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Navigating the world of professional certification and training options, alongside other dispatches from the new global workplace.

Video Game Design: Many Certificates, No Certification!

Monday 25 November 2013

Let's face it.  A lot of us have wasted, er, invested, more hours than we can ever hope to count on video games.  They have become a large and mainstream form of entertainment throughout the world, and the workforce needed to produce the latest and greatest continues to grow.  Given the plethora of certifications available in other IT related fields, we would expect abundant credentialing options for video game designers, right?

Well, sort of...

A Google search for "video game design certificate" reveals many options.  However, they are all certificates issued by educational institutions, not occupational or trade associations.  What's wrong with this?  Nothing, except that you have to do your homework very carefully.  These certificates' curricula are set by the educational institutions, not trade associations, though some educational institutions undoubtedly do their homework on what is in demand at any particular moment.  And, it's easy to be lured in to a specific program by the attractiveness of their marketing materials.  But, buyer beware - the most attractive marketing is generally produced by for-profit institutions taking advantage of naive newbies  with big dreams and financial aid eligibility.  Some of these institutions spend 30% or more of their budgets on marketing.  Think about it: if you're going to pay for your own degree, wouldn't you want to go someplace 30% cheaper that does not advertise over someplace where you pay for the advertising that lured you in with your tuition?

Should you go to a certificate from a for-profit institution like Full Sail or Devry?  Only you can make that judgment for yourself.  One source of information that may be useful as you evaluate your options is the US Department of Education's Integrated Post-Secondary Education Data System (IPEDS), which offers demographic and enrollment data on all financial-aid receiving institutions in the US (so degree-granting institutions, including credit-hour based certificate programs offered by such institutions, but generally not professional associations at this time).  How does the 5-year loan default rate compare to other institutions?  If 20% of their graduates are not even able to make ends meet enough to make the minimum payments on their loans, that could be a bad sign of the credential's labor market value.  Of course, institutions with less rigorous admission requirements are naturally going to attract students who may not be  as motivated or prepared for post-degree professional success - you can't always blame the institution - but such indicators should prompt close evaluation.

Game design, however, is certainly an alluring career choice.  By all indications, it appears that starting salaries are quite high for those with the right technical (including graphic design) skills, and it's one of few fields within the media industry that seems to offer career stability.  Yet, it's a field that also requires a lot of hard work.  Designing and playing video games are two very different activities, something that I fear may be lost on some individuals who are drawn in by the marketing for for-profit college game design certificates and degrees.  In order to give credit where credit is due and not reinvent the wheel with this blog post, a great website with well-researched information on this career path that I would recommend is Video Game Design Schools.  I would be a little cautious about following the "find a school" sponsored link on this website, but there are also links to nonprofit resources like MIT's open courseware and free general programming training.

So, back to the original question at hand.  So many certificates - so why no certification in game design from a professional or trade association?  A scholarly piece on the history of the International Game Developers Association gives us some clues.  This association considered offering certification at one point, but decided not to go down that route.  It seems that certification and the standardization that it would entail clashed a bit with the culture of the occupation - design is such an individual process, and how does one precisely define what is "good" and "bad" design?  You could certify coding ability, sure, but generalist certifications for software developers already exist for that.

Should you pursue a degree in computer science or a collection of IT certificates?

Sunday 24 November 2013

I noticed that the posts on IT-related topics are already the most popular pages on this website and saw an awful lot of Google Auto-complete phrases popping up related to a dilemma that many seem to be having: "certification versus degree" or "computer science ma or certification," et cetra.  At one point in time, it seemed that a solid IT certificate - the Microsoft Certified Systems Engineer designation, for example - was a fast track in and of itself to a respectable middle-class job, and perhaps even more success in the American labor market.  Now, it seems, certificates and certifications have lost their novelty.  Various career advising sources are suggesting that recruiters may now prefer degrees from educational institutions over certifications.  And, this makes some sense: perhaps point five on this list has proven true for some recruiters - emerging from a BA in computer science proves that you can show up for class for four years and accomplish something more tangible than simply demonstrating knowledge.  It shows initiative and perseverance - traits that are truly valued by employers - even if there are certainly socioeconomic factors that affect college success in most regions of the world.  And, the GPA and academic honors that may accompany a CS degree give a more precise idea of one's human capital than one can get from certification, which tend to be binary credentials - you either are a Network+ certificate holder or you are not.

One interesting point about CS that I found on a forum dedicated to technology certifications (, incidentally, is a great source for those considering their credentialing options for IT careers) is that certifications are better for demonstrating technical skill, but tend to fall short in terms of proving business sense.  Thus, one might want to pair IT certification with a business degree, enabling one to pursue a career with a foot in both camps.  And another factor to consider is that the learning acquired while preparing for certifications need not be mutually exclusive with one's degree work.  Indeed, one can strategically pick courses as part of a computer science major that will prepare one for certification exams - so take that course in hardware repair or information security with a handout listing the topics covered on the A+ or System Security Certified Professional examination close at hand, and use certification guidelines to guide your learning in your coursework.  Indeed, more and more universities are explicitly aligning their curricula with the expectations of certification organizations, so it's never been easier to "kill two birds with one stone" and work toward a degree and certifications simultaneously!

The American Gem Association Certified Sales Professional

Saturday 23 November 2013

Jewelers, like car dealers, don't have the most, um, sterling reputation for integrity and ethics.  Markups can be quite high, and jewelers are notorious for using technical terms that the public only vaguely understands to try to squeeze a few extra bucks out of customers who might be too madly in love to make rational decisions - or, in my experience, if simply getting a watch one bought at Sam's Club [a major US discounter] repaired.  ("You should know, sir, that your watch is grey market!")  However, one organization is trying to raise the bar in this industry.  Their starter designation for most retail jewelers is the Registered Jeweler, though attaining this credential requires more than simple registration - you have to complete coursework and "classroom study" (so, I guess, you can't just skip ahead to the quiz section, as you often can do in online learning).  My guess is that the average consumer doesn't really know the difference between the different levels of the American Gem Association's certification options, so one simply looking to convince consumers of their credibility could probably stop there. However, for those committed to the profession there are also higher-level and specialist certifications available: the Certified Gemologist, the Certified Gemological Appraiser, and the Independent Certified Gemological Appraiser (for those who do not work in sales).

The Certified Sales Associate seems to be the least stringent credential on the AGS ladder, requiring only the completion of a course offered by AGS.   It does not seem to require the positive affirmation of any ethical codes, so in and of itself it is not a guarantee that you are working with an "honest" dealer.  And, it is arguably more of a "certificate" than a "certification" insofar as it is awarded on the basis of the completion of a course of study, but is not really an endorsement on the part of the AGS of the certified individual's commitment to the trade or professional achievement.  Nonetheless, it is a laudable effort to improve the quality of services provided, and, for $269, seems like a reasonable investment for those committed to the business.

Buying a Used Car? Ask the Salesman if he is a Certified Automotive Sales Professional!

Friday 22 November 2013

So here's an  interesting new certification I came across reading the Career OneStop listings for sales professionals, most of which are topical in nature.  The Certified Automotive Sales Professional designation seeks to create "knowledgeable, ethical and customer-focused trained individuals", according to the description furnished by the National Automotive Dealers Association.  It requires work experience and renewal on three-year cycles, though there's not a lot of information on their website.  Indeed, the lack of detail available online on what this designation is supposed to signal to consumers, or even a page on their website urging individuals to seek out certified professional services, makes me wonder how rigorous this is really intended to be (though the fact that it is listed by Career OneStop suggests some baseline level of credibility).  I have to say that this program could, if well managed, be exactly what the automotive sales field needs, given amply demonstrated ethical shortcomings in many dealers' and dealerships' practices.  But, the fact that the credential seems to be  crafted more by the interests of the dealership owners, not the rank-and-file sales professionals themselves, makes me a little pessimistic about whether this represents true professionalization.  Nonetheless, it will be interesting to see this one develop over time...

The Certified Solar Energy Professional: A Pathway to a "Green Job"?

Thursday 21 November 2013

I recently came across an organization called "Roof Integrated Solar Energy" and noticed that they are issuing their own certification: the Certified Solar Energy Professional designation.  Indeed, it looks like certification is the organization's main raison d'etre (pardon my French), though they seem to have ties to the national association of roofing contractors in the United States.  It looks like the credential is being pitched at four distinct audiences: people who install solar roofing, manufacturers (who, it appears, are not so much being approached to certify their own in-factory workforces as being asked to require that the installers of their products be Certified Solar Energy Professionals), designers, and building owners - though, like many certification programs, it will probably be a difficult challenges to get homeowners to check for this particular certificate when hiring a contractor.  So, at the same time that they are reaching out to individuals and small business owners to get certified, they are also reaching out to people in positions to implement requirements to specify that this certification become a prerequisite for getting roof-mounted-solar installing work.  

Does it actually matter whether a professional has this certification?  It's hard to say, especially since (in part because this is a relatively new certification) there doesn't seem to be much written online about how rigorous the examination process is or how deep the body of knowledge covered on the exam is.  It also appears to be more pitched at the firm than the individual, so I wonder how many people earning this certification will do so out of love of solar installation, relative to the legions who probably fall into the "my boss made me do it because the manufacturer/architect/contractor/state grant-making agency told us they wanted this particular certification"

As I dug a little deeper into their website, I noticed that it seems that this one is really quite roof-oriented, despite the suggestion implied by the organization's name that they cover all types of solar energy.  Thus, I suspect that this certification may be part of the roofers' arsenal in the inter-occupational turf war emerging over which occupations will take the lead in offering solar energy related services and, more broadly, who organizations will turn to in order to become more sustainable.  Some of their competitors in this regard include:

  • The North American Board of Certified Energy Practitioners
  • The Association of Energy Engineers, and
  • ETA International
More to come at a later date on these and other certifications that may or may not be useful for landing one of those much-anticipated "green jobs"...

Yoga Teacher Certifications: The Yoga Allinace

Monday 18 November 2013

There are a few organizations out there offering certifications for yoga teachers, but the Yoga Alliance seems to be the dominant force in the field.  However, the Yoga Alliance offers few if any courses itself.  In order to earn a certification, you have to take a course, usually involving at least 200 contact hours (or, if you are particularly serious, you could go for a 500 hour class!) from a registered training program.  There is not a unified "final exam," however - it seems that you earn the Registered Yoga Teacher credential as long as you participate in the coursework to the satisfaction of the training program.  And, the Registered Yoga Teacher seems to be accepted by most studios as a sufficient credential to begin teaching one's own courses.  What's particularly interesting to me about YA's registered training programs is that many of them are not in the United States, but rather in faraway holiday resorts.  For example, their website lists 15 approved training providers in Costa Rica.  I'm not sure if the extent of offshore training is more of a reflection of the mentality of the profession or a factor of the lower cost of training in developing countries, but if you are truly ready to leap head-first into this new occupation (and incur some sunk costs that may commit you to starting your own practice when you return), why not go offshore?  

The Yoga Alliance is a US based organization, but has various national affiliates, and seems to permit cross-national mobility on the part of its certifyees.  Yet, one should be forewarned that the field is not as lucrative as it might seem from the perspective of someone who pays $20 to sit in a hot, crowed room with twenty other yoga students.  Overhead eats dramatically into the costs associated with a yoga practice, and even full-time professional instructors may only have a few courses each week.  Many combine yoga instruction with other semi-professional pursuits (or semi-retirement) in order to make ends meet - or offer yoga as part of a portfolio of various fitness-related training and courses.  And, relatively low barriers combined with a huge upswell in public interest in the field combine to make yoga instruction a very competitive occupational space.  The YA still has much work to do to increase public understanding of its credentials, and it's still quite possible to get started in the field with other types of certificates (or no credentials at all).  So, do your homework and think carefully about whether yoga certification is right for you! 

Technology Certifications: Should you go vendor-neutral or vendor-specific?

Sunday 17 November 2013

Note: this post will be most relevant to individuals working in IT, though the same basic dilemmas also surely apply to professionals working in other fields...

I recently came across a piece on's certification section (which, unlike this blog, focuses exclusively on the tech world) about whether individuals should pursue certifications issued by software and hardware manufacturers ("vendor certifications") or focus on earning certifications from professional and industry organizations that offer curricula that cut across platforms.  The piece is generally enthusiastic about vendor-specific certification and implies that, at least until very recently, the benefits of tying one's career to one platform were too significant to be ignored.  Vendor-neutral certification can be pursued as an "extra" to pad one's resume, but one should first focus on mastery of a specific product.  Some flaws associated with vendor-specific certification are acknowledged, such as a tendency for certifyees to be so loyal to the brand in which they are certified that they ignore or miss a product's obvious flaws, but they are minor given the rewards that one can reap with such in-demand skills.

The biggest argument in favor of vendor-neutral in my mind is completely missed by, however.  Vendor-neutral certification offers a sort of insurance policy against technological change that may make the vendor's products obsolete (or at least out of favor with consumers).  Imagine that you are a mobile app developer.  Would you really have wanted your entire career to be tied to the success of BlackBerry?  Sure, for several years you may have been able to command a higher salary because of your exceptional mastery of the BlackBerry platform, but with time you would have found yourself forced to quickly jump ship to another platform.  In my humble opinion, a more balanced career development strategy would be a wiser one, allowing maximum adaptability to an environment characterized by little job security.  In a field characterized by such a rapid rate of change as IT, how can one reasonably predict what will be in demand in five years?  In ten years?  Becoming too specialized seems to me like a serious occupational hazard.

If one wants to go vendor-neutral in IT, probably the most recognized source of certification is CompTIA, which offers several certificates germane to broad IT occupational fields.  These include:

  • A+, a general certification that covers the basics of "how computers work" and seems to be valued in many tech support and helpdesk roles.  I remember some people earning this one in my high school after just one semester of vocational ed, so it's really a "baseline" certificate.
  • Network+, a slightly more specialized certificate for network administrators
  • Green IT, a certificate that demonstrates mastery of how IT systems can be made to be more energy efficient, and basic awareness of some facts about energy consumption - from what I've read in online forums, this one can probably be knocked off with a weekend of intensive study.
In fact, there are 20 CompTIA certificates, far more than I will get around to discussing today.  CompTIA is an industry association with a wide range of roles beyond certification, from standard-setting to political activism, so it's a good place to start if you are trying to break into the field.  

There's also a lot of certifications available within "topical" subfileds of IT.  Information security offers a number of such certificates, including the Certified Information Systems Security Professional and the Certified Information Systems Auditor.  Or, web designers should look at the CIW Web Design Professional and CIW E-Commerce Specialist designations.  There's even IT certificates specifically geared toward individuals working in the healthcare and hospitality industries.  Feel free to post links to your favorites in the comments section!

The Association of Bridal Consultants

Saturday 16 November 2013

Bridal consulting is a large and growing industry in the United States, given the massive sums that the average family spends on their wedding (and the average number of weddings that Americans participate in over the course of their lives!)  In order to support this industry, the Association of Bridal Consultants has devised a system of certifications in which, rather than complete exams, individuals accumulate points for various "occupational citizenship" activities.  It's an interesting chart of activities that one can pursue to climb ABC's ladder.  One can claim the title of "registered wedding planner" with no points at all, consistent with the sociological definition of a "registry" as a sort of certification that one gets just for applying to an organization.  Next on the ladder is Certified Wedding Planner, followed by Professional Wedding Planner.  Accredited Bridal Consultant and Master Bridal Consultant are the top titles one can receive in the ABC universe (though there is also a parallel system of certifications for "vendors" - that is, businesses that supply the wedding industry).   It's an interesting outgrowth of the personal service industry, and may be worth looking at if you're good at working with people (and don't get tired of weddings!)

Certified Travel Agents

Friday 15 November 2013

Some time ago, I came across a New York Times article about how travel agents are often underappreciated in the age of Expedia and how we should all consider using them to help us plan our travels, or at least to have someone to call when something goes wrong.  The advice often goes that agents have access to special fares that don't show up on the big websites that take their airfare data directly from the "global distribution systems" - fares that a particular airline might want to target to customers from a particular ethnic neighborhood, for example, or STA's student fares.  Taking that advice, I actually drove fifty miles to try to use a travel agent's services on a recent trip, only to find that the prices that they were quoting me were far higher than what I could find on my own with ITA Matrix, and even when they managed to replicate the lowest fare I found, they wanted a $25 service charge to book it.  I asked them what service I got for that $25, and basically the answer was "well, we must charge for our time" - not the "we'll be on call 24/7 and whenever you need advice you can call us" I was expecting after reading what some of the occupation's staunchest defenders have been writing in newspapers and online lately... Maybe I just got unlucky - I will admit that I don't live in the most travel-savvy part of the US - but the conception of an occupation in a technology (and air carrier commission structure) induced death spiral was only confirmed on the airport shuttle when I reached my destination, where the guy sitting next to me told me that he has a travel agent license in Turkey (apparently it's a licensed occupation there) but, in his words, "there's no money in that business anymore."

But enough about the occupation's struggles.  Say the above anecdotes don't deter you.  You're fine with a modest wage for a comfortable office job where you get to hack the ever-interesting system of airfares the world's major carriers have set up.  Or you want to find a niche - say, upmarket cruises or adventure tour packages, as some agents have and do seem to be surviving, if not thriving.  What occupational certifications might you find?  Onestop Certification Finder offers numerous choices, including organizations with such interesting names as the Global Business Travel Association and the International Air Transport Association (thought this was part of the UN, actually!).  Of course, this is an industry where it's hard to get one's foot in the door, given the general downsizing that has resulted from technological change, and similarly it's hard to build a new client base if you want to go it alone.  Certification, thus, strikes me more as a tactic for existing agents to better make the case for their value to existing clients, rather than a tool for newbies to enter the occupation.  Nonetheless, here are some of the major options:

  • The Travel Institute: This one seems to be more of a vocational institute than a professional association, but it nonetheless offers a range of certificates for agents trying to demonstrate competence in a niche.  Programs include the Certified Destination Specialist, Certified Travel Counselor, and Certified Travel Industry Executive (ooh, fancy sounding!).  These do have modest work experience requirements, and require annual re-certification.  I really have no idea how well regarded the Institute is in the industry, and would be curious to read others' comments on this one (as with all the certificates I mention!)
  • Global Business Travel Association: This organization seems to be trying to create a niche within the general travel agent occupation with their "Global Travel Professional" certificate.  I have to say that their website looks pretty slick (often, though not always, a sign of a certification program's credibility and seriousness) and they do other things that occupational associations are supposed to do, such as legislative advocacy.  They test with ETS/Prometric, which, as usual, means their certificate is kind of pricey - though it also means that there are many options for taking the exam.  At first glance, this looks like a very credible credential.
  • International Air Transport Association Travel and Tourism Professional Certificate: One of four certificates issued by the IATA, I would say that this one probably has the most international currency and best opens the door to transnational career mobility, given the IATA's central role in the international travel industry.  However, you have to keep in mind that this one may be more airline-focused, and airline tickets are not where the big commissions are in the travel industry anymore. Interestingly, this one does not have a testing requirement at all - you just need to provide evidence of two years of work experience plus a bachelor's degree (or more work experience and an undergrad degree, or if new to the industry, completion of one of IATA's online training courses).   The fee structure strikes me as kind of steep considering that they do not actually develop or administer an exam.  Re-certification is required every two years and requires you to earn points through a variety of occupational citizenship activities, the sum total of which actually strike me as more intensive than the process of getting the initial certification.  Again, I'd love to read feedback from anyone who has actually gone through the process with this one!
Travel agents are at the forefront of many of the changes to sales and information-related occupations that technological change is bringing, and it's interesting to see their credentialing systems adapt.  I'll try to update this page as I learn more about the occupation.  To all who are thinking about pursuing a travel agent certification, good luck and bon voyage!

A real domain name coming soon!

Wednesday 13 November 2013

I've just registered the domain name for this website, after evaluating many options, most of which seem to be held by domain name hoarders.  Hopefully the domain will point to this blog within the next couple of days.  (Yes, I went with the US spelling advisor with an o, rather than the more common UK/Commonwealth adviser with an e, given that it seems like Americans are at the forefront of the certification trend...) I wonder if other people out there have thought of starting a blog like this, only to give up?  It must get expensive hoarding names like year after year...

CFPB Report on Financial Planner Certification and "Senior Designations"

Thursday 7 November 2013

The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, itself one of the few meaningful reforms to have come out of the 2008-onward financial crisis, issued a report earlier this year on the state of certification in the financial planning industry, with a special focus on those credentials aimed at professionals working with retirees or on old-age pension/benefit issues.  While some certificates, such as the "gold standard" CFP (Certified Financial Planner) designation do signal competence and integrity, others seem to be awarded without much more effort on the part of the certify than writing a check.  The CFPB is quite worried that these fake, or at least "baseline," certifications are being used by individuals working more as salespeople than as professional financial planners, using the veneer of legitimacy offered by a certificate hanging on the office wall and a few letters after their name on their business card to mislead senior citizens into poor financial decisions.  Yet, since financial planning is not yet a licensed occupation, there is not much more that the CFPB can do other than issue this report and use the media to try to warn individuals to exercise great care in choosing a financial adviser.  If you use professional financial services, you might want to read the report for yourself, especially if you live in the United States, and see if your adviser holds any of the certifications called out by CFPB - while holding an "easy" certification does not in and of itself signal a quack, if not pared with a more rigorous credential it could be a sign of someone more interested in lining his or her own pockets than providing genuine financial help...

Certification in Information Security

In a future post (or series of posts) I'd like to go into more depth about the range of certificates available in information security and its specializations, such as cyber forensics and privacy protection.  For the moment, I'll just make some comments as to why this is such a growth area for certification, with Career Onestop now listing 128 different certificates for information security analysts.

Part of it is simply that corporate security departments are notoriously risk-averse, and possessing certificates provides a certain level of cover in the event that the worst does occur.  One can say "we took all necessary precautions, we are CompTIA Advanced Security Practitioners here" - so when that data breach occurs, the IT Security guy can say that it would have happened to any organization, we just got unlucky and were hit with that one "super worm" or whatever you may have...

It's also a new and emerging field in which there still are not many certificates and degrees issued by reputable colleges and universities.  Sure, if you search for "information security certificate" on Google you will get a few established colleges - one of the University of London colleges, Stanford, and Devry come up for me - but demand still seems to outstrip supply at these institutions, leaving a gap for occupational and industry associations to fill.

And, on some level (and I realize I might be going out on a limb here), I think there is a "security guard badge" effect going on with the blossoming certification ecosystem in information security.  Although your typical mall cop lacks the backing of the state to enforce the law, if you take the time to observe their uniforms you will often see quite elaborate badges that seem to be deliberately designed to evoke the authority of law enforcement.  Indeed, many members of the public probably give no thought whatsoever to the legal differences between a police officer and a private security guard - when you see a badge that looks similar to your local police department, you may assume that the officer has the same powers of arrest and deserves the same level of respect, and you probably don't notice the fine-grained differences between the security guard's badge that, underneath the customary American eagle and shield may have "Securitas Corporation" in little letters, and the badge of your local police department - which, unless you're a cop or a frequent criminal, you probably aren't really familiar with anyway.  (And, incidentally, I've found that if you want to tease a security guard at your local shopping center/stadium/bank/museum/overly fortified office building, saying "nice badge" is a great way to get under their skin!)  Because private security in all forms relies on imitating the sanction of the state that characterizes "real" law enforcement to elicit compliance, it doesn't surprise me that they create certificates that imitate the degrees one would expect professional law enforcement officers to posses, enhancing their legitimacy and power within the organizations in which they work.

A First Post on Project Management

Wednesday 6 November 2013

Project management certification is as much about creating a new niche in the systems of professions as it is about certifying individual competence or recognizing the completion of training programs.  And project management is a relatively new profession - if it can be called one; fifty years ago, few organizations had "project managers."   The leading source of credentials in the project management occupational space seems to the the Project Management Institute, whose PMP (Project Management Professional) designation seems to have become something of a "gold standard" for the field.  However, there are a few other professional certificates issued by other organizations that potentially compete with PMI's dominance, namely CompTIA's "Project+" certification, the International Project Management Association's credential, and, perhaps most importantly, a massive range of certificates offered by university business and extension schools.

Like the situation for Geographic Information Systems professionals, it's not at all clear whether would-be project managers would be better off going for a certificate issued by a university or a industry-based certification.  Some university-based courses do seem to blur the lines a bit, offering both a certificate printed on university diploma cardstock while "teaching to the test" for the PMI certification programs, enabling one to easily obtain both within a reasonable timeframe.  But, whether one or the other would be preferable largely depends on one's organizational culture.  One thing that strikes me about project management as I read blog posts written by PMP's and others with ties to PMI is how fiercely loyal they are to the PMI "system", which could be interpreted as a sign that PMI's approach to managing projects is the most credible one out there.  PMI's approach depends heavily on the Project Management Book of Knowledge, which is about as close to a "bible" as you will find in a niche of business education.  I personally worry that project management, as a field, revolves too much around PMI and that some certified professionals may put on "blinders" when evidence of other valid approaches to their work emerge.

One other initial observation to be made about the PMP is that it is truly an internationally portable credential, something not often seen in general management fields.  Though PMI definitely has its roots in the United States, its adherents have fanned out across the world, and the credential could unlock substantial international mobility for the right person.

Discovering a New Certificate: The Certified E-Discovery Specialist (CEDS)

One of the things that motivates my "hobby" of studying the professional certification landscape is the always-changing nature of the field.  I am always learning of new certificate programs out there (we seem to be entering a "golden age" for professional credentialing...), and today was no exception.  I was looking at the DOL Career Onestop directory this morning as I was researching paralegal certification programs (a post on paralegals is on the way, eventually!) and came across one that I had never heard of: the Certified E-Discovery Specialist (CEDS).  Apparently this one is designed to be a cross-over for both JD-trained lawyers and paralegals involved in e-discovery, that is, analyzing reams of electronic documents for tiny morsels of information that might be useful in a trial.  It has been around for about 3 years now, so it's not brand-new, but being recognized by Career Onestop this early in its, um, shall we say, organizational career, is nonetheless an impressive signal of legitimacy.

The requirements (beyond successful completion of an exam) are a combination of points for education, experience, and professional training/conference participation - pretty typical stuff in the world of occupational certification.  One little quirk of their points table that I found to be an interesting insight into their organizational values is that a JD degree only nets one five additional points (out of 40 needed for the certification), which is the same number of points that they're offering for a Project Management Professional (PMP) certification or an IT certification in information security.  Personally, even though I agree that PMP is one of the more rigorous certificates out there, I have a hard time drawing the equivalency between a Harvard JD and a PMP - I wonder if this is a deliberate attempt to distance e-discovery from the mainstream legal profession and encourage new entrants, in which case this new certificate fits quite well with the narrative of a legal profession under attack - something that I hope to write about in greater depth when I get around to developing the "accreditation" part of this blog.

Certification geeks might be interested in reading the history of the certification posted to their website.  As one would expect for anything involving lawyers, they describe a pretty impressive process of psychometric analysis and test development.  The creators apparently were involved in the creation of the Certified Anti-Money Laundering Specialist designation, which sounds like a good topic for an upcoming post!

Declining textbook sales hurt Pearson - will their certification business save the day?

One news item related to certification and licensure to catch my eye recently was the announcement by Pearson, parent company of the Pearson VUE international network of testing centers and publisher of numerous certification and licensure exam study guides, that they are expecting their revenue to fall this quarter as a result of weak demand for textbooks in the United States.  It's no surprise that demand for college textbooks is dropping as a result of online marketplaces, e-books, and more college faculty members taking the cost of their students' education seriously.  I suspect that professional certification - both administering exams and developing the material to prepare individuals for exams - is a major part of Pearson's survival strategy for weathering the storm in the college textbook market.  A major university bookstore administrator I talked to claimed that they are expecting a 10% drop in textbook sales year-over-year ad infinitum, so I wouldn't be surprised if Pearson one day is known primarily for its role in the professional education market, rather than its (quite fine, I might add) line of introductory environmental science texts.  Indeed, given that the cost of publishing is much easier borne by highly paid white-collar workers who often won't bat an eye at being charged $120 for a set of exam prep workbooks (or just $117 if they choose the Kindle version!) than cash-strapped college students with little respect for intellectual property, I'm surprised that other players in the educational publishing industry, such as McGraw Hill and Prentice Hall, have not moved more aggressively into the professional certification and licensure market.  Of course, Pearson has a tremendous first-mover advantage that they share with ETS/Prometric (it's not cheap to set up a network of secured testing centers in a collection of college towns and world capitals that would make many retailers jealous), so I don't think that it's particularly likely that their professional testing business will be threatened anytime soon.  Yet, there's always the possibility that testing centers themselves will become obsolete as universities devise new ways of keeping tabs on their students in "Massively Open Online Courses"...

Certification in Geographic Information Systems

Tuesday 5 November 2013

There are two complimentary "industry" certification options for professionals seeking GIS certification in the United States, and, like other technical fields, the certificates are most likely portable into international labor markets.  One is really in the model of the classic IT vendor certificates, the ESRI Technical Certification Program.  This testing program allows users to demonstrate different levels of proficiency with ESRI's software programs, particularly ArcGIS.  It does not require work experience, recertification, or anything else beyond achieving a satisfactory score on an exam taken in the Pearson VUE network of computerized testing centers.  However, it represents a major investment in learning ESRI's software programs, which may be limiting to people who would like to branch out and become proficient with other software, like Manifold GIS.

On the other hand, there is a more advanced certification program maintained by an organization known as the GIS Certification Institute, which seems to be an offspring of the Urban and Regional Information Systems Association.  They seem to be aiming to certify achievement in the GIS field more so than the possession of technical skills - indeed, they seem to be agnostic with respect to which software platforms one uses. They have a complicated points based system to determine who earns certification; you can earn points for such tasks as earning credentials, accumulating work experience, and attending conferences.  You really have to check out their website to get a feel for whether this would be a feasible option for you.  This certification program is relatively small, with about 5,500 currently certified professionals listed on their website, though this may be more of a function of the relative youth of GIS as a profession than anything about this program itself.

Aside from ESRI Technical Certification and the GIS Certification Institute, it's also notable that *many* university extension schools are offering certificates in GIS.  Some, like the University of Washington Professional and Continuing Education Division (or Extension, or Educational Outreach, or whatever the heck they want to be called now) Certificate in Geographic Information Systems, have quite a high profile within local and/or regional labor markets, and therefore may be more than sufficient to launch a career without the aid of the international programs mentioned above.  Obviously, for an employer evaluating a resume such a certificate may be more of a "black box" in terms of what skills are actually confirmed relative to a national certification program - particularly if the university does not have much of a reputation in your area - though such a program taken through classroom or online study offers other benefits, such as contact with an actual instructor (!) and the opportunity to network with classmates.

Personal Fitness Trainer Certification: So Many Options!

Monday 4 November 2013

This is the first in a series of posts on the state of voluntary certification for personal fitness trainers and instructors.

Personal fitness training is among the most credential-dense fields among the occupations with credentialing programs tracked by DOL's Career Onestop Certification Finder, which returns 193 certificates issued by 39 organizations for a search for "fitness." One obvious reason for the extreme number and diversity of certificates is the sheer diversity of the field itself. It's logical to expect a yoga teacher to seek a different credential from, say, a personal trainer working in a gym or a kickboxing trainer! Yet, there are still several major organizations offering certificates in the field that seem to have differentiated themselves to some extent on the basis of the depth and rigor of the training they mandate. The less rigorous organizations have little incentive to make clear online just how easy it is to attain their certifications, though it is usually possible to figure out where an organization stands on the continuum of rigor by looking at websites devoted to the personal training industry, reading reviews online (though some should be taken with a grain of salt), and the general impression one gets from the organization's website - does it look like they are trying to sell the certification as a product, or do they take more of a scholarly tone?

The sheer number of certificates also makes it difficult for consumers of fitness training services to differentiate between certificates and to search for qualified instructors accordingly. Many of the organizations offering fitness certificates have names that are difficult to differentiate from each other - it's hard to remember the difference between the International Sports Sciences Association and the National Exercise and Sports Trainers Association and the American Council on Exercise, even if one does take the time to do some research before hiring a trainer! Consequently, it's reasonable to expect that most clients will be more interested that their trainer has certification than in what specific certifications the trainer holds. Surely, many do go beyond some of the more "baseline" certificates like the American Council on Exercise and the American Aerobic Association/International Sports Medicine Association on to organizations with more advanced curricula out of personal pride and love of their work, but it may be best to start out with the certifications that can be acquired fastest - thus allowing one to build up a client base while deciding whether to make a long-term investment in the field. Personal fitness training remains a field that, while growing alongside the broader fitness industry in the US and other developed countries, offers little job security and requires a great deal of personal initiative so it's not for everyone. However, if you love working out and want to get paid to help others reach their goals, it's certainly a field with low barriers to entry and the potential to earn a reasonable living with a relatively modest investment in training!

A few resources that I recommend are a recent New York Times article on the growth of the fitness industry and a website offering a partial guide to certification options:

LEED certification: why is it so popular?

Saturday 2 November 2013

It seems that LEED certification (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) is becoming a must for all sorts of public buildings as well as corporate and residential developments.  Yet, just as the number of LEED buildings is proliferating, so is the number of LEED-certified architects.  Some are surprised to learn that the LEED program certifies both buildings and the people who make the buildings - and, with the creation of the "light" LEED Accredited Professional certificate, so are a wide range of people working in occupations ranging from urban planning to interior decorating.  (However, these non-architecture occupational specialties are generally unable to attain the higher-level certificates within the LEED scheme, making for a program dominated by architecture.)

LEED professional certification is issued by the Green Building Certification Institute, an arm of the US Green Building Council.  Despite its American origins, LEED certification can be earned anywhere in the world, and a growing number of LEED certifyees are now from outside the United States.   LEED is quickly becoming a global phenomenon for professionals whose work relates to the built environment - but why?  Shouldn't sustainable building techniques be taught as part of the standard program of study in architecture school, anyway?

I believe that part of the reason for LEED's success is that it positions architects and other design professionals as merchants of sustainability. Hiring a LEED certified professional sends a message: the organization cares about the environment, and is committed to reducing its carbon footprint.  While there are other paths that an organization can take, such as greening its supply chain or switching to renewable energy sources, the LEED program positions architecture as the default set of professional services to turn to in order to help an organization become, or at least appear, more environmentally friendly.  Other occupations are catching up with their own programs, ranging from CompTIA's "Green IT" certificate program to a range of sustainability related certificates offered by the Association of Energy Engineers, for now architecture is out in front.

Teaching English as a Foreign Language - Certification Options

Friday 1 November 2013

Note that this is likely to be the first in a series of posts on the subject of Teaching English as a Foreign Language careers and credentialing options.  

What is TEFL?

TEFL is an acronym for Teaching English as a Foreign Language.  It's important to differentiate this from TESOL, "Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages," which typically refers to teaching native speakers of foreign languages in English-speaking school systems in the local curriculum.  So, if you're from the "Anglosphere" (i.e., the US and the British Commonwealth) and want to travel elsewhere to teach English, you will most likely be looking for a TEFL position.

What are the best credentials for me?

This is a difficult question, and one that you might want to contact schools and/or teachers in your intended destination for advice on.  It's important to remember that the labor market tends to be less competitive in less developed countries.  For example, I know of one individual who found work quickly with no specialized training in TEFL at all in Vietnam, though his initial hourly rate was far less than it would have been in a more developed market, such as South Korea.  However, initial work experience may be more valued by employers than any particular credential.  In general, the Cambridge CELTA certification seems to be a "gold standard" that is widely accepted for entry-level jobs, though a MA degree would certainly open up doors to higher level positions.

Outside of the Cambridge certification scheme (which, notably, is a certificate accredited by a body of Cambridge University but not issued by Cambridge itself - rather, it is administered by a network of private language schools around the world, which is a very good thing for the average student considering Cambridge University's astronomical tuition rates), numerous institutes exist that issue their own certificates.  However, given the lack of a strong professional association in the field, there is not really any unifying accreditation scheme for certifying organizations in the TEFL occupational space.  Therefore, some employers may look solely at the number of contact hours required to acquire a certificate as a measure of its quality, and for that reason I would be very reluctant to enroll in a course requiring less than 80 hours of classroom instruction (which is really only equivalent to two full workweeks - one hopes that there is homework in addition to the official coursework, but, without accreditation, there is no way for the employer to accurately gauge the rigor of the course).  The search for a credential with labor market value is complicated even further by the fact that one must rely on online reviews to gauge the effectiveness of some institutes in "destination" countries, and such reviews are easily manipulated by the schools themselves.

In short, like other emergent occupational fields that seem to attract many entrants who might not be seeking a lifelong vocation (comparisons to life coaching come to mind...), the field of credentialing options for TEFL instructors is fluid at the moment.  Perhaps, with time, TEFL will professionalize and regulate itself better - however, given that the allure of "finding oneself" and "being paid to travel the world" will always be high among the motivations of some entrants to the field, it seems more likely that a more coherent accreditation system would come from the language schools themselves.

See a recent article in Business Insider for additional perspectives on the field:

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