The Opportunity Certification Provides

On Tuesday, January 13, an opinion by Michelle R. Weise was published in the Wall Street Journal (WSJ). Entitled "Obama's Dead-End Community College Plan", it talks about directly applicable, realistic career advancement strategies that go far beyond any political or government funding debate - and they are readily accessible today.

This post is not a political op-ed piece, although it was inspired by one. The key point is this: earning a degree is not necessarily the ticket to advancing your career, but certification is.

Don't get me wrong! I am not saying that college degrees are worthless! I, personally, have a BS and MS/MBA! But, whether or not you have a degree, you can build skills today fairly inexpensively if you concentrate on the right thing, it it does related to certifications.

The WSJ op ed piece goes on to talk about programs, particularly programs teaching in-demand technical skills, where students emerge with jobs in much higher proportions than simply earning a degree.

And such programs are being supported big time by such companies as Facebook, Google, and AT&T. It's how they can grow the talent pool that they need to move ahead at market speeds in areas like Big Data and related Information Technology (IT)-driven markets.

And it does not necessarily take community colleges - but can. Specifically cited were two players in the education space: Udacity for online training in technical disciplines, and Wayne county Community College, with its Software Engineering boot Camp in Detroit.

The point is that people emerge from certification type training with skills - not necessarily degrees - and are getting jobs. And good 21st century jobs, in today's hot markets.

The piece cited an anomaly in the job market - that employers tend to demand more and higher academic credentials as a proxy for increased skills. This indicates that they are dissatisfied with the skill levels of the degreed people they are seeing - but that they still see higher levels of education as the solution.

But higher levels of education, while helpful and beneficial, are not practical for everyone, and they don't address the issue anyway.

The effective solution is the latest trend - termed "Upcredentialing". But the credentials need to be 'alternative credentials' - not necessarily a degree. This is where certifications come in - such as the business certification offered at These tend to be skills in emerging areas, where supply cannot keep up with demand for the skills, or where specific skills can have a high impact on performance int he workplace.

Here are some examples:

  1. Project Management Professional (PMP) - This certification is required for many good jobs. It can put you on a level playing field with many others, and can increase your skills and vocabulary in the workplace to have a positive impact on projects - in an increasingly project-driven workplace.
  2. Six Sigma - Whether it's the Green Belt, Black Belt, or any other variety, these are hard skills. They have a proven impact in the workplace for decreasing costs, increasing efficiency, and focusing efforts.
  3. Information Technology Infrastructure Library (ITIL) - This is a whole certification scheme, with levels from Foundation to Expert, and companies have implemented and need talent to run it to manage the burgeoning area of IT-driven services.
  4. Business Analysis - Related to project management, but focused more on the requirements side, this is a skill set that has high impact, is in high demand, and applies to a lot of things you can do in the IT world. It can fill a personal skill gap that can give you a credential in the short term but be applied for the long term.
  5. Microsoft Project - I included this because it is more of a hard skill than the others. There are a plethora of opportunities to learn hard skills in specific software programs - and be in demand. And they can get you in the door where you can gain the experience and visibility to open new opportunities.

The problem with degrees is that quantifying their benefit is an imprecise science. If nothing else, earning a degree establishes you as a learner - which means that you should be able to quickly learn what you need to know in order to be effective on the job. But often that which you need to know is in certification programs, and this can help you throughout your career to open new opportunities along the way in a fairly short time horizon. And the reality is that much of this is also available to people who don't have degrees, providing opportunity for all.

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