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Certification revisited: Good reasons for renewing IT credentials

Though it’s something of a PITA to keep track of and manage, regular recertification adds value to your credentials by making sure your skills and knowledge stay current.

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In casting about for a topic for today’s blog post, I stumbled across a document that came my way in March from VMware: Recertification Policy: VMware Certified Professional. It’s just one instance among many of a type of reminder regularly distributed by certification sponsors that explains why they find it necessary to require certification holders to re-up their credentials at regular intervals. This document also provides interesting insight into the rationale and reasoning behind such requirements, and may be an interesting read, even for those who don’t already hold a VMware cert — or may never contemplate earning one.

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Here’s what the policy says about recertification:

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Earning a VCP certification is a great achievement. But staying up to date in the expertise gained and proven by your certification is equally vital. If your skills are not current, your certification loses value. To ensure that all VCP holders maintain their proficiency, VMware is instituting a recertification policy.

Recertification is widely recognized in the IT industry and beyond as an important element of continuing professional growth. It enhances your credibility and demonstrates a commitment to your career, your employer, and your customers.

VMware also enunciates a fairly common mechanism for recertification, which I like to describe as “repeat, vary, or climb.” Repeat means you can recertify by taking a current exam for the same credential that you already hold. (As technologies age out of use, this may not always be an option that’s open to you.) Vary means “get another credential like the one you already hold.” For example, a person who holds a VMware Certified Professional in Data Center might instead earn a VCP in Cloud or Desktop on a future go-round. Climb means “earn a higher-level cert in the same track." If you have a VCP in Data Center, then you could earn an advanced professional (VCAP5-DCA or VCAP5-DCD) or even an expert-level (VCDX5-DCV) credential instead, and thereby maintain VCP status as well. Lots of cert providers do this, including Cisco, Brocade and even, to some extent, Microsoft. (In Microsoft's case, it's programmer certs only at this point, since many of their other certs are tied to specific product versions and age out along with their focus platforms or systems).

In formulating international standards for IT and other professional certifications — and thereby also setting the bar for cert programs and credentials to meet such standards — the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) worked with the International Organization for Standards (ISO), as well as with the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC), to formulate international standard 17024. This standard establishes criteria that any organization’s certification program for individuals (or more typically, specific elements within such programs) must meet to become accredited.

The Wikipedia overview of 17024 is worth reading, because it lays out the standard’s content, coverage, and requirements simply, clearly and briefly. The standard was originally finalized in 2003 (17024:2003), then updated in 2012 (17024:2012), and does include a requirement for certification holders to regularly demonstrate the currency of their skills and knowledge. Because 17024 accreditation for certs has become required for them to qualify for many government and official programs in the past decade, we’ve seen all kinds of programs and credentials seek out such accreditation (including Cisco, CompTIA, and VMware, among many others). Organizations bear this burden even though it is an expensive and time-consuming process for those who elect to participate.

The value of recertification is perhaps most easily understood as a technology version of the “sell-by date” so familiar to those who consume perishable goods such as dairy products. The idea is that a current certification is more likely to be relevant to today’s workplace needs and requirements. Sponsors can use it to maintain ongoing interaction with certified professionals and continue teaching them about the latest and greatest offerings, while cert holders use it to demonstrate usable and useful understanding of current tools and technologies. Finally, employers can use it as a metric of what’s current in looking for new employees, while also using it as a bar over which current staff must regularly jump to make sure they’re keeping up, as well as adhering to best practices, processes and procedures.

Indeed, recertification means more work for everybody involved: updates and reworkings of training materials and exams for providers, retesting and ongoing education for holders, and potentially paying for employees to take new exams (or at least assisting with training and testing costs) for employers. The overall result, however, is a valuable level of assurance that what cert holders know and can do is relevant to what’s in use in the workplace today, and possibly even tomorrow.

ed-tittel120ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Ed Tittel is a 30-plus-year computer industry veteran who's worked as a software developer, technical marketer, consultant, author, and researcher. Author of many books and articles, best known as developer of "Exam Cram" IT cert prep book series. Ed blogs on certification topics for TechTarget, Tom’s IT Pro, and PearsonITCertification.com, or you can check out his website at www.edtittel.com.