The Printing Press and Micro-Credentialing



While the printing press and movable type were used in China in the 9th century, and inventors such as Bi Sheng and Wang Chen are credited with great advances in printed text, it is Johannes Gutenberg whose name is most affiliated with the printing press. In 1450, Gutenberg started experimenting, using metal instead of wood – and developed his own ink that would affix to metal. In 1452, Gutenberg started producing printed copies of the Bible. This had a profound effect throughout Europe.

Monks, who had been hand illuminating the Bible since the 1200s, were now “displaced” as were the artisans who also made their living producing handwritten Bibles for the elite. Another side effect of the Gutenberg Bible is that more people throughout Europe learned to read, though it would be more than 100 years to see notable increases in literacy. While the first known books were seen as early as 23 BCE, the printing press and mass production of the bible moved them from the shelves of the elite and noble towards the general population.

"Father Joe, we know you and the monks here at the abbey have been illuminating Bibles for the monarchy for 200 years, but there’s this new fella Gutenberg, who build a contraption that can print and illuminate about 10 times as fast as you. So, we wanted to know if there are some other things that you are good at – maybe we can use you somewhere else – or maybe you can take a class?"

Micro-credentials are certifications for a single skill – akin to a Boy or Girl Scout merit badge. The gig economy is a labor market made up of contract or freelance work – mostly short term, project-based work, and one where “employees” tend not to have benefits. With the gig economy becoming more and more prevalent, displaced workers can find gig jobs that draw on for specific skills. Places like UpWork or SamaSource are great examples of places to match part-time or project-based workers with those who are hiring. LinkedIn has added certifications.

The printing press literally changed the game and democratized the written word – and workers had to adjust. AI and automation will do the same, and micro-credentials can help workers demonstrate proven skills in order to get freelance work and part-time projects. As we move into a new world of work, many of the traditional jobs will be sliced up into smaller, often outsourced, pieces, with some of the work taken up by machines – and other tasks being distributed to gig workers. This can be disruptive and scary to the traditional employee. HR professionals can keep abreast of new industries and skills in demand, coupled with training and assessment opportunities for displaced workers.

Read other posts in this series.


The SHRM Blog does not accept solicitation for guest posts.

Add new comment

Please enter the text you see in the image below: