Assessing Employer Needs for Micro-Credentials in Tempe, Arizona

Last week, Rio Salado College and the Tempe Chamber of Commerce announced the release of survey results designed to identify micro-credential educational program options that could benefit businesses in the Tempe area that have been impacted by the Covid pandemic.

On the positive side, most businesses completing the survey indicated an interest in micro credential options. The highest areas of interest were in hard skills programs like sales and marketing operations, front line staff management, customer service, and information technology. In the soft skills area, respondents viewed communication, problem-solving, and leadership as areas of need.

The survey presented businesses with Rio Salado’s eight fields of interest, and respondents were asked to identify all that aligned with their business needs. The chart below includes the results ranked from low to high.

Program fields that aligned with business needs

Local businesses were also asked to identify specific professional skills needs for their businesses and employees. The top responses are indicated in the chart below, ranking from lowest to highest.

professional skills needs for businesses and employees

Fortunately, these areas align directly to some of Rio Salado’s most popular programs. Responses to soft skill needs were approximately 17 percent of all responses with communication, problem-solving, and leadership among the highest areas of need.

Rio Salado and its survey partner, the Tempe Chamber of Commerce, deserve to be congratulated for taking the time to design, distribute, collect, and analyze surveys distributed to businesses in their community.

Tempe’s needs may or may not be representative of micro credential needs in communities across the United States. I noted that the top three skill gap areas identified; sales and marketing operations, front line staff management, and customer service; all require direct interface with customers, a critical need for many businesses during the pandemic.

Rio Salado was careful to define a micro credential as an educational program that was 12 months or less in duration. Based on the survey results, the areas of greatest need appear to be those that could be met with those short-term credentials instead of a degree.

Reports from the National Student Clearinghouse as well as the Department of Education IPEDS indicate that colleges impacted the most during the pandemic were community colleges. The results of this survey indicate that most of the programs valued by businesses are already offered by Rio Salado.

Unlike traditional two-year colleges, Rio Salado has been progressive in offering more than half of its courses and programs online for more than two decades. That said, most of its students are from the state of Arizona and 85 percent are part-time. Without knowing the specifics of its enrollment growth or decline during the pandemic, it appears that Rio should be least impacted by students who decided not to attend in-person classes.

Community colleges have partnered with their local businesses for years. While this survey from Rio Salado is the first that I’ve seen published in a while, it’s encouraging to see this type of cooperation, particularly as it relates to meeting skills and program needs versus educating students with no alignment for the local employers’ needs.

In order to maintain or regain our competitiveness, we need to align our education programs with businesses needs. The needs exceed our current program capacities. I hope to read more of these cooperative surveys in the future.

Subjects of Interest


Higher Education

Independent Schools


Student Persistence