More work needs to be done on HRD Corp’s micro-credential initiative


I HAVE read, with great interest, the various responses from individuals, HR (human resource) directors and employers, in relation to the recent HRD Corp (Human Resource Development Corp) announcement of its micro-credential initiative implementation.

While all responses have questioned HRD Corp’s intention to impose a micro-credential fee of RM300 per course participant, I wish to touch on the lack of technical clarity or practicality of the micro-credential initiative. Micro-credentialing or micro-badging is only as good as its implementation-friendliness.  

Continuous employees’ learning and training is crucial for Malaysia’s competitiveness as it would push our industry players to the forefront of competition. Industry players must be progressive “Learning Organisations”, which I define as “having the capability to learn faster and greater than the rate and volume of change in the environment, and leverage on the new learnings to produce better products and services, faster and cheaper than competitors”.  Therefore, HRD Corp’s role should not be underestimated, but at the same time, HRD Corp must operate at a rate even faster than the rate of change of the industry players.

Now, let us look at how post-secondary learning and training are regulated in Malaysia. Higher education providers (HEPs) are regulated via HEP establishment laws, namely; Act 30, Act 174, Act 653 and Act 555, while their qualifications are regulated under Act 679, within the Malaysian Qualifications Framework. Whereas skills training institutions and skills qualifications are regulated under Act 652, within the National Occupational Skills Standard framework. 

HRD Corp, unfortunately, does not come under any of the post-secondary learning and training laws. Hence, I am of the view that HRD Corp’s regulatory role, under Act 612, as custodian of the levy contributed by employers for the purpose of skills upgrading of their staff should facilitate rather than frustrate the process of workforce upskilling which is a critical lever to our nation’s competitiveness. 

Facilitation here means crafting policies and processes that are employer- and training provider-friendly, reducing stifling requirements that could delay the execution of upskilling programmes, especially when industry players are driven by window of opportunities that open and shut without prior warnings.

On micro-credentialing, I recall that in the 1980s and 1990s, there was a Scottish university offering its MBA in Malaysia and had already introduced a student enrolment system that is similar to what we call micro-credentials, today. Prospective students can either register for fulltime study of 12 months, or part-time study of 24 months, or just enrol for one module whenever able and be awarded the module completion certificate along with a transcript upon fulfilling the prescribed requirements. 

For the latter, once the required eight certificates are accumulated, they become basis for the MBA award. A few of my colleagues took the third (micro-credential) route or the life-long learning pathway, and after a few years, they graduated with an MBA, although they did not register as either fulltime or part-time students. 

In the Federation of Malaysian Manufacturers’ (FMM) letter, dated June 20, 2022, as published in its website, FMM asked HRD Corp the question, “Are these HRD Corp MC courses also listed in the MQA MC portal recently launched on June 13, 2022?”

I have done a check, and the answer is NO. The MQA (Malaysian Qualifications Agency) portal lists out 1,152 courses, as of June 29, 2022, and all these micro-credential courses are in fact, existing academic modules of already MQA-accredited Diplomas, Bachelors and Masters, offered by approved HEPs. Hence, one would be able to see that a typical micro-credential has a three-credit hour (CH) value, with a volume of learning of 120 notional learning hours and the duration of learning expressed either as a full three-week duration or over 14, 15 or 17 weeks, depending on the HEP. 

In other words, the MQA-approved micro-credential system is similar to that of the Scottish university offering its MBA in Malaysia way back in 1980s and 1990s. 

The question that I would pose to HRD Corp would be: “Will the HEPs accept the HRD Corp’s micro-credential certificates solely based on meeting 50% of its own module course learning outcomes and completely ignore the notional learning hours of the HRD Corp micro-credential certificates?”

In our higher education system, if a module has 120 notional learning hours, 35% of it has to be guided (face to face, online or blended) learning, which translates into 42 hours. These 42 hours of guided learning is then divided into 14 weeks of a typical semester system, which translate into three lecture or contact hours per week.

 From here, a module with 120 notional learning hours is assigned the 3CH value. The remaining 78 hours are fulfilled via various modes of learning, such as assignments, laboratory and field work. 

We need to understand that when employers decide to send employees for training, it is to address certain gaps, either productivity-, quality- or competency-related. Courses are designed based on training needs analyses (TNA) specific to the issue(s) at hand. 

In addition, companies train their staff in order to achieve differentiated competitive advantage, translated into the growth of top line, reduction of middle line and increase of bottom line, which is the lagging organisational indicator for return on investment of employees training.  

We need to bear in mind that one of the core objectives of universities is to TEACH knowledge, while the industry is to TRAIN skills. The two are dichotomous and while we would like them to converge, the stark reality is that they are not and will highly likely stay on that way. 

This is the main reason as to why we often hear employers complaining that graduates, foreign and local alike, are not able to strike the ground running. As such, employers have to spend time and money to equip their new employees with certain skills that are not taught in universities. 

When I browsed through HRD Corp’s Employer Circular No 2 2022, I found a few too simplistic statements such as “Credit transfer upon completion of HRD Corp Micro-credential Courses” and “Since all Micro-credential courses are components of the accredited HEP programmes, all course credits including credit transfers will move trainees towards 100% completion of the programmes” that may trigger wrong expectations to employers and employees. 

My question is “Are these statements referring to admission (APEL-A) or credit transfer (APEL-C) or credit transfer upon normal admission?”.

We need to understand that for APEL-C, any credit transfers can only be done while studying for a programme at the HEP. It does not make any sense for a HEP to expend resources auditing the micro-credentials credit transfer of an individual who has not enrolled as its student. 

My point is: It isn’t as simple as going to a bank and asking the bank teller to issue a RM100 bill in exchange for 100 pieces of RM1 bill. Certainly, not that simple.

As for APEL-C, the maximum transfer is 30% of the course credit value. This is well understood — since the HEP will be the final higher education qualification awarding body, a significant amount, ie 70% of learning has to take place within its own system and to be approved by its own Senate. For a Diploma with 90CH, it means that the maximum transfer of the HRD Corp micro-credentials is 30CH, or equivalent to 10 modules of 3CH, or a notional learning hour of 1,200 hours. 

We know that a typical industry training duration is usually very short, spanning from two to five days, which equals to 0.4CH and 1.0CH respectively. If notional learning is the basis for transfer, this would equal to 30 weeks of training. But if 50% of CLOs (course learning outcomes) is the measure, then it may be more as industry training CLOs are meant to meet the employees’ TNA, not the HEP modules’ CLOs. 

We also need to understand that while academic programme CLOs are guided by Dublin Descriptors and Bloom’s Taxonomy, industry training programmes key CLOs are guided by stages of ability, namely: i. can do with help; ii. can do without help; iii. can do and supervise; and iv. expert. As such, at this point and perhaps, long beyond this point, I cannot be easily convinced that the dichotomous CLOs would converge.   

I see the road to implementing this noble initiative as still very long and winding. More work needs to be done and a very comprehensive framework produced including a list of all HRD Corp micro-credential courses, CLOs and learning hours, with detailed cross-referencing against HEPs’ modules, CLOs and learning hours. 

We must bear in mind that even the process of credit transfers between universities, which comes under the same laws, is not as straightforward — what more between HRD Corp micro-credentials and HEP awards. 

Datuk Razali Mahfar is a former engineer, trainer, manager, CHRO, COO and CEO, and have served government-linked companies, government-owned corporations, HEPs and multinational corporations.