Guest Blog

Certifications Need Standards

November 27, 2012
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How do you prove that you possess the skills needed to perform a job? This has been an ongoing challenge, especially for those of us in the trades.

In much of the job market, employers list bachelor’s or master’s degrees as prerequisites to being considered for a position. However, possessing a degree proves that you attended school but does not prove that you have the skills to perform a job. I have known people with degrees from well-respected schools who have driven businesses into the ground because they did not have the needed skills. There has to be another metric to demonstrate competency.

Certification would seem to be that metric, and a viable alternative to a degree. With certification, a third party verifies your skills in a given area usually by means of a test. This can be especially important in rapidly changing industries where what was true five years ago is not true today.

Having passed many certification tests and proctored many others, I have found faults in the tests used to verify a person’s skills. I have found questions regarding practices that were phased out 30 years ago and have little or no bearing today. Other questions reference products that showed promise but never became part of the mainstream industry. Regional jargon seems widely used, which makes test questions confusing for people in other regions. Spelling errors are common and some questions are technically wrong. Many of the tests seem be examples of how clever the test writer can be and not a means of determining how competent the test taker is.

If certifications are to remain valid and gain acceptance with employers and society as a whole, we need to have standards. I believe these standards should include at least the following:

  • Questions must have 95 percent skill validity, meaning that the certification assesses those skills needed 95 percent of the time. Obscure or outdated procedures or skill sets that are needed once or twice in a career should be excluded.
  • Proper names must be used in place of trade names or industry jargon.
  • Test questions must be spelled properly and include proper grammar.

Certification can be the answer to those of us who have the skills employers need but not the means or circumstances that allowed us to earn a degree. But this will only be true if certification achieves the same level of respect as a degree.

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