How micro-credentials help train mentors in diversity and inclusion

Time-efficient courses allow professionals to upskill and stay abreast of trends in their sectors

Dr Katriona O’Sullivan, digital skills lecturer, Maynooth University: ‘Mentoring young people from diverse communities requires a different type of skill.’ Picture: Keith Arkins

In an era of continuous learning, micro-credential courses serve as indispensable tools, bridging the gap between existing expertise and the evolving demands of the contemporary workplace.

Micro-credentials also offer a highly practical solution, especially as workers strive to juggle a myriad of tasks, maintain a healthy work-life balance, and simultaneously stay abreast of emerging trends within their specific professional domains.

For professionals, the draw is obvious: the content is specialised and targeted at a specific area or topic, and courses can be completed in a relatively short time – think weeks instead of months and years. By the end, they will have positioned themselves as agile contributors in an ever-changing professional environment.

Dr Katriona O’Sullivan, digital skills lecturer at the Assisting Living and Learning Institute at the Department of Psychology in Maynooth University, developed a micro-credential course as a direct means to educate people on how to mentor for equality, diversity and inclusion. She explained, “Most professionals have experienced being coached or mentored, but mentoring young people from diverse communities requires a different type of skill.”

To teach those skills, O’Sullivan created a micro-credential course for equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI) at Maynooth University. Over the highly focused 12-week, five-credit micro-credential, learners participate in eight hours of facilitated online learning where they examine a range of societal issues, from social class barriers to education and issues related to equality in Ireland.

“They then go on to be mentors to young women from diverse backgrounds,” O’Sullivan explained, in which they participated in six hours of mentoring and mentor reflection sessions.

For Marie Walsh, the attraction of the micro-credential in Maynooth University was twofold. From her own experience, mentors had played a role in her progression through school, university and ultimately, to her professional career as a European patent attorney and partner with HGF IP Ltd. Just as appealing was the laser-like focus of the EDI micro-credential that O’Sullivan created.

“One of the key reasons I’m committed to this micro-credential course is my belief in the profound impact that mentoring can have. Mentors play a pivotal role in empowering students, helping them overcome barriers, and offering guidance on career options and personal development,” said Walsh.

She said the EDI micro-credential course at Maynooth University will allow her to “fine-tune the skills, knowledge and insights needed to be an effective mentor”.

“The course is also appealing because it offers a practical and focused approach to learning. Micro-credentials are designed to be efficient and industry-relevant, providing essential skills that can be applied immediately. This aligns with my aim to make a meaningful difference and allows me to put my skills into practice swiftly,” she said.

“Ultimately, my decision to pursue a micro-credential in mentoring for equality, diversity and inclusion is driven by my aim to be part of something much bigger, learning from experts, gaining practical experience, and joining a community of like-minded individuals committed to making Ireland a more equitable, diverse and inclusive place to grow up in.”

Aedín Lang, has been keenly aware of inclusion and diversity throughout her career. Currently working in a customs systems support role in the IT section of Revenue, Lang recalled the massive gender imbalance in Stem subjects in college: she studied engineering in University College Dublin, followed by computer science at the Technology University Tallaght. In her experience, although this gender imbalance has improved in technical roles, in industry it persists.

I was blown away by what Dr O’Sullivan had to say – here was a woman who had faced so many tough challenges growing up

Lang’s route to the EDI micro-credential at Maynooth University came via attending the 2023 Women in Stem conference where O’Sullivan was speaking.

“I was blown away by what Dr O’Sullivan had to say. Here was a woman who had faced so many tough challenges growing up, had not only become a senior lecturer in Maynooth University, but was using what she had learned from her own experiences and channelled this knowledge into running a programme encouraging young women to believe in their abilities and not to be afraid to follow a path in Stem,” said Lang.

This resonated with Lang, and the opportunity to learn specialised mentorship skills so that she could in turn coach and inspire other women to explore a career in Stem was a key motivation to get involved. As a result of O’Sullivan’s inspiring talk at Women in Stem, Lang attended an information session about the programme, which is how she heard about the micro-credential in EDI.

“This seemed to me to be a win-win. I could support the programme and also get a qualification to equip me to mentor young women and hopefully encourage even one or two of them to choose Stem as a future career option.”

Lang said Revenue, her employer, has been unwavering in its support of her undertaking the micro-credential.

As Walsh and Lang show, the profile of the students on the EDI micro-credential at Maynooth University includes diverse professions. While all the students thus far have been women, and many are taking the course because they can relate to the experience of inequality in their careers and/or personal lives, O’Sullivan hopes there will be male applicants in the coming years, as they would bring another perspective to the programme.

“Micro-credentials are a European-wide initiative aimed at providing bite-sized, short, intensive education programmes with a focus on skill set development. These programmes are usually affordable economically and timewise for people who wish to develop skills and enhance their expertise in a particular area. Rather than the traditional pathway that can be time-intensive, a micro-credential provides learning that can be transferred immediately to a professional setting,” said O’Sullivan.

It’s clear that the appeal and the outcomes of micro-credentials are, despite the micro part of the name, expansive and have huge impact.