The Reality and Potential of Certifications to Support Workforce and Economic Mobility: New Report Series Reveals How Versatile Certifications Can Be

  • Series Outlines Recommendations for Policymakers, Employers, and Funders for Better Understanding, Improvement, and Increased Usage of Certifications

A new series of reports co-published by Workcred, Corporation for a Skilled Workforce, and the George Washington Institute of Public Policy serve as a resource to help policymakers, practitioners, employers, and funders better understand the characteristics of certifications—and their potential as tools—to help people enter the labor market, obtain a career goal, or reskill for a new career. Funded by Lumina Foundation, the reports are the culmination of a research study that focused on how certifications serve as part of lifelong pathways for advancement.

To inform the project, the team conducted research from 2019-2021 on 16 certifications in cybersecurity, healthcare, information technology, and manufacturing, which informed the development of separate overviews for each certification and five reports. Recommendations from each report were informed by a literature review of certifications and the project team members’ experiences working with the certification community.

The series launched with the December 2020 publication, Understanding Certifications, which revealed the complex and confusing landscape of certifications. The report highlights how individuals who earn certifications and licenses fare better in the labor market at a time when enormous economic shifts predating and accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic created a challenging job market. Among other information, the report also examines how some certifications can offer short-term pathways to employment, a valuable option for working adults and low-income populations.

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The latest of the publications include Certifications as Tools for Promoting Economic Mobility, which examines the characteristics of quality certifications and how they can be utilized as valuable tools for increasing the economic mobility of workers and expanding the talent pool for employers. The research supports a call for improved data collection and research on certifications and their outcomes, increased commitment to building a more interconnected credentialing system, and a greater role for employers in transforming this system.

Accreditation Standards: The Primary Source of Quality Assurance for Certifications captures how the surge of new, non-degree credentials poses a challenge for individuals when determining credential quality and making decisions about how to value them. The authors examine how and why quality assurance is particularly important for certifications. Additionally, research based on interviews with individuals at certification bodies reveals a broad consensus by the certification community that quality certifications are those that align with standards for personnel certifications, among other findings.

Recertification: A Distinguishing Feature of Certifications@ provides an overview of the recertification process, how it varies among certifications, the extent to which it achieves its stated purposes, and recommendations for improvements. Given that recertifications (also referred to as maintenance, renewal, or continuing competency) can help protect the public by ensuring holders have up-to-date knowledge and skills, the research asserts that understanding the recertification process will better enable the attainment and maintenance of certifications.

Certifications@: The Ideal, Reality, and Potential, the final publication of the series, summarizes key findings that emerged during the project and identifies topics that warrant further research. It also offers several recommendations, including that certification@ bodies should improve their internal processes and practices, and governments and employers should encourage wider reliance on certifications in hiring. In addition, the report emphasizes that better data collection and distribution is a crucial issue that needs further attention. The report explains more about these problems and offers specific recommendations for addressing them.

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“As the power of certifications@ continues to grow during a recovering and rapidly changing job market, we are thrilled to provide research derived from data that supports how certifications can be used to help individuals achieve personal and economic success, and how policymakers can develop policies that support increased usage of certifications,” said Dr. Roy Swift, Workcred’s executive director.

President and CEO of CSW, Larry Good, noted: “Millions of American workers have earned certifications@, providing them in many cases with a high-quality credential that attests to their skills and assists them in finding jobs and advancing their careers. It is an important time to increase the visibility and understanding of what’s known about certifications and what remains to be learned through further research.”

“Certifications are exceptionally good at signaling their holders’ skills, but their variety leaves them little understood by workers or employers. However, as growing numbers of employers shift to skills-based hiring, that is likely to change, with positive implications for non-degreed workers and for the economy,” said Dr. Stephen Crawford, research professor at the George Washington Institute of Public Policy, and co-director, Program on Skills, Credentials & Workforce Policy, George Washington University.

“It’s been a privilege to fund this important research on industry and occupational certifications,” said Courtney Brown, Lumina Foundation’s vice president of impact and planning. “We hope employers, jobseekers, educators, policymakers, industry/professional associations, and researchers will use these important findings to find talented workers with these types of certifications.”

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