The professional certification market is vast, and companies invest billions in it every year. But are they really getting a good return on their investment?
According to International Data Corp., by the end of 2015, the IT education and certification market is estimated to reach nearly $27 billion, so there is no shortage of certifications and certification vendors. External certifications provided by vendors — as opposed to professional certifications that corporations create internally — are not created equal, however. Careful evaluation is necessary to get the most value for your organization and employees. For example, a certification that incorporates thorough written and scenario-based exams will almost surely offer more quality than one that only requires completion of a webinar.
It makes sense that corporations expect they will achieve better individual and organizational performance by certifying employees. A firm may benefit from professional certifications in several way, including meeting regulatory and client requirements, being recognized for specific capabilities, accelerating penetration of new markets, strengthening relationships with partners and building individual capabilities needed within the organization.
But it all starts with the learning leader. Be clear on what you expect from professional certifications. Wading through an endless pool of certifications can be tedious. However, before you dive in, you must stop and ask yourself what you want to gain. Gains in organizational performance are greater when corporations clearly articulate the objectives they want to meet before introducing new certifications.
The following are potential drivers for implementing certifications:
Attracting talent: Many firms use the promise of attaining a coveted distinction as a hiring tool, and most professionals will jump at the opportunity to obtain a new certification.
Keeping your talent: Certifications can retain talent by helping employees to develop and gain the recognition they desire.
Obtaining the “must have” competencies for your business: To stay competitive and relevant, learning leaders must ensure that their teams have the right skills. Certifications allow employees to demonstrate that they have reached a certain skill level. They also let employees maintain status or gain credibility.
Building your organization’s capabilities: Deploying certifications across different teams will help solidify workforce capabilities and talents.
Increasing marketability: External certifications are perceived to improve the marketability and sales capability in an organization and are commonly used for market recognition. In the IT consulting industry, external certifications not only act as a key differentiator to potential clients, but also to partners and industry analysts who greatly influence the marketplace.
But to reap these benefits, organizations need a conscientious implementation and integration plan. Corporations can deploy certifications in an opportunistic, piecemeal manner or in a more programmatic and systematic fashion. A programmatic deployment is more expensive but develops capabilities on an organizational scale. On the other hand, a corporation may decide to certify only a few employees to meet a client’s minimum requirements.
Integration with operational and HR processes is also crucial to get the most out of certifications. Many consulting firms take professional certifications so seriously they link eligibility for promotion with the number and quality of certifications an employee possesses.
It’s shocking considering how scarce resources are these days, but many companies invest in external certifications in a haphazard, unplanned manner. Worse, many corporations do not perform any evaluation of their certification programs. When learning leaders define the exact drivers of a certification, they can more easily measure the value and effects it has on business objectives and really get the most out of it through continuous improvement.
Professional certifications can be a powerful tool, but if organizations do not implement them with clarity and purpose, they can become a waste of time, resources and energy.
Regis Chasse is the director of global curricula at Capgemini University. He can be reached at editor@CLOmedia.com. All contributors to Perspectives are current students or alumni of the PennCLO Program, the University of Pennsylvania’s doctoral program for senior-level talent and learning executives.