Stackable Credentials Explained

Career success does not come from a prestigious degree or one specific course. The job market is constantly changing, and professionals need to continuously improve and grow to keep up with the increasing demands. This situation has given rise to a new approach in education: stackable credentials. 

This educational model offers individuals the opportunity to acquire targeted skills, validate their professional achievements, and unlock new career possibilities. Stackable credentials provide a flexible and adaptable framework to meet the diverse needs of learners and employers alike. 

In this article, we will discuss how stackable credentials work, in which settings they are used, and the benefits of applying this model to your continuing education. By understanding the power of stackable credentials, we can navigate the dynamic job market with confidence and take control of our professional growth. 

What are stackable credentials?

Stackable credentials are a modular approach to education and professional development. Instead of pursuing a traditional linear educational pathway, where one completes a single degree or certification before moving on to the next, stackable credentials allow individuals to accumulate and combine multiple credentials over time. 

The idea behind this model of education is that learning and professional development occur in stages that must be equally valued and recognised. 

Rather than waiting until the end of a long educational program to receive a degree, the stackable credentials model offers opportunities for individuals to take shorter courses and get qualifications that fit their professional interests. 

Different approaches to stackable credentials

There are different approaches to stackable credentials, combining different types of qualifications and providing individuals with options when pursuing their career development.

The choice of approach depends on individuals’ goals, aspirations, and specific demands of the industry they work for. 

Vertical credential stacking

Vertical credential stacking involves pursuing a series of credentials within a single occupational area or career. 

When individuals pursue this model of credentials, they progress from lower-level to higher-level qualifications, acquiring deeper knowledge and expertise in a particular area. Each credential builds upon the previous one.

Horizontal credential stacking

With horizontal stacking, instead of focusing solely on one occupational area, individuals pursue credentials that complement each other or broaden their skill set. 

This approach emphasises versatility and the ability to work across multiple roles or industries. For instance, someone interested in a career in marketing may acquire credentials in digital marketing, data analytics, and project management to gain a well-rounded skill set that can be applied in various marketing roles. 

Hybrid credential stacking

Hybrid credential stacking combines elements of both vertical and horizontal stacking. It involves pursuing credentials both within a specific occupational area and across different disciplines.

This approach allows individuals to develop expertise in their chosen field while also gaining additional skills that are relevant in related areas. Hybrid stacking offers a balanced approach that combines specialisation with versatility, enabling individuals to adapt to changing industry demands and explore diverse career opportunities. 

Where are stackable credentials used?

As discussed, stackable credentials offer a new approach to continuous education. It has gained traction globally as a means of providing flexible, targeted, and recognised pathways for individuals to acquire qualifications and progress in their careers.

From educational to professional settings, stackable credentials give individuals more possibilities to develop their careers. Here are some of the most common uses of stackable credentials.

Higher education institutions

Many colleges, universities, and vocational schools offer stackable credential programs as part of their educational offerings. These institutions provide opportunities for individuals to earn micro-credentials, certificates, associate degrees, and even bachelor’s degrees in a modular and stackable format. 

Vocational and technical training centres

Vocational schools and technical training centres often provide stackable credentials that focus on specific trades or industries. 

These institutions offer short-term programmes, certificates, or apprenticeships that enable individuals to acquire targeted skills and qualifications relevant to a particular occupation, such as automotive technology, culinary arts, or healthcare. 

Online learning platforms

Online learning platforms and Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) have embraced the stackable credential model. Platforms like Coursera, Udacity, and LinkedIn Learning offer micro-credentials, specialised certificates, and even online degrees that learners can complete remotely at their own pace. 

Professional associations and certifying bodies

Many professional associations and certifying bodies offer stackable credentials to validate and recognise specific skills or expertise within a profession. 

Workforce development programmes

Government agencies, workforce development boards, and non-profit organisations often implement stackable credential programs to support skill development and employability. These programs aim to upskill individuals and provide them with the necessary qualifications for in-demand jobs or industry-specific roles.

Corporate training and professional development

Many companies and employers recognise the value of stackable credentials for their employees’ professional growth and career advancement. They may offer in-house training programmes or support employees in pursuing external credentials. This approach allows employees to continuously upgrade their skills and knowledge, enhancing their performance and increasing their value within the organisation.

Examples of stackable credentials

If the idea of stackable credentials is still too broad of a concept for you to grasp, it might be worth looking at some industries in which this approach is already common:

Project Management Institute (PMI) Credentials

The Project Management Institute (PMI) is a globally recognised professional association that focuses on project management. It offers a range of credentials that validate and certify individuals’ project management skills and knowledge. 

The progression of PMI credentials is Project Management Professional (PMP), Certified Associate in Project Management (CAPM), PMI Agile Certified Practitioner (PMI-ACP), and PMI Professional in Business Analysis (PMI-PBA).

These certifications provide professionals with a structured and recognised framework for advancing their project management careers. They are widely applicable across industries and are seen as valuable assets for individuals seeking to enhance their project management skills and credibility. The certifications require a commitment to ongoing professional development and adherence to PMI’s code of ethics and professional conduct.

Information Technology (IT) Certifications

Information Technology (IT) certifications demonstrate people’s proficiency, knowledge, and skills in various aspects of the IT industry. These certifications are valuable for both entry-level professionals looking to establish their credentials and experienced IT professionals seeking to advance their careers. 

IT certifications are often specific to certain technologies, vendors, or job roles within the IT field. Some examples include CompTIA Certifications, Cisco Certifications, Microsoft Certifications, Project Management Institute (PMI) Certifications, Information Security Certifications, and ITIL (Information Technology Infrastructure Library) Certifications.

However, the IT certification landscape is broad and continually evolving. The choice of certification depends on individual career goals, job roles, and the specific technologies or methodologies one wants to specialise in within the dynamic field of IT.

Cybersecurity Certifications

Cybersecurity certifications allow individuals to build a comprehensive skill set in the rapidly evolving field of cybersecurity. As the demand for skilled cybersecurity professionals continues to rise, earning multiple certifications can enhance your marketability and proficiency. 

Some common certifications in this field include CompTIA Security+, Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP), Certified Ethical Hacker (CEH), CompTIA Cybersecurity Analyst (CySA+), and Offensive Security Certified Professional (OSCP).

By strategically combining these certifications, individuals can create a stackable credential profile that showcases a diverse set of skills, from foundational knowledge to specialised expertise. For example, someone might start with CompTIA Security+ as a foundation, progress to more advanced certifications like CISSP or CEH for specialised skills, and then further enhance their management capabilities with certifications like CISM or CISA. 

This stackable approach allows cybersecurity professionals to demonstrate a well-rounded and in-depth understanding of various aspects within the field, making them more valuable to employers and organisations.

Healthcare Certifications

Stackable healthcare certifications help professionals demonstrate specialised knowledge in some fields. Some examples of certifications in this field include Certified Nursing Assistant (CNA), Certified Medical Assistant (CMA), Emergency Medical Technician (EMT), and Registered Nurse (RN).

With a strategic set of these credentials, healthcare professionals can build a diverse skill set that spans patient care, administrative responsibilities, information management, and specialised areas of healthcare. 

Human Resources (HR) Certifications

Stackable HR certifications allow individuals to demonstrate expertise in various HR domains, ranging from foundational knowledge to specialised areas. Some key HR certifications that can be part of a stackable credential strategy include Professional in Human Resources (PHR), Senior Professional in Human Resources (SPHR), SHRM Certified Professional (SHRM-CP), SHRM Senior Certified Professional (SHRM-SCP), Global Professional in Human Resources (GPHR, and Talent Management Institute (TMI) Certifications.

When pursuing stackable credentials in HR, individuals can start with foundational certifications like PHR or SHRM-CP to establish a strong base of HR knowledge. As they gain experience and want to specialise or take on more strategic roles, they can progress to advanced certifications.

Sales and Marketing Certifications

Sales and Marketing certifications can help professionals build a well-rounded skill set, combining general business knowledge with specialised expertise in sales and marketing strategies. 

Professionals seeking to diversify their skills can start with a HubSpot Inbound Marketing Certification and continue with credentials such as *Google Analytics Individual Qualification (GAIQ), Salesforce Certified Sales Cloud Consultant, Certified Professional Salesperson (CPSP), Digital Marketing Institute (DMI) Certifications, and Hootsuite Social Marketing Certification.

Language Proficiency Certifications

Language proficiency certifications play a significant role in the context of stackable credentials, particularly for individuals seeking to demonstrate their language skills in professional or academic settings. These certifications validate a person’s ability to communicate effectively in a specific language, which can be crucial in various industries and international contexts. 

Combining language proficiency certifications in a stackable credential strategy allows individuals to showcase their multilingual abilities. For example, someone might start with a basic certification like TOEFL or A1 level in a language, and then progress to more advanced levels or certifications in additional languages. This approach can be particularly beneficial for professionals in international business, translation services, diplomacy, or those seeking opportunities in countries where multiple languages are spoken. The stackable nature of these certifications demonstrates continuous improvement and a commitment to language proficiency across various contexts.

Data Science and Analytics Certifications

Stackable Data Science and Analytics certifications are pivotal for professionals looking to build a robust skill set in this rapidly evolving field. These certifications validate expertise in data analysis, statistical modelling, machine learning, and other key areas within data science. 

Combining multiple certifications allows individuals to demonstrate a comprehensive range of skills, from foundational knowledge to specialised expertise. 

The benefits of stackable credentials

Stackable credentials offer several benefits to individuals seeking to enhance their skills, knowledge, and career opportunities. It can also be an amazing tool for organisations issuing credentials. 

Flexibility and customisation

Stackable credentials provide flexibility in designing an educational pathway that aligns with individual goals and circumstances. 

Learners can choose from a variety of credentials, ranging from short-term certificates to more comprehensive degrees, and tailor their education to their specific interests and career aspirations.

For issuers, stackable credentials give them an opportunity to offer a range of smaller, specialised certifications. 

Progressive learning

This educational model promotes a progressive learning approach, allowing individuals to acquire knowledge and skills in a step-by-step manner. Starting with smaller credentials such as micro-credentials or certificates, learners can gradually build upon their qualifications, gaining deeper knowledge and expertise over time.

Targeted skill development

Stackable credentials often focus on specific skills or knowledge areas, allowing individuals to acquire targeted expertise relevant to their desired career field. This targeted skill development enhances employability by providing individuals with the specific competencies and proficiencies sought after by employers.

Quick employment entry points

Instead of waiting for the completion of a long degree programme, individuals can earn micro-credentials or certificates that validate their skills and make them eligible for employment in specific roles or industries. This is particularly beneficial for individuals seeking to enter the workforce swiftly or transition into a new career.

Recognition of achievements

Each stackable credential earned represents a recognised achievement. Digital badges, certificates, or degrees obtained along the educational journey can be showcased on resumes, online profiles, or social media, providing tangible evidence of continuous learning and professional development.

Lifelong learning

As new skills and knowledge become relevant or industries evolve, individuals can pursue additional credentials to stay up-to-date and remain competitive in their careers. 

When individuals earn multiple stackable credentials from the same issuer, it highlights their commitment to learning and professional growth. Issuers can leverage this visibility by providing digital badges, certificates, or other forms of recognition for each completed credential. This can enhance the reputation and visibility of the issuer in the industry.

Career advancement opportunities

By accumulating stackable credentials, individuals can improve their career prospects and access higher-level job opportunities. Employers often value continuous learning and appreciate candidates who have proactively acquired a range of credentials, demonstrating a commitment to professional growth and development.

Pathways to higher education

Stackable credentials can serve as building blocks towards higher levels of education. Individuals who have earned certificates or associate degrees can use them as stepping stones to pursue bachelor’s degrees or even advanced degrees. 

Enhanced relevance for issuers

For issuers, offering stackable credentials meansmean they can align their certifications with industry needs and evolving job market demands. 

Organisations can continuously update and refine the content of individual certifications to ensure they remain relevant and up-to-date.  

Improved engagement and completion rates

The modular nature of stackable credentials can lead to improved learner engagement and completion rates. Learners can see tangible progress as they earn individual credentials, which can boost their motivation and confidence. By offering smaller, achievable certifications, issuers can help learners stay motivated and increase the likelihood of completion.

Enhanced collaboration and partnerships

Stackable credentials can facilitate collaboration and partnerships between issuers, educational institutions, industry bodies, and employers. By aligning their certifications and creating pathways for credit transfer, issuers can collaborate with other entities to provide comprehensive and seamless educational experiences. This collaboration can lead to improved program quality and increased opportunities for learners.


Stackable credentials have become increasingly popular and answer the demand of a dynamic and ever-changing job market. By offering flexibility, this model of education has become a valuable tool for individuals seeking to enhance their skills, stay competitive, and advance in their careers. 

As industries evolve and employers seek candidates with a diverse skill set, stackable credentials provide a tangible competitive advantage. Employers value the demonstrated commitment to professional growth and the acquisition of relevant skills. 

In a world where the traditional linear educational pathway is no longer sufficient, this model offers a transformative alternative. By embracing the power of stackable credentials, we can unlock our full potential, adapt to the demands of the modern workforce, and forge a path to long-term success.