Is a Professional Certification Worth It?
The way we learn, prove our worth, and the nature of work are all changing. Professional societies are struggling to adjust to these changes. Universities and employers likewise are experimenting and exploring new ways to operate.
Over the past few months, I’ve received about a dozen inquiries on how to prepare for the ASQ Certified Reliability Engineer (CRE) exam in order to obtain the ASQ CRE certification. Many also asked if I had a course available. Thus, I decided to run a live course (learn more at the live course page – note: if you see this after the course start date we’ll have a sign up for those interested in future classes).
The Changes Around Certifications
ASQ continues to offer a wide range of certifications, yet recent changes in the funding of divisions and sections have limited the availability of exam preparation classes. I’ve also found the body of knowledge for the CRE and CQE has fallen further behind current practices.
ASQ’s certifications continue to be a milestone market in one’s career based on mastery of a body of knowledge along with education and experience requirements. Some employers discount certifications given the outdated state of the body of knowledge and instead focus on the person’s demonstrated work prowess.
Universities and online MOOC’s (massive open online courses) now offer certification programs. These are becoming widely accepted by employers as evidence of one’s education background. The programs often bundle a sequence of courses with or without exit exams that allow you to gain recognizable documentation of the course work.
The labor market is tight, yet my professional network is not generating requests for candidates to fill reliability positions. Over the past 30 years, the ratio of requests for employment opportunities vs requests for qualified candidates has signaled shifts in the employment climate for reliability professionals. While this crude metric is by no means accurate, it suggests a slow down in demand going forward. Good reliability engineers will still find rewarding work, that is not changing, yet the demand seems to be slowing. A certification on your resume may open just the right opportunity.
Employers view certifications on a resume as a starting point for discussions, yet not as a criterion for hiring. It’s what you bring to the employer, your skills, talents, and capabilities, that makes the difference.
The Value of a Certification
So what is the value of a certification? It varies. It varies based on why you have a certification and what you do with the knowledge the certification indicates you have.
If you earn certificates solely for the ability to list certifications. If you pass the test then forget all the material (in college we used to call this ‘spec and dump’), then the certification has little value other than the brief enhancement of your ego.
If you earn a certification as a by-product of mastering a body of knowledge or set of courses, that is different. It has value. If you actually learn and use the concepts and techniques at work. If you do something different and better due to what you learned, that has value.
Using what you learn, not obtaining a piece of paper, provides value to your employers/clients as you are able to efficiently and effectively solve problems, find solutions, and improve products/processes. It provides value to you as you demonstrate your mastery you often are given more challenges, more responsibility, and more recognition (and pay).
The certification is not the end in itself. It is a marker of your potential and capability. Certifications are a shorthand way of indicating what you know and can deliver.
The Decisions You Need to Make
At an ASQ World Conference a few years ago one of the board members walked around with a long string of banners strung below her name badge, including every ASQ certification. The banners we’re to allow individuals to list their affiliations and achievements within ASQ. I don’t suspect this person actually achieved every available certification, and she certainly didn’t know much about the reliability engineering body of knowledge (we did have a brief conversation).
If you decide to master a field of study or a specific body of knowledge, do so. Do so so you can apply what you know for the improvement of society, your employer/client, and yourself.
Please don’t pursue a certification just to add some letters behind your name or below your name badge.
Certifications only have value based on the value your create – thus your decision is really about what you want to learn and master.