The publication of 2012 global jobless figures reveals a deepening of the crisis plaguing employers in every town around the globe. A paradox between numbers of unemployed and difficulty in recruiting talent is here for a generation. And while widespread unemployment and the need to up-skill populations has been widely reported, one vital ingredient is absent from the discussion: role-relevant assessment and certification.
The context is bleak: The world’s jobless population rose by 4 million in 2012 to 197 million, a figure set to increase by 8.1 million by 2014. However, last year around half of U.S employers struggled to fill jobs — compared to just 14 percent in 2010 — with skilled trades, engineers and IT staff in short supply.
With so many people available for work but lacking the right skills or experience to perform, governments have been backing various schemes such as vocational training; educators are devising new programs to up-skill the unemployed; and technologists are providing greater innovations with more blended and mobile learning. Yet the solution begins — not ends — with training.
Certification is a professional badge. It offers proof of ability and aptitude. And it needs to become much more commonplace in a highly competitive global economy. Certification achieved through assessment can identify the right candidates during higher education applications; specific skill sets in a given industry; individuals best suited for vacant posts; and, now, even the possibility of knowledge assessment by massive open online courses (MOOCs).
The IT industry offers a model for skills strategies that other professions may emulate. IT certifications have long proved successful, mainly because they are designed to not only assess a specific set of role-relevant skills so employers can be confident in their level of competency, but they also provide a career pathway that allows a candidate to move from junior to high-skilled with validation at every step. IBM’s 2010 white paper found that seven out of ten IT employers felt that certification led to an increase in customer service and team performance.
IT certifications also prove vital tools when hiring. The CompTIA Employer Perception of IT Training and Certification 2011 study found that almost nine out of 10 hiring managers saw IT certifications as a high or medium priority in the candidate evaluation process.
While IT differs from other industries, the principle of validating knowledge and skills and ensuring confidence in ability is the same. There is arguably no more important sector than healthcare, where validation of skills can mean the difference between life and death. Through a survey of 3,000 nurses and managers, the American Board of Nursing Specialties found that certification was highly valued not just by certified nurses, but non-certified nurses, certified managers and non-nursing managers. Nurses in the U.S. must first obtain a license to practice but will often seek additional certification in nursing specialties to further showcase their skills. The survey revealed that the driving force for certification wasn’t salary; it was the recognition, respect and confidence in their ability from peers and, crucially, patients. It is these factors which are the ultimate argument for accreditation in the workplace — dispelling the myth that if staff get certified they’re going to leave.
A growing number of employers are leveraging certifications as a way to signal their own organization-wide competencies to customers. The uptake of psychometric services — essentially, the science and measurement of testing — is ever more critical. Certification testing is not just about coming up with a bunch of questions to create a test; the combination of more assessment and certification with statistically valid tests is what will make the real impact to high-skills needs.
The longer industries wait to develop the right assessment certification program, the increasing difficulty they will have in finding the right qualified talent. It’s not about simply training and certifying people for the sake of it, but tailoring training and certification to help fill specific jobs. To make sure positions are filled by the right people, and for the long-term, we need to provide more opportunities to the low-skilled and those beginning their careers. Test owners have a key role, and also an opportunity to raise standards. By growing their programs, they can partner with employers to develop specific solutions and ongoing certification. They can also become more efficient, reducing the number of non-certified training programs that are not industry recognized.
Don Wagner is senior vice president of business development for Pearson VUE, the global leader in computer-based testing for information technology, academic, government and professional testing programs around the world. Pearson VUE provides a full suite of services from test development to data management, and delivers exams through the world’s most comprehensive and secure network of test centers in more than 175 countries.
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