What that missing professional qualification might mean for your career
by Dr. Scott Arias
March 11, 2019

Simply typing “construction manager” in LinkedIn’s search bar produces over 429,000 profiles. On the other hand, a search for construction project management professional (PMP) or planning and scheduling professional (PSP) will return 139,000 and 6,982 profiles, respectively.

 According to a 2004 study by the Journal of Industrial Technology, “When asked if their current employer valued professional certifications, 74 of the 109 respondents (67.9 percent) said ‘yes.’ When asked if the respondent held any professional certifications, 63 of the 109 respondents (57.8 percent) indicated they held one or more professional certificates.” High esteem for certification is held by professionals in the construction industry, as it often serves as a differentiator among candidates.

In his article “Professional Certification: Does it Matter?,” John Phillips asks the question, “Is the goal of certification to assist individuals, organizations or professions?” If you’re of the same curiosity, you know this is a loaded question. Phillips goes on to assert, “There is no single answer to this seemingly simple question."

Some individuals want a credential that signals to their management that they are improving professionally. Others see the attainment of certification as a demonstration of adherence to ethical responsibilities and the importance of long-term professional goals and social roles.

“Professional Certifications Versus Skills: A Study of Professional Certifications from the Perspective of the Certified and Their Employers” by Capella University found that, for an employer, certification is “a means of screening job applicants when they may look equally qualified on resumes and applications,” though there remains some discussion on the merits.

And, according to the Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency, “Certifications are intended to elevate the professionalism of both the recipient and the related industry by helping to set standards” while providing a “vendor-neutral certification and promoting a common body of knowledge.”

Over the past few years, there has been a proliferation of voluntary accreditation and skill-certification programs within non-regulated professions—likely due to the industry’s experience of the truth behind the findings of “Escaping the Computer-Forensics Certification Maze: A Survey of Professional Certifications” by the Association for Information Systems.

The study notes, “Certification implies an individual achieves excellence in certain areas of expertise, certified individuals typically have to pass examinations and fulfill other requirements, such as obtaining a certain number of years of experience or complying with professional codes of ethics. The rigorous certification process applicants have to go through is often the reason that the general public has great confidence in certified professionals. Certification is also beneficial to practitioners because it often means higher salary and prestige.” 

 According to the Journal of Park and Recreation Administration, however, “A person can have the ability to pass a certification exam and be incapable of performing the associated tasks. In order for certifications to be valued, they must adequately represent the abilities of the holder.”

Additionally, as asserted in the aforementioned Journal of Research in Crime and Delinquency, “There is some evidence that professional certifications have little or no relationship to a certified professional’s job performance, nor do they translate into higher salaries or quicker promotions absent relevant experience.” These findings suggest, that “professional certifications generally have little or no relationship to a certified professional’s actual job performance.” 

Can certification take the place of formal education? Certification processes are two-part, including both an experience and educational assessment. Some seek certification to compensate for a lack of formal education, but many certifications require formal education or additional experience. As such, it is important to recognize what certification does and does not provide:

  • Technical competency—Essentially, certification assesses the technical competency of an individual. 
  • Soft skills—Soft skills are not assessed as part of the certification process.
  • Experience assessment—Time spent working in specific areas is a large part of the preliminary approval process. But the successful accomplishment of tasks is not assessed, just the number of hours worked in the field. 
  • Education—Formal education and training are key preliminary assessments for certification.