Viewpoint: What’s Up with the Certifications?

In some of my previous posts, I have alluded to the high expectations placed on recent graduates in our current economy; they’re expected to have critical thinking skills, as well as a whole host of practical, hands-on abilities. While critical thinking skills can be stimulated through conversations with peers and mentors in university classes, credentials and certifications are needed to prove, beyond a doubt, that they also have the hands-on abilities required to fulfill a job description.

Take this excerpt from a recent article entitled “Certifications: The new key to employment“:

A professional certification may not always be a job requirement, but it is often a deciding factor between qualified candidates. In fact, technology is one of the most in-demand career fields, but recent graduates and professionals are both struggling to find new jobs or get promoted because they don’t have a certification – a third-party validation of their skills.

In this two-part Viewpoint series, I’d like to highlight some problems and benefits associated with our current economy’s demand for certifications – which, as defined above, can be understood as “third-party validation” of a candidate’s skills. This post will reflect a negative take on certifications.

Examples of Certifications

I blogged several days ago about the list of ‘top 5 hot jobs’ which, according to Workopolis, new graduates can expect to see frequently posted on job boards. The top three of these had to do with technology, and job #1 was Community Manager. A job description for a Community Manager – taken from a job board anonymously – is as follows:

We are looking for a manager for our online community who will be responsible for implementing [deleted company] Online Community, managing engagement and interactivity with its audience, and fostering community spirit.  This role works closely with [our] marketing colleagues, ensuring consistency in voice and building a strong community around the brand.

While a strong educational background in Business is a ‘must’ for this job, there are also certifications that a potential employee should be expected to have, for example:

Both of these courses are provided through WOMMA, or the “word of mouth marketing association”. The incumbent could also take courses focused primarily on social media – for which there are many options (taken directly from this article):

….the list goes on, but you get the point. Certificates are expensive, and the plethora of options available makes you wonder which one is the best option for your employment situation.

And it’s the same for any field that you go into. The environmental field has organizations like ECO Canada offering “Certified Environmental Professionals (EP)“; the health field has personal trainers taking courses to get certified from a variety of different organizations. Both of these options are third-party validation; but to the person paying for these certifications, the value of that particular certification to employers is not always known.

The Problem with Certifications

Consequently, I see three major problems with certifications:

  1. They’re expensive.
  2. There are so many third-party organizations offering these certificates, that the employment potential of each is unknown at time of purchase.
  3. University or college certificates, alone, are no longer sufficient for employment.

As students, we pump thousands of dollars into getting an education, only to find that our bank accounts must continue to be strained with further certification requirements. Obviously, some university and college courses accredit their graduates within certain fields, especially when it comes to some aspects of technology, health care, or the skilled trades. Certifications offered through schools can, however, be an additional cost on top of the base tuition rate (e.g. courses at the University of Waterloo’s Huntsville Campus).

My hope is that, into the future, certifications will become a built-in (and free) part of the educational experience. This will provide graduates with both the theoretical, critical thinking skills needed in today’s economy, as well as the practical, hands-on abilities required to propel them forward in the job market.