.


Much like traditional degrees that empower learners through expertise in a subject, micro-credentials allow individuals to continue learning throughout their lifetimes.

Micro-credentials, also known as badges, nano degrees, and certifications, are skills-training programs. In some cases, these skills are “soft” and include competencies like team-building or are more specific to an industry, such as coding or graphic design.

an infograph of micro-credential terms and what micro-credentials are

Typically taught online and over shorter time periods, they are an alternative education and training option for learners looking to bolster their CVs or stay up-to-date with their workplace needs. 


Gone are the days of life-long careers at a single institution. Educational shifts online, technological advancements in automation and manufacturing, and changing employment requirements disrupt traditional pathways to career success. 

The professional journeys of youth and mid-career workers will require them to embrace fluidity in their future and require regular upskilling opportunities to stay competitive. 

This means more time spent training, changing career paths, and adapting to new technologies. With increasing tuition and general time commitment for a university degree, however, regular upskilling is not a feasible option for many. 

In these cases, micro-credentials are a bridge to inclusivity. They provide market-relevant skills to learners that are financially constrained or have to balance at-home responsibilities. By strategically stacking credentials, learners increase their job prospects and are ready to jump into new roles. 

In other words, degree or not, micro-credentials transform professional development and equip individuals to create their own personalized and professional brands for the job market. 


Inclusion in the Economy

Micro-credentials are an opportunity to level the playing field between larger enterprises and SMBs. With course offerings that build competencies quickly, be it in digital marketing to bolster an online presence or language learning to interact with a broader audience, employees can be even greater assets to organizations. 

The fact is SMBs have fewer resources to recruit and regularly train employees. At present, most training happens informally through employers or management staff. In businesses where crucial skills are missing, multiple risks arise: 

  1. Changing consumer preferences and behaviours mean that data and marketing skills gaps may result in an inability to interpret and respond to changes. 
  2. The lost investment of time, and ultimately money, in trying to adapt without the knowledge to do so may mean more debt or shutting down.
  3. A lack of professional development opportunities may lead to employee dissatisfaction and their recruitment into a larger enterprise where they are more readily available.

Help Wanted sign at small business

This is where micro-credentials can provide a leg-up in training business owners or their employees in order to adapt quickly and at the same level of quality that a larger enterprise can offer. 

Larger corporations can hire prominent industry players, such as Walmart tapping IBM on the shoulder to upskill its employees, whereas SMBs do not have that kind of hold. 

Helping to make upskilling more equitable is the rise in Massive Open Online Course providers like edX, which offer micro-credentials from accredited institutions, including Harvard and MIT. At just about any point in time, businesses can send employees for online training in subjects, such as data analysis, business development, and supply chain management. 

As more skills-training programs are created for recovery efforts, understanding and addressing the divide between different sized firms’ resources should be a focus. Their availability is also crucial in ensuring that regional SMBs outside of city centers are not left behind.


Organizational Resilience

Through COVID, more than half of Canadian businesses reported more than 20% of revenue loss. Further, a Statistics Canada and the Canadian Chamber of Commerce survey revealed that 80% of layoffs during the onset of COVID-19 were in small businesses (see below). 

In part, the higher proportion of layoffs is likely a result of the type of industry and consequences of necessary Public Health measures. On the other hand, layoffs and a strained ability to adapt indicate changes that are outpacing employees’ and employers’ ability to keep up. 

Rapid advancements in technology mean that businesses, in general, will be kept on their toes to pivot their strategy, upskill workers, and keep pace with their competitors. Contributing to this pressure is the simultaneous shift in Gen Z consumer priorities, who value elevated user experiences, fast results, and an ethical bottom line. With most interactions happening online, even the businesses that can meet these requirements still have to compete to be found online and convert their customers into loyal followers. 

Alacrity Canada addresses this problem in BC through its Digital Marketing Bootcamp. The intensive course provides mentorship, access to digital marketing experts, and equips students with the skills and knowledge to thrive as a marketer. In practice, this results in students learning how to spread awareness about their brand, grow their customer base, and gain more insight into what their customers value. 

Currently, the Bootcamp is also an example of a multi-sectoral partnership driving greater uptake and awareness of micro-credentials. Delivered in partnership with the BC government as part of the StrongerBC Economic Recovery Plan, the program’s ultimate goal is to support small and medium-sized businesses in getting online and growing their businesses in the digital marketplace.

The promise of timely and cost-effective micro-credentialing can make a meaningful difference. We are already seeing this from our own Bootcamp. By developing the creativity, leadership capacities, and critical thinking of in-house staff, employees can optimize their contributions and allow business models to adapt quicker to prevent job loss, increased debt, or foreclosure. 


Digital Marketing Bootcamp testimonial


Are micro-credentials the magic bullet for solving the skills gap among workers and businesses in Canada? 

Not on their own, but they are necessary investments into a workforce that can contribute and help small and medium-sized businesses overcome the incredible challenges before them. 

More than this, they offer a plan of action for businesses and employees to better safeguard themselves from the seismic shifts underway, COVID-related or otherwise.


Are you based in BC and own or are employed by an SMB? Learn more about our Digital Marketing Bootcamp eligibility requirements to see if you or your employees qualify for full tuition coverage by the BC government.

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