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

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.

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