Financial Matters

This chapter is about assessing the feasibility of a new micro-credential and ensuring that its business model is sustainable.

Chapter Audience:

  • administrator icon Administrators
  • program managers icon Program Managers

Building a Business Case

Developing a business case is crucial before investing resources in a new micro-credential program. This document outlines the rationale for the program and the reasons why it is likely to be successful. It presents market research that identifies a gap between what target learners need to succeed and current offerings, and shows how the proposed program can bridge that gap. It also proposes a business model that has the potential to be financially sustainable. Moreover, the document demonstrates the program proposer’s diligence in researching their proposal, which can help leaders make more informed decisions about the proposed program.

A business case for a proposed micro-credential typically contains the following elements:

  1. Problem or opportunity statement. A statement that explains the need for the new program and its potential benefits. This could be external (e.g., filling a gap in industry hiring needs) or internal (e.g., aligning with the institution’s strategic goals).
  2. Micro-credential objectives. A list of learning objectives or competencies that the new program should strive to impart.
  3. Market analysis. An analysis of the current market, including an environmental scan of competitors, and the demand prospects for the new micro-credential.
  4. Cost analysis. A financial analysis of the costs associated with creating and running the program.
  5. Implementation plan. A plan for how the program will be developed and launched. This can be high-level, and can include proposed timelines and staff assignments.
  6. Risk assessment. An assessment of the risks associated with the program and how they can be mitigated. The risks could be internal (e.g., competing priorities or limited resources) or external (e.g., competitors who may be developing related programs).
  7. Conclusion. A conclusion that summarizes the main points of the business case and how the new micro-credential will benefit the institution.

Some elements from the business case, notably market research and budgeting (including sources of funding and sustainable business models), are detailed below.

Conducting Market Research

Market research is the process of gathering and analyzing information about the needs, demand, and preferences of prospective learners and employers for a training program. It also involves researching the competitive landscape and overall market trends.

Sources of Information

Data about prospective learner and employer needs can be obtained from many sources. Consider the following:

Some sources of labour market research include:

  • Employers, professional associations, Indigenous and community partners.
    • People who are embedded in the workplace and who are engaged in hiring skilled workers can provide information about in-demand, hard-to-come-by competencies. This information can provide clues for a new micro-credential. Some of the methods of collecting information from industry experts include conducting interviews, focus groups, and surveys. You might also consider attending a relevant conference to collect data on emerging employment trends directly from people working in the field.
    • Although individual employers can be consulted, there are several organizations in British Columbia that represent the interests of many employers in an industry. For example, the B.C. Construction Association represents over 10,000 employers. Such groups often conduct surveys to identify the training needs of the construction industry and can provide information on labour market trends in their sector.
    • Your institution may have existing connections with your target industry through program advisory committees, work-integrated learning or cooperative education office, faculty who work in or with industry, membership in your local chamber of commerce, or through the network of senior leaders at your institution. Consult the chapter Employers, Indigenous and Community Partners: Practical Guide for more information.
  • Prospective learners.
    • Another potential source of information are the people targeted by the proposed program. Surveys, interviews, and focus groups with potential learners can provide insights into their career goals and help identify the skills they lack, their preferred training format, and the amount of tuition they can afford, for example. Consult the chapter Learners  for more information on this group.
  • Learner performance data.
    • Analyzing performance and employment data of current learners or alumni in related programs can provide insight into areas where learners may need additional training or support. For example, if a significant number of graduates in a particular program at your institution are struggling to find jobs in their field, you could conduct research to determine the root cause and then consider developing a program that addresses any identified training gaps.
  • Community “learning councils.”
    • Several post-secondary institutions, particularly those in smaller communities, regularly meet with stakeholders in their region to identify labour training needs and opportunities. These groups bring employers such as industry and non-profit leaders, government representatives, and Indigenous community representatives together with post-secondary institution delegates. Together, the group can analyze where the region’s economic development is headed (e.g., labour shortages and areas of rapid growth) and identify appropriate training solutions. These “learning councils” offer post-secondary institutions an opportunity to conduct market research in a cost-effective manner that is specific to their region and backed by community support. For an example, see Stories from the B.C. Post-secondary Sector: NIC and Learning Councils Meet the Needs of the Community.
  • Labour market data.
    • Several organizations, including governments and private companies, conduct labour market research and release their findings. This data can provide valuable insights into in-demand jobs and those that are expected to grow in demand (i.e., labour market outlook), as well as the corresponding skills and competencies likely to be needed. The data typically can be analyzed by region, profession, and industry, and can include details such as average compensation, which could be useful in developing a marketing plan for the program.
    • The National Occupational Classification (NOC), Canada’s authoritative reference on occupation, is a useful tool when engaging in this type of labour market research. With over 30,000 job titles organized into 520 occupational group descriptions, it can be used to compile, analyze, and communicate information about occupations, and can aid in understanding the range of jobs found across Canada’s labour market.
    • Some sources of labour market research include:
      • WorkBC
        • WorkBC is operated by the Government of British Columbia to provide resources and tools to help job seekers and employers in the province. Its British Columbia Labour Market Outlook is a report that forecasts job openings over the next decade across 64 industries, 500 occupations, and seven regions of the province. In addition to the static report (in PDF format), the website provides access to an interactive High Opportunity Occupations search engine that allows visitors to filter jobs by region, education level, wage, and occupational interest. Users can also download the raw data for analysis, or use an online Tableau application to dig deeper into the data.
        • WorkBC offers grants and funding programs for workforce training in areas determined by the province to be priorities based on labour market research. You can benefit from this and leverage their research by simply looking at their funding programs to pinpoint these priority areas.
      • B.C. Labour Market Statistics
      • Job Bank Trends Analysis (Government of Canada)
        • Job Bank is the Government of Canada’s database of job listings. One of its associated tools provides labour market information in the form of trends analysis. Users can filter by occupation to learn about a job’s outlook by region. Another tool gives users the opportunity to look at the Canadian labour market by province.
        • Statistics Canada is the national clearinghouse for census and other data about the Canadian population. Among its many tools and reports, it provides information on Labour Statistics.
      • Canadian Occupational Projection System (COPS)
        • Employment and Social Development Canada publishes reports generated from COPS. This system projects future labour market trends in Canada and provides information on the supply and demand for labour in various industries and occupations.
      • Labour Market Information Council (LMIC)
      • Future Skills Centre
        • The Future Skills Centre is a project funded by the Government of Canada. Its mission is to prepare Canadians for the changing labour market. It does so by researching future skill needs, leading knowledge mobilization, and facilitating the exchange of ideas. The Centre shares its findings through reports made public on its website.
      • Indigenous Labour Market Research
        • Indigenous Labour Market Research is a collaboration between Fleming College and the social enterprise Vicinity. The website provides Indigenous labour market intelligence. This includes a searchable database that allows users to review job postings as well as the skills described in them from around the country.
      • SkilledTradesBC
        • SkilledTradesBC, formerly the Industry Training Authority (ITA), is an information portal for learning about a career in the trades. The database can be searched by skill, certification type, field, and compensation. Notably, the trades can be filtered by “top in-demand trades” to identify occupations that are forecast to be highly sought-after.
      • Conference Board of Canada
      • Industry-specific labour market research
        • Some industries have formed organizations dedicated to supporting employers and job seekers in their sector by conducting labour market research and publishing reports summarizing their findings. One example is the Environmental Careers Organization of Canada (ECO Canada), which supports the environmental sector. Another example is DigiBC, which represents the creative technology sector. In 2021, DigiBC released the results of a benchmark study that examined the labour market for this sector in the province.
      • Region-specific labour market research
        • In addition to industry-specific labour market research, some regions conduct their own labour market research. For example, the Vancouver Economic Commission is an economic development organization that provides data and analysis of the Vancouver labour market. Its reports provide insights into industry trends, talent needs, and other labour market issues. As another example, the North Vancouver Chamber hosts the North Van Data Centre on its website that allows users to research workforce characteristics in the region, industry trends, and other local labour issues.
      • Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) Reports
      • O*NET
        • O*NET Online is the primary database of occupational information in the United States. It allows the public to search occupations by skills, abilities, knowledge, work activities, and interest linked to over 900 occupations.
      • Labour market research companies
        There are several companies that specialize in preparing labour market research and reports, which they then sell to organizations to assist them in their planning.
        • Vicinity Jobs is focused on the Canadian labour market. Working in partnership with several of the organizations mentioned above, it makes available a Canadian Job Trends Dashboard, the Indigenous Labour Market Platform, Magnet (which helps job seekers understand the labour market in their region for a specific sector),and OpportuNext (which identifies pathways for professionals to transition between careers).
        • Lightcast publishes an open-source library of more than 32,000 skills gathered from millions of online job postings, which is updated every two weeks. It uses American job postings, but the skills classification system is different to O*NET. Access to the database is free but requires registration.
        • EMSI is Lightcast’s database created using Canadian data. It uses Canada’s National Occupational Classification (NOC) codes to classify jobs and links them to training.
        • Glassdoor publishes freely accessible information on employment trends. Notably it publishes a Job Market Report, which focuses on the American labour market.
        • LinkedIn, the digital social platform for professionals, provides insights into workforce trends through its Talent Blog, which draws on data from millions of job seekers and employers. For example, see The Most In-Demand Skills for 2023 (Dewar, 2023) and The Most In-Demand Jobs Right Now (Lewis, 2023).
      • The National Association of Colleges and Employers (NACE)
        • NACE is a professional association that connects American post-secondary institutions and employers. The organization conducts research and produces reports that track the trajectory of graduates as they enter the workforce. It is chockful of sobering data about gaps between what undergraduates can do upon completing their degree and what employers want from their entry-level hires. For example, 96 per cent of employers cite communication as the most important hiring competency (Job Outlook 2023), 80 per cent of graduates believe themselves very/extremely proficient in communication (2022 Student Survey report), yet only 47 per cent of employers agree that they are (Job Outlook 2023) (cited in Data Bites). Such data can help inform the development of micro-credentials that bridge the gap between undergraduate education and employment. While many of the reports cost a fee to access, the NACE website provides access to free blogs and other postings that also provide valuable insights.
      • B.C. Chamber of Commerce Policy and Position Manual
        • Each chamber of commerce conducts labour market research to understand the needs of employers in their region. Based on this information, they propose policies and position statements to the B.C. Chamber of Commerce, their parent organization, to take up and work to advance throughout the province. The ones identified as provincial priorities are published in an annual Policy and Position Manual. Such documents contain data and business cases for economic development in the province. There is usually a section of the document identifying post-secondary training needs and opportunities for partnerships with post-secondary institutions.
      • Will Robots Take My Job?
        • Will Robots Take my Job? is a website that shares predictions about the potential impact of automation on various occupations. Despite its playful name, the website is based on a serious study conducted by two researchers at the University of Oxford (Frey & Osborne, 2013). The website could be used to identify careers that are likely to be replaced by automation and to help develop ways to transition impacted workers to new occupations.
  • Job postings
    • Reviewing online job postings can provide insight into in-demand occupations, as well as information about the skills and knowledge required to apply for those positions. More details about how to perform this type of research is provided in the next section.

Analyzing Job Postings

Online job postings provide a wealth of information about the labour market. By analyzing them, you can determine which skills are in demand for a specific industry and create training that matches this need.

Below are the steps involved in conducting labour market research using online job postings:

  1. Identify target occupations.
    Start by identifying the job titles that you are interested in researching. You may begin the search by looking at all job ads in your area to identify the job titles that are in demand. Alternatively, you may begin with a specific job title in mind. For example, if you are interested in the instructional design sector, you might look for job titles such as instructional designer, curriculum designer, and eLearning designer.
  2. Find relevant job boards.
    • Identify online job boards or job search engines that are popular for the job titles and sector you are interested in researching.
    • Some general job boards include Job Bank and the WorkBC job search engine. In Alberta, there is ALIS. There are also private companies that collate job postings such as
    • Vicinity’s Worxica job vacancy search engine, Indeed, LinkedIn, Glassdoor, Monster, and CareerBuilder, to name just a few. Recruiter websites can be a useful source of job postings for executive-level leadership positions.
    • Several sectors have their own job board. WorkBC’s Industry Job Boards webpage provides a list specific to certain sectors with links. There you will find organizations such as the BC Association of Social Workers’ job posting webpage, which are tailored specifically for job positions in that sector.
  3. Collect job postings.
    Collect current and past job postings for the target occupation from the relevant job boards. Collect as many as possible to get a comprehensive view of the labour market.
  4. Analyze competencies in job postings.
    Read through the job postings and take note of the more commonly required skills, competencies, qualifications, and experience for each occupation. Look for patterns or similarities across the postings to identify trends in the labour market. Follow these steps:
    1. Identify the most common competencies listed for the occupation;
    2. Group them into categories such as technical skills, soft skills, and industry-specific skills;
    3. Rank the competencies by demand based on the frequency of occurrence in the job posting data. Consider, for example, collating all of the required skills and creating a word cloud to draw out their frequency (see Figure 2 of Brodmann et al. (2022) as an example);
    4. Identify trends or changes in the demand for the competencies over time and adjust your analysis accordingly;
    5. Analyze the number of postings for each job title and compare it to the number of job seekers in your area. This supply and demand analysis can identify competency gaps.
  5. Draw conclusions.
    Use your analysis to draw conclusions about the labour market. You might conclude that certain skills or qualifications are in high demand, or that there is a shortage of job seekers for a particular job title.
  6. Confirm findings with employers, subject matter experts, and learners.
    Speak with people in the target sector to validate your findings. Ask clarification questions. For example, if a specific skill is found to be in demand, ask hiring managers to describe what would satisfy the requirement in an applicant (i.e., what evidence do they want of this competency?).
  7. Develop training to address labour market needs.
    Use the identified skills gap obtained in the previous steps to support a proposal for a training program. Pitch it to decision-makers. If approved, work with partners to develop the training.
  8. Monitor changes.
    Keep monitoring job postings and analyzing the labour market over time to identify changes or trends that may impact your decision to develop this program.

The Suggested Resources section lists articles in which the authors describe how they used job postings data to inform their labour market research.

Differentiating Between Need and Demand

When conducting labour market research, it is important to differentiate between a “need” for a training program and the “demand” for it. As explained in Stories from the B.C. Post-secondary Sector: UBCV’s Approach to Financially Sustainable Micro-credentials, “demand” is an indicator of the feasibility and sustainability of a micro-credential, while “need” is not.

One way to differentiate between the two is to obtain concrete evidence that prospective learners are willing to invest resources to complete the training. In the chapter Marketing and Launch, the Stories from the B.C. Post-secondary Sector: Using Start-Up Models describes one approach for testing the feasibility of a prospective program in a low-risk manner.

Environmental Scan

Once you have identified a competency gap in the labour market that could be addressed through training, the next step is to explore the existing training opportunities. This means investigating related training programs at other institutions, including these programs’ target audience, curriculum, format, duration, industry affiliations, outcomes, and cost. Research not only B.C. post-secondary institutions, but also institutions from other regions, especially if the program is offered online. Look at private training providers as well, which specialize in short-term training to help adults who want a rapid career transition. Examples include Lighthouse Labs and BrainStation for coding camps. Finally, investigate the options offered by providers of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) like Coursera, Udemy, and LinkedIn Learning (formerly Lynda). They offer training at a modest price with digital badges as proof of completion. These factors will make them appealing to prospective learners.

One way to analyze and present the information is to create a table, where each row describes one competitor program, and the columns organize the features of the programs that will be compared (e.g., learning outcomes, tuition, duration, etc.). Use this summary to determine whether there is a need for an additional program in the area you identified in your labour market research. You should also identify how your proposed training might differentiate itself from what’s currently available.

Budget Considerations

Like any budget, a micro-credential budget is composed of revenues and expenses, and programs can be revenue-generating, break even, or operate at a loss.

Below is a list of possible items to include under expenses and revenues when putting together a budget.


  • Tuition from learners;
  • Contract training fees (i.e., tuition from an organization that has paid to offer training to a group of people, typically their employees);
  • Grant funding (internal or external);
  • Industry support or sponsorship;
  • Donation or endowment;
  • Licensing fees from products or services owned by the institution and used by another;
  • Rental fees (where the institution’s facilities are rented out to other organizations);
  • Earnings from other programs offered by the unit (revenues earned from a profitable program that are re-applied to another program that is offered at a loss, but typically aligned with a mission goal);
  • The institution’s operational funding.


The following expense categories are commonly encountered in a micro-credential budget:

  • Staffing
    Some sources of staffing costs are listed below. Additional labour and expertise may be required, depending on your program and context. Note that compensation may include benefits, which should be budgeted accordingly.
    • Subject matter expert;
    • Instructor (include preparation time, class time, grading, interaction with learners to answer questions, etc.);
    • Guest speaker honorarium;
    • Instructional designer;
    • Project manager;
    • Program assistant or other front-facing support staff;
    • Marketing officer;
    • Multimedia designer;
    • eLearning and/or tech support;
    • Administrator;
  • Facilities
    • Room rental;
    • Specialized equipment rental;
    • Administrative fee (institutions typically charge an overhead fee for administering a program, i.e., for using services such as the institution’s financial services, systems, facilities, etc.);
    • Security services (e.g., guards, CCTV, etc. — this may be relevant if the program is offered in-person and at times when the campus is not typically in operation, like in the evenings or on the week-end);
  • Technology
    • Audio-visual equipment for in-person classrooms (e.g., projector, microphone, etc.);
    • Learning management system;
    • Web conferencing tool;
    • Video streaming platform;
    • eLearning design tool;
    • Digital badging licence;
    • Speciality software licence for a course;
  • Registration
    • Student registration system;
    • Tuition payment processing platform (i.e., a platform to process credit card payments);
    • Scholarships to support some students’ access to the course;
    • Stationery, including issuing print diplomas or attestations of learning;
    • Postage and handling fees;
  • Marketing
    • Stock image and video licensing fees;
    • Social media advertisement fees;
    • Social media management tools (e.g., social media calendar tool);
    • Print brochures and flyers;
    • Print advertisement (e.g., in the local newspaper);
    • Media advertisement (e.g., on radio, on transit);
    • Website hosting and domain registration;
  • Course Materials
    • Name tags or name tent for each learner;
    • Printing/handouts;
    • Video and audio production costs;
    • Travel and accommodation expenses (e.g., if instructor provides training in a community);
    • Access to special events (e.g., attendance at a concert as part of a music course);
    • Food and refreshments;
    • Other course materials as required;
  • Miscellaneous
    • Administrative costs such as office costs (e.g., facilities, telephone, internet access, stationery, computer and software, etc.)
    • Consulting fees for an industry partner (e.g., to review curriculum, identify subject matter experts, survey employer needs, promote the micro-credential on their social media channels, etc.);
    • Accreditation fees (for programs that require accreditation with an outside organization).

The Continuing Education and Training Association of British Columbia (CETABC) has compiled checklists, budget templates, and questions to ask when putting together a budget from some of its members (schools of continuing education and contract training). They are available from CETABC’s Resources webpage, under the Program Management section.

Micro-credentials are often developed in collaboration with other units within the institution and sometimes with outside partners. Consulting with these stakeholders when putting together a budget makes sense, since they may have data that relates to the budget (e.g., the marketing department may be able to estimate the costs of a promotional campaign for the new micro-credential).

It is not uncommon to develop two separate budgets for a micro-credential. One pertains to the costs of developing a new program. Developing a new program is a time-consuming task. Estimates of development time for new curriculum vary widely (Defelice, 2018). On the lower end, some instructional designers estimate that it takes roughly three hours to develop every hour of in-class activities (Laird, 1985). However, a survey of 249 companies representing 3,947 instructional designers found that the ratio was closer to 22:1 (Chapman, 2010). Based on this, a realistic estimate for in-person classes that balances costs and quality might be 10 hours of development for every one hour of class time.

Given the costs of development, it is not uncommon to search for funding to support this one-time significant expense. The development project is then treated separately from the routine offering of the program, which has its own budget.

Based on recent Ministry-funded micro-credentials, the development costs of the majority of programs fell within the range of $35,000 to $135,000, with the length of program between 45 and 117 hours.

Identifying Sources of Funding

Due to the high costs associated with developing a new micro-credential, many institutions seek additional funding to support it. Some sources of revenue were identified in Budget Considerations.

Often institutions turn to funding opportunities, typically in the form of grants, to support the development of a new program. A listing of potential funders is too long to include here; however, sources to explore include:

  • The B.C. Ministry of Post-Secondary Education and Future Skills has supported several calls for proposals from public post-secondary institutions to develop new micro-credentials that align with the Micro-credential Framework for B.C. Public Post-secondary Education System (2021).
  • WorkBC administers several grants and funding opportunities to help train the workforce. Although post-secondary institutions are not eligible to apply for many of these programs, they may partner with organizations that are, and either serve as the training provider to a grant holder, or else collaborate with other (usually non-profit) organizations who provide the training. Here are specific grants that align with micro-credentials:
    • The Community Workforce Response Grant supports the training of workers in an area that the community identifies as a priority for its economic development. There are several streams of funding such as Emerging Priorities, Indigenous Communities, Workforce Shortages, and Community Response.
    • The B.C. Employer Training Grant serves employers who seek to train their employees or prospective employees. The funds can be used to pay for contract training by a provider, including post-secondary institutions.
  • CleanBC has a webpage connecting visitors to funding for climate action. A quick way to identify training sources is to filter the database by “Project Activity,” and select “Capacity Building for the Community.” Many programs are not for post-secondary applicants but can be obtained by a community or municipal organization who then contracts with the post-secondary institution to deliver the training.
  • The Government of B.C. has a search engine for funding and grants that support economic development. The tool collates funding programs from each of the B.C. ministries. Entering keywords such as “training” will search the database for funding opportunities that can support workforce development. As with the WorkBC programs, the eligibility criteria may exclude post-secondary institutions from applying; however, partners who seek to train their employees or members of their community can apply for the funding and contract with a post-secondary institution to develop custom training.
  • The Government of Canada has a similar search engine to search federal sources of grants and funding. By filtering the search to “Jobs or Apprenticeship Training,” the search engine will provide a list of relevant programs. This provides links, for example, to the Indigenous Skills and Employment Training (ISET) program. While only Indigenous communities may apply for this funding, post-secondary institutions can partner with First Nations service delivery organizations to offer the training (for example, by providing access to specialized facilities, equipment, and expertise).
  • The Government of Canada’s Employment and Social Development has a webpage that lists current and upcoming funding opportunities for jobs, training, and social development projects. People are encouraged to sign up for a free email service that alerts them of new opportunities.
  • Many government departments and agencies, at the municipal, provincial, and federal levels, periodically offer funding opportunities to support their portfolio. Some may align with proposals for training programs that aim to help members of your community upskill or retool. For example, a grant from the Government of Canada’s Immigration, Refugees, and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) funded the development of a micro-credential to help women newcomers develop entrepreneurship skills (see Collaborating with a Non-Profit Organization to Benefit the Community in the chapter Employers, Indigenous and Community Partners: Stories from the B.C. Post-secondary Sector).
  • Several private foundations have grant programs that seek to create more vibrant communities and meet societal goals. Some post-secondary institutions have been successful in obtaining funding from these sources to support training for under-represented groups in certain industries. Some foundations to investigate include:
  • Certain professional organizations and coalitions of organizations pool their resources to make funding available to their members. Some micro-credentials have been developed with support from the following example organizations: CETABC, Canadian Colleges for a Resilient Recovery (C2R2), and Cascadia Innovation Corridor.
  • When conducting a funding search, consider using the following keywords to guide your research:
    • Training;
    • Capacity building;
    • Economic development;
    • Workforce development;
    • Skills training.

Financial Feasibility and Sustainability

A key factor in ensuring the success of a micro-credential is to have a viable plan to fund its operations in the long run. Usually this means identifying a dependable source of funding to balance the books and cover expenses.

When relying on an internal source of revenue to support a program, there are several funding models to choose from. Consider, for example, the following funding structures:

  • Tuition-based model.
    This is the default model in post-secondary education. Learners pay for individual courses or programs. This assumes that the learner population can afford to pay the tuition, and that the tuition can recover all of the expenses.
  • Corporate training.
    Many schools of continuing education operate on this model. Here, the institution provides training services to outside organizations. This can include customized training programs, executive education, and workshops. The client organization usually pays a flat rate for the training and learners from that organization are trained as a cohort (i.e., they have their own instructors, meeting time, etc.)
  • Subscription-based model.
    This model is gaining popularity and may be particularly suitable for competency-based programs where learners proceed at their own pace. In this model, learners pay a flat rate to access educational content for a set period (e.g., access for a semester). In that time, learners may complete as many (or as few) courses and programs as they want. This model is used by Western Governors University in the United States, which offers competency-based education. It’s also been made popular by many online services such as audio and video streaming platforms.
  • Freemium.
    In this model, basic educational content is provided for free, but premium content and services require payment. Here the freemium content is used to recruit large numbers of prospective learners and to make the training accessible to as many people as possible. However, it is only those learners who register for the premium content that support the program’s operations. A version of this was mentioned in the Marketing and Launch chapter in the section Stories from the B.C. Post-secondary Sector: UBCO’s Experimentation with Promotional Approaches. One way to implement this would be to provide the content for free but require payment to obtain official certification of the learning. This model is used by the MOOC provider Coursera and edX and by many language learning apps such as Duolingo and Babbel.
  • Licensing model.
    Rather than creating content from scratch, another option is to use existing course content. Many schools of continuing education partner with third party online content providers, such as ed2go, MindEdge, and LERN, to access their content. Typically, the agreement stipulates that the two organizations will share revenues in an agreed upon manner based on enrollment. Some schools of continuing education also license  their content.
  • Funnel funds from profitable programming.
    A common approach in the non-profit sector is to engage in activities that may not necessarily align with the organization’s mission but can generate revenue. The profits from those activities are then used to support another activity that operates at a loss but is aligned with the organization’s mission. In this way, the organization sets up a paired budget where one activity supports another.

The Suggested Resources section includes a collection of articles on ways to develop sustainable business models for micro-credentials.

Go/No Go Decision

A commonly used term for programs that are offered on a cost-recovery or revenue-generating basis is the “Go/No Go decision.” This is the point at which program administrators examine the number of learners registered in a program and determine whether it is sufficient to break even. Most programs have fixed costs that must be paid no matter how many learners are in a course (e.g., instructor costs), and others that depend on the number of learners in a course (e.g., printing of handouts). The Go/No Go decision considers whether the tuition collected from the number of learners registered in a program is sufficient to recover the fixed expenses. If the tuition covers the fixed costs, the program will break even, and it is allowed to go ahead (the “Go” decision). Otherwise, the program is canceled (the “No Go” decision).

Typically, the contracts and policies for a program are written such that the program may be canceled without penalty a few days prior to its start date (i.e., the instructor does not need to be compensated if informed by a certain date; learners will be refunded as per the policies). Having a Go/No Go decision date, along with a set of policies and contracts that match it, is an important element of ensuring that a program does not operate at a loss and is financially viable.

Stories from the B.C. Post-secondary Sector

NIC and Learning Councils Meet the Needs of the Community

Bob Haugen is the director of continuing education and contract training at North Island College (NIC). One of the ways in which his unit stays abreast of the region’s training needs is through the use of learning councils. The idea was imported from the College of New Caledonia in 2013 when John Bowman left the first institution to join the second as president. Haugen shares how learning councils work.


What is a learning council?

“A learning council is a group of representatives from several sectors in a region who can advise on the community’s training needs. This includes members from Indigenous communities, employers, private and non-profit organizations, representatives from several levels of government, staff from private training institutions, and of course from North Island College. In all, this group includes roughly 40 people.”

How does the council advise your unit’s activities?

“The council meets three times a year. We have timed these meetings to correspond with calls for funding application.

“Usually what happens at these meetings is that employers will describe some of the labour shortages they are experiencing in the region. What are the jobs that they are having a hard time filling, or that they anticipate having a hard time filling in the near future to complete upcoming projects?

“The college and private training institutions provide an overview of their existing programs that could address that workforce gap. For example, NIC might have a new heavy equipment operator training program, or a facilities maintenance program that could help train people for these jobs.

“In some of the regions we serve, Indigenous learners make up a significant proportion of our students. The Indigenous representatives will speak about the training and skillsets that are of interest to their community. They also have access to training funds and can speak to how the training might need to fit certain parameters to meet the requirements for that funding. For example, a program might need to be offered over a six-week period. They might also stipulate the inclusion of culturally appropriate learning under the guidance of an Elder from their community.

“The learning council bypasses the need for NIC to engage in extensive labour market research, because it provides concrete, actionable intelligence about the training that is needed in our community.”

Can you give an example of a way in which this worked in the past?

“In Port Alberni, we are experiencing a housing boom, and we do not have enough people to work on construction crews. Technically, anyone can go to a construction company and ask to be taken on as an apprentice. However, not everyone has the confidence, the prior experiences, and their own tools needed to do this. This is particularly true of Indigenous youth.

“For this project, we worked with the Nuu-chah-nulth Tribal Council. The Council is wonderful to work with. They support their learners with advisors that provide wraparound services to ensure the students’ success. They were also able to find some funding to support the training.

“We hired a Red Seal-trained instructor who is from that community. He modified our curriculum for the Facilities Maintenance micro-credential and put a focus on carpentry. In the first few days of the program, he took students to an old, abandoned house in the village. Students asked, “Are we tearing down this house?’ The instructor said, ‘No, we are going to rebuild it.’

“Students spent six weeks doing that. They replaced the floor, fixed doors, installed windowsills, replaced the steps, the gyprock, the plumbing, and worked with an electrician to rewire it. In six weeks, they converted a derelict house into a home. A family was even able to move into it. The students were proud. They had learned something very tangible, with a demonstrated product of their skills.

“During the six weeks, we also invited local construction companies to speak to our students about what it is like to work in their company. Students got to know the people working in these companies, ask their questions, and it demystified the whole process.

“Six students registered for the program. All completed the program, and all were offered apprenticeships by local construction companies after the training. This was a success story. It addressed a labour gap in our community, developed customized training that met our students’ needs, and fostered economic development for the region.”

How replicable is this learning council model?

“It’s very replicable. The first learning council was established in the Alberni Valley (Port Alberni) in 2013. We just started one in Campbell River and another in Port Hardy. There are plans to start one in the Comox Valley. As you can see, we are strong believers in the benefits of learning councils.”

Top Tips from NIC’s Experience

  1. Form a learning council in your community. This is an excellent way to embed your institution in the community and engage all stakeholders in a conversation about the community’s training needs. All participants share ownership for addressing the region’s economic development. It’s also a forum to identify potential partnerships between your institution, employers, Indigenous communities, and private training schools. It’s a community-based approach to conducting labour market research.
  2. Listen to what the community wants. Do not go to learning council meetings with a “selling” mindset, or pre-conceived ideas about what the community needs. Listen more than you speak. Describe what you can provide, but then allow the community to identify what meets their needs.
  3. Be flexible. Be willing to customize your existing offerings to meet the needs of the community and its learners.
  4. Include the community in the training. Find members of the community to participate in the delivery of the training. This should be a community effort. Invite employers to speak with your students. Hire instructors from the community. Consider doing projects that give learners a chance to apply their skills and return something to the community.
  5. Community celebration. Consider ways to celebrate the learners’ success in the community. Hold a graduation ceremony and consider the best forum for it. NIC sometimes hosts lunch events to showcase the students’ new abilities to the community and to celebrate the learners’ achievements.

UBCV’s Approach to Financially Sustainable Micro-credentials

Larry Bouthillier is the executive director of the University of British Columbia Vancouver campus’s (UBCV) extended learning (ExL). He provides strategic leadership for his unit and works with faculties across campus to bring continuing and professional education to the local and global community. Below, he shares his insights on ways to make micro-credentials financially sustainable.


In your experience, which micro-credential programs are likely to be successful?

“One important thing to note is the distinction between ‘need’ and ‘demand’ for a new program. They are related concepts, but ‘demand’ is a predictor of a micro-credential’s financial viability, while ‘need’ is less so.

“For example, health care experts might say that there is a need for a specific type of training in the field and claim that health care professionals would benefit if it were offered. That might be true. However, health care workers are busy people, and while they might want to take that training, their time is limited. Unless that training is linked to maintaining their credentials, it is unlikely that many will pursue it. You cannot assume there’s a demand for the micro-credential, despite the need.

“There is a solution to a situation like this, which is to work with the professional accreditation agencies to get the training recognized for continuing education credit. That way, the training will count towards the mandatory professional development hours that professionals must take each year to maintain their professional accreditation. This will create demand for the program. Without this, even though there is a need, the micro-credential may not be viable.”

What are some of the challenges of developing a financially sustainable model for micro-credentials?

“What it comes down to is the cost of acquiring a student. Institutions must invest a lot of resources to promote a program. They need to spread the word about a program’s existence so that prospective students become aware of it. This includes resources to offer information sessions, advertise digitally, print and distribute brochures, and answer questions from prospective students. Once a student enrolls, these costs are recovered as part of the tuition for the program.

“The problem with micro-credentials is two-fold. First, micro-credentials are short, so there are fewer opportunities to recuperate those expenses. Consider the opportunities to recuperate the costs of promotion from a learner who registers in an undergraduate degree and completes 40 courses at an institution, compared to a learner who completes a micro-credential in one or two courses. It’s more costly to acquire the micro-credential student, relative to the revenue you’ll collect.

“In addition, micro-credentials are a dynamic market, with new ones created frequently. That means that institutions have to expand even more marketing resources to get the word out and let prospective learners know about it. Institutions may not be able to depend on word of mouth and alumni to spread the word as much. For these reasons, the costs of acquiring a student for a micro-credential program are quite high compared to longer programs, yet the opportunities to recuperate those costs are fewer, since the program is short.”

What are some potential solutions?

“There is an economy of scale to be gained here. The more students you can put through a program, the more likely it is to break even. While automating course delivery is one way to make a course more financially viable — for example, by offering self-paced online courses — it is a solution not always aligned with institutions of higher education. Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) providers like Coursera, Udemy, and LinkedIn Learning have mastered this market, offering professionally produced videos and outsourcing the instruction. They offer training for $20. We cannot compete with that.

“Our value, our advantage, is likely to come from the personalized attention we can give each student. We need to connect learners with jobs at the end of the training. That could come from offering career and placement services. Alternatively, if we can recruit industry leaders to teach micro-credential courses, they can provide direct pathways to employment for learners, a competitive advantage that MOOCs simply cannot offer. Students will register for a course with such tangible career outcomes.

“That still doesn’t address the cost of acquiring a student for short-term training. We have a hypothesis, which we are testing right now. Since the costs of acquiring a student are high, we are expanding efforts to retain students once they have registered with us. Retaining a student is much easier to do than recruiting a new one.

“Micro-credentials were created to help people transition in their career. To achieve that outcome, they generally need more than one short course. They need something short, but large enough to develop new competencies. One seven-week micro-credential course is probably not enough, but a series of such courses may provide the depth of learning that achieve the outcome that adult learners are looking for.

“What we are working to create is a portfolio of courses in a subject area or for a given audience. This stackability of related programming can provide a reason for learners to re-enroll. It creates a win-win situation; for the learners who deepen their learning sufficiently to impact the trajectory of their careers, and for us by lowering the cost of acquiring students for our courses.”

Top Tips from UBC’s Extended Learning Experience

  1. Look for demand (not just need) for a new program. Investigate whether there is a market of people who not only think the training is a good idea but are willing to invest their time and money to complete it. If there is need but insufficient demand, explore options for transforming the need into demand (e.g., by working with professional accreditation agencies to recognize the training and make it a requirement for accreditation).
  2. Provide tangible career advantages. Micro-credential providers are not limited to post-secondary institutions. Private companies have automated, and scaled up, their delivery of such programs. To gain a competitive advantage, consider developing programs that link learners with employers in your region and help them find work in those industries.
  3. Develop clusters of offerings. The cost of acquiring a student is high, particularly for short micro-credentials. Consider ways to retain learners and deepen their learning so that they gain the abilities required to effect the desired change in their career. This will help to make the program financially viable.

Suggested Resources

Labour Market Research Using Job Postings

The Open Skills Network is an international coalition of educational institutions and employers that are working to create rich, machine-readable, standardized descriptions of skills. By creating this system, they hope to capture people’s competencies and facilitate the transition between training and employment.

The Open Skills Network. (n.d.).

The articles below illustrate how job postings can be used to analyze the labour market, enabling researchers to identify in-demand competencies. While some of the methods use automation to parse the data, similar analyses can be performed manually on a smaller scale. Some of the articles describe the benefits and pitfalls of using this approach to conducting labour market analysis research.

Carnevale, A. P., Jayasundera, T., & Repnikov, D. (2014). Understanding online job ads data: A technical report. Georgetown University, Center on Education and the Workforce.

Dawson, N., Rizoiu, M. A., Johnston, B., & Williams, M. A. (2019). Adaptively selecting occupations to detect skill shortages from online job ads. 2019 IEEE International Conference on Big Data (Big Data), 1637–1643.

Horton, J. J., & Tambe, P. (2015). Labor economists get their microscope: Big data and labor market analysis. Big Data, 3(3), 130–137.

Khaouja, I., Kassou, I., & Ghogho, M. (2021). A survey on skill identification from online job ads. IEEE Access, 9, 118134–118153.

Lenaerts, K., Beblavý, M., & Fabo, B. (2016). Prospects for utilisation of non-vacancy Internet data in labour market analysis—An overview. IZA Journal of Labor Economics, 5, 1.

Romanko, O., & O’Mahony, M. (2022). The use of online job sites for measuring skills and labour market trends: A review. Economic Statistics Centre of Excellence (ESCoE) Technical Reports (ESCOE-TR-19).

Shuai, X., Chmura, C., & Stinchcomb, J. (2021). COVID-19, labor demand, and government responses: Evidence from job posting data. Business Economics, 56, 29–42.

Stanton, W. W., & Stanton, A. D. (2020). Helping business students acquire the skills needed for a career in analytics: A comprehensive industry assessment of entry‐level requirements. Decision Sciences Journal of Innovative Education, 18(1), 138–165.

Verma, A., Yurov, K. M., Lane, P.L., & Yurova, Y. V. (2019). An investigation of skill requirements for business and data analytics positions: A content analysis of job advertisements. Journal of Education for Business, 94(4), 243–250.

Estimating Program Development Time

Arshavskiy, M. (2020). How to estimate eLearning development time and course length. LinkedIn.

Austin, R. (2016). How long does it really take to create one hour of learning? LinkedIn.

Micro-credential Business Models

Denna, E. (2014). The business model of higher education. EDUCAUSE Review.

Staisloff, R. (2015). Translating CBE programs into sustainable business models. EDUCAUSE Review.

Launching a new micro-credential program is risky. Administrators must weigh the costs of risks against the potential gains of innovation. This article provides tips for starting new things in higher education (not necessarily micro-credentials, but the considerations also apply to this type of initiative).

Wyatt, J. (2022). Walking a tightrope: Balancing innovation and risks in higher education. The Evolllution.

Works Cited

Brodmann, S., Marguerie, A., & von Lenthe, C. (2022). How governments should make use of real-time data from online job portals. Brookings.

Chapman, B. (2010). How long does it take to create learning? [Research Study]. Chapman Alliance LLC.

Defelice, R.A. (2018). How long to develop one hour of training? Updated for 2017. The Association for Talent Development.

Dewar, J. (2023). The most in-demand skills for 2023. LinkedIn Talent Blog.

Frey, C. B., & Osborne, M. A. (2013). The future of employment: How susceptible are jobs to computerisation?. Technological Forecasting and Social Change, 114, 254–280.

Laird, D. (1985). Approaches to training and development (2nd ed.). Addison-Wesley.

Lewis, G. (2023). The most in-demand jobs right now. LinkedIn Talent Blog.


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BCcampus Micro-credential Toolkit for B.C. Copyright © by Annie Prud'homme-Généreux is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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