Looking into the future of certification

Looking into the future of certification

The past 24 months have had a significant impact on the field of professional certification that is likely to remain for the foreseeable future.

Concerns around economic uncertainty have led to a rise in upskilling and reskilling employees, while lockdown restrictions saw a shift from classroom-based to online training and examinations.

But how will training, development and certification support the rebuilding of businesses and take-up of professional skills necessary for the coming years?

Commonality and value

LinkedIn Learning’s 5th Annual Workplace Learning Report reveals that, with the effects of COVID-19 on hiring making internal mobility within an organisation more important than ever before, upskilling and reskilling the workforce has become the top priority for Learning and Development (L&D) professionals worldwide.

Indeed, this has only accelerated investments already being made to “future-proof” employees with the skills they need to thrive in an increasingly automated, digital-first world of work. Amazon, for example, is investing over $700m on upskilling training, JPMorgan Chase has added $350m to its existing $250m training budget, and PwC is set to spend $3bn on its “New World, New Skills” programme.

When you consider that many businesses today operate globally, there’s a need for commonality when it comes to the certification this upskilling requires. After all, having different levels of knowledge and terminology means a service desk operative in the UK will find it hard to work effectively with their colleague in India when supporting their customers.

It’s essential, therefore, that any professional certification awarded in one country carries the same weight, and delivers the same value to the business, as it does when awarded in another. This universality is part of the value offered by independent third-party certifications such as ITIL, PRINCE2, MSP, Scrum and DevOps. Regardless of where in the world they’re awarded, the standards remain the same and the capabilities are applicable.

The issue, however, is that the value of such certification isn’t always clearly understood. Many HR and L&D teams are measured on the number of people certified, rather than the quality of the certification itself. As a result, organisations will often be perfectly happy offering a Microsoft Word certification at $20, rather than an – arguably much more valuable – ITIL Foundation certification at $200. But, given the current trend for upskilling and reskilling, it stands to reason that organisations should now be considering value, rather than price.

Differences in delivery

The focus of training and certification isn’t the only aspect that’s been affected by the health crisis, of course. In 2019, almost all PeopleCert’s partners (95%) offered on-site classroom training. In fact, for two in five (42%), it was the only option. In April and May 2020, with lockdown restrictions making it impossible for students to congregate in a classroom, the whole system essentially broke down. Over a quarter of companies found themselves unable to provide any training at all during this time.

Things quickly recovered though, with six out of 10 companies reporting an increase in online training at the height of the pandemic. And now, as life slowly returns to normal, seven in 10 intend to invest in online methods for the future. It’s not only the delivery of corporate training that’s been affected. Universities, too, have realised that it’s possible to have access to professional training and certification as part of their curricula - such as embedding ITIL and PRINCE2 courses within certain faculties.

The future of training and certification might not necessarily remain entirely online as interactions with tutors and other students, sharing experiences and being involved in discussions, are an important part of the training process. Therefore, eventually, people will want to sit together and be trained in a classroom again. Likewise, exams will once again be taken in a classroom environment. If a student takes online classroom training, they’ll typically take tests online; if they’re trained in a classroom, they’ll generally be tested in a classroom.

That said, not all training will return to the way it was. Many businesses found delivering classes online to be cost-effective – there was no need to hire exam rooms, or pay for travel and accommodation, especially important at a time when many training budgets were being slashed.

Its flexibility has proved attractive to many, allowing students to undertake their training at a time that suits them best. While most Europeans will only study during the week, refusing to do so in their free time, most employers in India expect their workforce to carry out their training at the weekend, out of office hours.

Looking to the future

The past 24 months have highlighted just how hard it is to know what’s around the corner. What we do know is how important it is to adapt to change as it happens. Businesses and their employees have seen the value of standardised certification in future-proofing jobs against an increasingly uncertain future. And the organisations responsible for those certifications have been forced to shift the way in which they deliver their training and examination. But whether for work or as part of an academic course at university, it must be done right.

As we’ve seen, though, nothing is set in stone. What works in one situation won’t necessarily work as well in another. So, as businesses everywhere prepare for a hybrid approach when it comes to returning to the office, so training and certification providers should consider a mixture of online and classroom-based delivery going forward.