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Should You Be Certified?

Simply typing in construction manager into LinkedIn produces over 429,000 profiles. On the other hand, if you type in construction PMP (Project Management Professional) or PSP (Planning and Scheduling Professional) you come up with 139,000 and 6982 profiles respectively. “When asked if their current employer valued professional certifications 74 of the 109 respondents (67.9%) said “yes.” When asked if the respondent held any professional certifications 63 of the 109 respondents (57.8%) indicated they held one or more professional certificates (DeRuntz and Meier, 2004). This shows the apparent differentiator a certification can be to a professional. So, the question must be asked “is the goal of certification to assist individuals, organizations, or professions? There is no single answer to this seemingly simple question. Some individuals want a credential that signals to their management that they are improving professionally. Others see the accomplishment of certification as a demonstration of adherence to ethical responsibilities and the importance of long-term professional goals and social roles” (Phillips, 2004). For an employer, a certification is “a means of screening job applicants when they may look equally qualified on resumes and applications. Though there remains some discussion on the merits (Heise, 2009). “Certifications are intended to elevate the professionalism of both the recipient and the related industry by helping to set standards” while providing a “vendor-neutral certification and promote a common body of knowledge (Damitio and Schmidgall, 2001).

In the past few years, there has been a proliferation of voluntary accreditation and skill certification programs within non-regulated professions (Hetherington, 2002). “Society at large benefits from profession certifications” (Davies, et al., 2015).

Since a “certification implies an individual achieves excellence in certain areas of expertise, certified individuals typically have to pass examinations and fulfill other requirements such as obtaining a certain number of years of experience or complying with professional codes of ethics. The rigorous certification process applicants have to go through is often the reason that the general public has great confidence in certified professionals. Certification is also beneficial to practitioners because it often means higher salary and prestige. A well-recognized certification is often required for job application these days” (Lim, 2008).

“One of the characteristics of a professional field is having a means to certify the knowledge and competence of members of the profession” (Mulvaney et al., 2015). “Unfortunately, a person can have the ability to pass a certification exam and be incapable of performing the associated tasks. In order for certifications to be valued, they must adequately represent the abilities of the holder. With the early certifications of the 1990s, it was easy to acquire the test questions before sitting for the exam. In addition, some exams used recognition questions, rather than recall. This required no analysis or synthesis, therefore enabling the learner to complete the exam successfully without actual hands-on experience. When the “Association of Test Publishers in Washington surveyed 77 companies, about 60 of which are high-tech vendors; about half reported that their exams were available for sale on the Internet. And 75% said they had encountered cheating on exams.” This places a question on the value of the exam and a concern for future exam quality and validity.

If you look into the certifications process you will find that they have a two-part process that includes an experience and educational assessment. Essentially, when you hire or retain employees or consultants you can differentiate them by the attainment of certifications since it is an auditable process for competency assessment. So, the natural question for a skeptic would be what are the aspects of certifications that a certification does not assess? The answer to this question is that this process cannot determine soft skills, like communication, leadership, and/or other key aspects. However, it is important to determine that these credentials are not intended to assess soft skills but to address technical competency. Additionally, “there is some evidence that professional certifications have little or no relationship to a certified professional’s job performance, nor do they translate into higher salaries or quicker promotions absent relevant experience” (Lester and Dwyer, 2011).

So why would anyone not attempt to attain a certification? “Evidence suggests that professional certifications generally have little or no relationship to a certified professional’s actual job performance” (Lester and Dwyer, 2012) In addition, the initial and yearly cost is also a concern. These can vary but a few hundred dollars is the cost burden that has to be considered. Comparably to formal education, these costs are minimal, however, it is a factor that should be considered. Another factor is whether a certification can take the place of formal education. There are those who use certifications to compensate for the lack of formal education. Many of these certifications require formal education or additional experience. If you are a believer that experience is equally important as education, then this issue is not applicable. It is important to realize that a certification does and does not do these things:

1. Technical Competency – Essentially this is what a certification does, it assesses the technical competency of an individual.

2. Soft Skills – Unfortunately soft skills are not assessed as part of the certification process, but it is important to keep in mind a certification is not meant to assess these skills.

3. Experience Assessment – Experience based on time working in specific areas is a large part of the preliminary approval process, however, successful accomplishment of tasks is not assessed, just the number of hours worked in the field.

4. Education – Formal Education and training is a key preliminary assessment.

The growth “of certification programs as a source of supplementary education is viewed as a positive phenomenon,” however understanding what a certification means is crucial to the value placed on it” (Gabberty, 2013).

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