Attract and Retain Learners with Digital Badges
Discover how digital badges create a positive experience for your learners.
The Dallas County Community College District (DCCCD) includes seven independently accredited colleges. Thanks to DCCCD’s WorkReadyU program, they are well equipped to serve adult working learners. The prospects of these students and the employers who depend on work-ready talent pools are forever entwined. That’s what makes WorkReadyU’s coursework collaboration with local companies so important. This holistic approach is positioning DCCCD and the communities it serves for future success. I’m proud to say DCCCD is a CAEL member and to share some details about the excellent work it is doing.
WorkReadyU is an effective combination of selectivity and accessibility. On the one hand, its courses are closely tailored to the latest regional workforce needs. Microcredentials are a key reason for that. These career-friendly digital certificates, or “mini degrees,” are embedded throughout 20-plus career pathway training programs. (They also support WorkReadyU’s postsecondary degree pathways.) On the other hand, WorkReadyU courses are offered at no cost to learners. Eligibility requirements are not extensive or complex. They include a minimum age of 16, residency in Dallas County, and no prior completion of a bachelor’s or advanced degree.
These parameters position WorkReadyU as a much-needed resource for underserved students. At the same time, the program addresses key skill gaps threatening the talent pipelines that fuel regional economies. Students from high-poverty high schools have more than twice the risk of not completing a degree compared to students who attended low-poverty high schools. Meanwhile, the deficit of skilled workers is threatening economies on a national scale. Estimates show it could cost the U.S. economy more than $1.7 trillion by 2030.
Sheridan Nixon is DCCCD’s project leader for community and employee partnerships. He serves all seven DCCCD campuses by managing workforce and economic development initiatives, including partnerships within the WorkReadyU program. Nixon engages with corporate partners to ensure coursework resonates with high-growth careers. He also helps them develop their own training programs. In both cases, WorkReadyU is upskilling the talent pool for in-demand occupations. For obvious reasons, WorkReadyU features “hard” skills prized in key professions like healthcare, logistics and manufacturing. But well-rounded skillsets remain important. Some students may need leadership training. Others may require ESL courses to advance within their organization. Whether for technical or soft skills, many companies aren’t staffed to train workers. Partnerships with WorkReadyU help identify gaps and establish learning programs—either on site or at DCCCD.
Partnerships with community organizations also are important to the success of WorkReadyU. Most students don’t have a budget to continue their education. So Nixon spends a lot of time working on grant opportunities to help fund the program’s no-cost model.
Time is often a scarce resource for WorkReadyU students, who are primarily working adults. Microcredentials offer relief. Many students must balance their commitment to learning with the demands of family and work. Unsurprisingly, they don’t have time to be in school for two straight years. Fortunately, not only do microcredentials have relevancy for viable careers, they are stackable. WorkReadyU encourages students to complete at least a level one certificate. But even if they don’t, finishing a course is never a waste of time. All build into credentials, so students can always come back to earn a career certificate.
Nixon sometimes hears people worry that microcredentials could be at odds with degree completion. On the contrary, microcredentials and certificates can stack into associate degrees. But as they do so, they convert classroom learning into industry-recognized skillsets. Compared to the traditional all-or-nothing degree-completion model, this happens virtually in real time. Learners can advance their careers as they advance their education.
This is so important for adult working learners. Nixon reminds us that many adult learners have had a bad experience with education in the past. Often, they haven’t been in school in some time. Microcredentials offer something they can quickly apply in the workforce. Even as Nixon works with companies that struggle to fill positions, he is also serving struggling communities. Their social mobility is often limited by skills gaps. For them, microcredentials can be the key that unlocks access to high-growth fields. As more people scrutinize the value of postsecondary education, such symbiosis is critical. When institutions link learning with rewarding careers, they build trust among all stakeholders.
The WorkReadyU model has been running for about three years. Workforce needs have continued to evolve during that time. DCCCD career navigators are there to help students weigh their options among career paths that are at the forefront of hiring trends. Complementing career-oriented counseling are concurrent supplemental courses for students who need extra academic support. Supplemental instructors keep in touch with technical instructors to ensure students are on course for success. As needed, they provide basic-skills tutoring to help students fast-track through the program.
Health care is a perennial high-demand occupation across the country. That makes it a popular choice for WorkReadyU students. The program’s patient care technician career pathway is a good example of the advantage of stackable credentials. The patient care technician role is a fast-growing occupation in health care. Students can tackle certification in various combinations. But some students do not have the time to complete the entire certificate in short order. Career navigators usually advise them to begin with the phlebotomy credential. It offers immediate entry into the field. Workers in the role can earn experience and a decent wage. Because the phlebotomy credential is a foundation of the patient care technician certificate, it positions students for future advancement, professionally and academically. The stackable patient certificate credential is also a building block for acceptance into the nursing program at DCCCD’s health science college.
Whatever a student’s interests are, career navigators help students focus them on career exploration. Odds are, they will find a fit within a growing industry. WorkReadyU programs also include IT, business support, construction and advanced manufacturing. And WorkReadyU continues to expand career pathway options. Nixon says companies with the most pressing workforce needs tend to be most eager to collaborate. That just reinforces the value of the WorkReadyU model for adult learners, which extends well beyond the classroom. Nixon sees more companies combining learning and retention strategies. Many are adding training programs, including reimbursement benefits. They recognize the value microcredentials bring to upskilling individuals within their organizations. And they are looking for ways to be more creative in attracting and keeping qualified talent. WorkReadyU is helping DCCCD—and its working adult learners—answer that call.
This is just the latest example of the great work CAEL members like DCCCD are doing on behalf of working adult learners. If you’re not yet a member, I invite you to join us.
 Defined as graduating college within six years of completing high school. https://nscresearchcenter.org/wp-content/uploads/2019_HSBenchmarksReport_FIN_04OCT19.pdf
Discover how digital badges create a positive experience for your learners.
Author Perspective: Administrator