For chief learning officers, measuring and validating the success of learning initiatives is key to demonstrating those initiatives’ value. Internally developed exams can be used to determine whether learners have assimilated course content, but external testing can deliver even more benefits. Certification exams developed within the IT industry, for example, provide an external benchmark that organizations can use to demonstrate the talent and knowledge of their workforce not only to their internal leaders, but to external customers and partners as well.
In a recent survey conducted by the Computing Technology Industry Association (CompTIA), IT managers claimed that their companies see both financial and operational benefits when they certify a high percentage of their IT staffs. For example, IT managers in the survey reported that highly certified help desks can handle 11 percent more phone calls per full-time equivalent employee than help desks with fewer certified professionals. And for organizations with more staff members certified on CompTIA’s Network+, a network support and administration certification, fewer employees are needed to manage the networks.
In addition to productivity and cost benefits, IT managers also reported lower turnover in organizations with a high percentage of certified staff. Almost two-thirds of those surveyed intend to remain with their current organization.
Certification can also demonstrate proficiency to customers and partners—and not just for IT professionals. Canon USA’s Imaging Systems Group requires its sales professionals to earn the CompTIA CDIA+ (Certified Document Imaging Architech) certification. In fact, Canon was named this year’s Certification Achievement Award winner by CompTIA, formally recognizing the company’s CDIA+ Education Program, designed for sales professionals at Canon and its authorized dealers.
Mitch Bardwell, director and assistant general manager of sales training for Canon USA’s Imaging Systems Group, explained how Canon adopted the certification as a standard for its sales professionals. “About four or five years ago, the executives came to sales training and said the product was more advanced than our internal people; they haven’t been able to keep up with it during the transition.’ So we set out to do a job task analysis on exactly what knowledge the salespeople needed based on this new type of product,” Bardwell said. The job-task analysis proved to be “unwieldy,” so Daniel Messick, manager of strategic planning for sales training at Canon USA Inc., looked at existing standards. “We found one through CompTIA—the CDIA+,” said Bardwell. “It’s an imaging standard, which is one of the three legs of the stool that our salespeople need.”
The CDIA+ certification is a vendor-neutral standard that measures competency in document imaging. Bardwell and his team built the CDIA+ Education Program to support the certification. The program includes three training courses, with assessments, coaching, recognition and tracking. A couple of years after adopting the CDIA+ standard, Canon made it a job requirement. In four years, more than 300 Canon employees and sales professionals at the company’s dealers have earned the CDIA+ certification.
The unique thing about Canon’s program is that the company has actually developed a road map to get its salespeople from no knowledge of document imaging to a level where they can pass an industry-accepted certification exam. “Most of those credentials from CompTIA, they partner with training groups to build training for them. But a lot of it is just preparatory materials, so if you’re pretty smart in imaging, you can get some of these materials off the Web, study them and go down to Sylvan and pass the test,” Bardwell said. “That wasn’t going to work for our folks. So we actually had to step back and build these three courses and take them from really not knowing anything about imaging to passing a college degree in imaging.”
Messick added that Canon was one of the first companies to embrace the CDIA+ certification on such a large scale. “Most of the other companies participating in it were more niche application providers who had a very specialized understanding of an individual niche within the document imaging industry,” he said. “And we come in with a couple of thousand copier salespeople who we need to have develop imaging expertise, so the challenge to us was different than an imaging solutions VAR who has niche market expertise and wants that certification to validate what they basically already know their people know. In our case, not only did we know they didn’t know it; we knew they weren’t even close.”
Bardwell said Canon sees a twofold benefit to certifying its sales force. First, it let’s company leaders know that their sales professionals can compete. “Secondly, it tells the dealer that they support that they’re knowledgeable in this new, more complex world, and they have an industry credential to prove that imaging knowledge, which is a huge credibility factor,” Bardwell said.
He added that certification is a huge sales differentiator in the field because it is an industry credential, instead of a retail, or Canon-specific credential. “It can be a real differentiator,” Bardwell said. “In a world where everyone’s got the same thing and everyone’s looking to create value, certification is a big create-value bullet in your gun.”