Fifty years ago, whether or not you had a college degree, your whole career could be spent at one company, doing essentially the same job. If a new process or tool was implemented, your employer provided training on how to use it. Innovation was incremental and large-scale change occurred at a manageable pace.

Today, change happens so rapidly that retraining and upskilling are pressing needs for companies and workers alike. A recent McKinsey poll revealed that 64% of US executives believe they’ll need to retrain or replace more than a quarter of their workforce by 2023 because of automation, while Davos 2018 study calculated that 70% of displaced workers will need to reskill for jobs outside of their original job families.

Society has never attempted to retrain so many workers across so many verticals in such a short timeframe. The status quo is not an option. We need innovative, disruptive approaches to meet this challenge head-on. Things like micro and alternative credentialing.

Breaking it down. Akin to breaking jobs into smaller tasks, micro-credentialing breaks apart learning into discrete experience-based components and then provides proof of those skills. Companies such as Degreed are emerging to boost employers’ confidence in these credentials. Degreed offers more than 1,500 certificates to users who show mastery of a particular skill by submitting evidence and testimonials from others. Psychometricians — people trained in administering and interpreting assessments — evaluate the work, review the testimonials, and assign a mastery score that can be shared with current or prospective employers.

Not just for Scouts. A Pennsylvania school district is giving kindergarteners a tangible way to show off their new skills via a “badge” system. Students who demonstrate their ability to add double-digits, read complete sentences, and more than 60 other skills receive a badge they can add to a special key ring. Parents are notified on their smartphones each time their child earns a new badge, and teachers (present and future) can readily track the students’ demonstrated abilities. It’s hard to argue with the reasoning behind the program, given that the ability to constantly build, bundle, and demonstrate skills will be important throughout the students’ lifetimes.

Alternate route. As the K-12 teacher shortage grows more dire by the year, it demands that we also transform how educators are evaluated. We desperately need an influx of new teachers — and we already know they’re not going to emerge from the next few crops of college graduates. Widening the net to allow professionals without teaching degrees to prove their competencies could help bridge the K-12 gap. Alternative credentialing could also enable us to lower the barrier to entry for K-12 teachers without lowering the bar, ushering in engineers, nurses, social workers, and countless other professionals who have valuable real-world experience but lack the time or funds to pursue a new fouryear degree.

It remains to be seen whether employers will accept third-party validated certifications and badges as legitimate qualifications for employment. Those in the US, in particular, may be loathe to relinquish the idealized vision of four-year college degrees for all. However, with the talent shortage worsening, we need to acknowledge that no degree can adequately prepare a graduate for a lifetime of work. It’s time for organizations to rethink traditional tuition reimbursement programs and enable more modular options for learning. It’s time for talent acquisition professionals to become well-versed in experience-based certificates and micro-credentialing to ensure job descriptions reflect the modern realities of learning. And it’s time for leaders to consider how their teams can be kept vital and relevant through new options for upskilling and retraining.