November 29, 2023

Scott Shireman, Global Director of Coursera for Campus

In a competitive and rapidly changing job market, employers increasingly expect their entry-level talent to join their workforce, which is already equipped with the skills and practical experience for the job. At the same time, college students and their parents are thinking more critically about the ROI of traditional three- and four-year degree programs: primarily about whether students will secure employment after graduation.

As a result, Coursera is seeing universities and colleges around the world use entry-level professional certificates, also known as industry micro-credentials, and career-related skills training in their degree programs to improve student recruitment and graduate employability.

To better understand this phenomenon, Coursera surveyed nearly 5,000 students and employers in 11 countries – Australia, Egypt, France, Germany, India, Mexico, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, United Arab Emirates (UAE), United Kingdom (UK) and in the United States (US) in partnership with two market research companies, Dynata and Repdata. In each country, we explored the motivations, needs and challenges of both the students who are studying and the employers who want to employ them.

Among other compelling data points, we found that 90% of students and recent graduates said that including industry micro-credentials, or in this case entry-level professional certificates, in an academic program would make them more likely to enroll in that program.

Key findings from the Advancing Higher Education with Industry Micro-Credentials Report include:

Students and recent graduates around the world believe that micro-credentialing in the field gives them a better chance of getting a job.

  • 44% listed their ability to get a job as one of the top three factors motivating their decision to enroll in a degree program. Employability was ranked ahead of academic strength, reputation and cost, and second only to the location of the institution.
  • More than half (55%) want to earn a professional certificate that counts as credit toward their degree.
  • 90% agree or strongly agree that getting a basic professional certificate will help them stand out to employers and secure a job when they graduate – and 86% agree that micro-credentialing would help them succeed in their jobs.
Stand out and get a job (students)

Industry micro-credentials help hiring decision-makers solve their two main challenges: identifying and validating candidate skills.

  • Employers recognize and value industry microcredentials: on average, they are 72% more likely to hire a candidate who has earned them.
  • 88% of employers either agree or strongly agree that a professional certificate strengthens a candidate’s application.
  • 77% of employers are already using or actively exploring skills-based hiring.
Impact of professional certification on recruitment (employers)

These global trends are largely reflected in country-specific data. Among students and recent graduates surveyed in the US, for example, 86% agreed that earning a microcredential in an industry would help them stand out to employers and land a job after graduation.

  • 81% believe that micro-credentials will help them succeed in their jobs once hired.
  • 74% said the inclusion of relevant micro-credentials would influence their choice of degree program at their university.
  • 66% said their top motivator was the credential “counting as credit toward a degree,” while 43% ranked it as “being offered by industry-leading companies” at the top.

Among US employers, 86% agree that obtaining a micro-credential in an industry strengthens a candidate’s job application, while 74% believe the credential improves a candidate’s ability to perform in an entry-level position.

  • 53% said the biggest challenge they faced in hiring recent graduates was finding candidates with the specific skills needed for the job.
    • 61% identified human or “soft skills” – important for transformation and change management – ​​such as critical thinking or communication as the most difficult to assess in the hiring process; technical skills came second at 55%.
    • Not surprisingly, the same employers said soft skills are difficult to find among recent graduates: 65% identified these skills as the most lacking, followed again by technical skills at 46%.
  • 61% consider whether the microcredential comes from an industry-leading company as the most important indicator of quality.
  • 39% have employed at least one micro-credentialed candidate, signaling a changing trend in employer attitudes.

In May, Coursera launched Career Academy to enable students to discover desired career paths and learn job-specific skills with industry micro-credentials developed in collaboration with Google, IBM, Meta and Intuit, among others. These core professional certificates as well as applied skills training create work-ready students while building more resilient higher education institutions.

Institutions of higher education, including Hawaii Pacific University, Louisiana Tech University, Oklahoma State Regents of Higher Education, KL (Deemed) University, and Thapar Institute of Engineering and Technology (Deemed University) use Coursera micro-certificates to offer hands-on learning that combines academic knowledge with the practical skills needed to succeed in a professional role.

By linking skills-based learning with skills-based recruitment, higher education institutions can fill gaps in their curricula and build a bridge between their degree programs and the demands of today’s employers. At the same time, employers can diversify their recruitment routes and be confident that their new employees are ready for work.

To download the full report and explore the main findings, visit here.

Editor’s note (February 2, 2023): This blog post has been updated to reflect expanded survey results from the following countries: Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates. Global numbers have been updated accordingly. Our sample sizes allowed us to obtain results with the industry standard margin of error at the 95% confidence level.

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