Viewpoint: The Value of Certifications

In today’s earlier post, I discussed the problems with certifications – they’re expensive, they are offered by a multitude of privately-owned companies, and they are required for jobs on top of an expensive university education.

I was rightfully corrected by one of my wonderful readers on the importance of certifications; certifications are undoubtedly a useful tool for increasing the likelihood that you will be employed over the years, especially if they require you to regularly upgrade your skills through classes and/or mentoring with a senior person in your field. The certifications to which I was referring were largely based in as-yet unregulated fields (fields which are, coincidentally, currently in high demand) like social media management, personal training, and some environmental professions.

The organizations which are offering these certifications are profiting at the expense of an uncertain job market, in an age when employers are no longer funding their employees to gain skills. This contrasts hugely with previous job markets; for example, only about 10% of the people in IT jobs during the Silicon Valley tech boom of the 1990s had IT-related degrees (Cappelli, October 24th, 2011). It is definitely worth taking a read over Cappelli’s article here to get a sense of some of the challenges and myths in fitting graduate’s skills to employer’s needs.

Certain career paths such as lawyer, engineer, accountant, or urban planner have been around long enough, and are standardized enough, that the educational paths leading up to them are fairly clear-cut for interested applicants. In fact, the requirements in education for these careers are often mandated by laws (dictated by the need for certain standards in care) – individuals actively working in these fields must therefore obtain licenses to prove their competency, and often hold insurance to protect their practice from liability (University of Guelph School of Engineering). Money invested into these accreditations have a high return on investment. Take a look at some of the career paths for interested individuals:

  • A law degree is not enough to qualify to practice law (that is, work as a lawyer) in Ontario. You must also “article” and successfully complete the Ontario Bar Admission Course (University of Toronto Faculty of Law).
  • As a graduate from an accredited undergraduate engineering program, you are eligible to register as a member of the Professional Engineers Ontario (PEO) after four years of acceptable engineering experience and successful completion of the Professional Practice Exam on engineering law and ethics. You may apply for your Professional Engineer (P.Eng.) license immediately after graduation or any time thereafter (University of Guelph School of Engineering).
  • As a Canadian university student, you will require a combination of education, experience, and evaluation – these three elements ensure that, when you earn your CA designation, you will have acquired all the competencies that the marketplace demands from a Chartered Accountant (Chartered Accountants of Canada).

Of these, Canadian urban planning has most recently become a standardized field:

Effective September 1, 2012, all applications for Candidate membership in CIP and our provincial affiliates are being directed to a new arms-length body, the Professional Standards Board for the Planning Profession in Canada (PSB). The PSB also now administers the certification process for the Registered Professional Planner (RPP) designation, and is also responsible for the accreditation of university planning programs in Canada.

The career path for an urban planner – which I should add can start as early as high school – is highlighted here for those interested.

My sense in the current job market is that there is a shortage of the so-called STEM professions (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math), though certain articles refute this claim. Could this be because students into their early 20’s are still questioning what they want to do with their lives, and are resisting the long and sturdy ‘stable’ careers of their parents? This article insists that “Generation Y” (those born late 1970s to mid 1990s) are seeking more ‘fulfilling’ careers because of what their early childhood promised them.

I think there’s a lot more to be studied here, and I look forward to seeing the developments in education, certification, and employment across all fields in the coming years.

*Note that I will not be writing a blog post tomorrow due to other writing commitments!