Big Benefits from Certs Earned in High School
In looking over the March 11 issue of Certification Watch this morning, I dug into an item that reported on the value of IT certifications (bottom of the first page). Under the heading "IDG Inside Pro Asks Time-Honored Question about Certifications," the item pointed to a recent study IDG had conducted about the income impact of getting certified.
In turning to the source material, I couldn't help but notice that the benefits reported seemed to favor younger members of the work force. "Of course," thought I to myself, "that's because certification has the biggest impact on entry-level or early-career people, when any kind of income bump will have the longest multiplying effect."
And indeed, that's why I chuckled with some degree of satisfaction when the next item in my search for blog fodder, from EdTech (K-12) Magazine came with the headline The Value of Professional Certifications for Secondary Education Students: Professional certifications for students are important for workforce readiness.
It's Nice to Get Objective Validation
This particular story draws on and spells out the value of "technology certification programs offered by top tech companies such as Google and Microsoft." About these offerings, the story's author, Douglas Konopelko (a former teacher, assistant principal, an district administrator), says "With these programs student can explore their technology interests and develop digital skills while preparing for a 21st-century workplace."
I couldn't have said it better myself, though I think his list of companies (remedied later in the story) was too short. The Cisco Networking Academy certainly deserves mention for its high school outreach, as do other, similar programs from Adobe, Acer, and CompTIA (mentioned later in Konopelko's story).
Benefits of Early IT Certification
For his statement of benefits, Konopelko turns to a blog post issued on Valentine's Day 2018 by Lowell Matthews, who works at the Florida-based Foundation for Excellence in Education (ExcelinEd) launched by Gov. Jeb Bush in 2008. The piece frames the question, "Why do industry certifications matter (at the high school level)?"
Mr. Matthews answers by describing three big potential wins from such exposure:
1) Foundational Skills: Earning an industry certifications exposes students to real-world workplace situations and demands in a useful and practical way. Such certs also teach important work/life skills that include problem solving, prioritizing information, critical thinking, and essential documentation and research (state a problem to find an answer) skills.
Matthews also asserts that earning a certification shows that students have what he calls "grit" (I understand this to mean, "the ability to keep going in the face of challenges and adversity") and the willingness to expend significant amounts of time and effort in the focused pursuit of a goal.
The point of this category, in fact (which Matthews mentions only in passing), is that entry-level cert holders can claim to have learned important entry-level skills and knowledge. Those are the foundational skills that confer the title to this section of his blog post.
2) Student Engagement: Citing statistics from his home state of Florida, Matthews asserts that students who earn industry certifications "have higher GPAs, are significantly more likely to graduate from high school, are less likely to be chronically absent or have a disciplinary action, and are more likely to take a dual enrollment course or an Advanced Placement course."
The numbers he presents to make his case are convincing, both statistically and emotionally. But as somebody with a son who's a sophomore in high school, it looks to me like the advantages are most beneficial and important to disadvantaged students from lower-income families. To me that's a "multiplier effect" which only strengthens Matthew's information.
3) Anchors for Career Pathways: Certs earned in high school get students pointed in good directions for them to follow in preparing for full-time work. They also provide benchmarks and valuable examples for them to learn from as they go on to build their careers.
He also observes that Florida students who earn industry certifications in high school can get anywhere from 6 to 15 hours of college credit toward various associate's degrees in the Florida system of community colleges. In general, in fact, community colleges are the backbone of education aimed at workforce entry, and their affordable, job-placement-oriented offerings have long adopted and favored certifications as a clear pathway to placement in IT jobs. It's the same here in Texas, where I live, too.
4) Validation of Skill Acquisition: I had to chuckle when I read this title. It's "educator-speak" for "people, even high school students, who earn IT certifications actually KNOW something." Students who can present one or more well-known and meaningful IT certs on their job applications show employers that they've passed through training that involves rigorous hands-on experience and rigorous testing.
The point of all training and testing, of course is to demonstrate that cert-holders do indeed possess certain (if basic) skills and knowledge. This is a big positive, for all kinds of reasons.
5) Higher Wages: Again, Mathews digs into his placement data to asset that certifications do result in higher wages, even for entry-level workers starting out for the first time in the workplace. This is good to know, and may actually register on hard-headed teenagers, who are often sure they know more than the adults who may be trying to offer them input and advice on where to steer their life plans. One can hope, anyway ...
What One Puts in Determines What One Gets Out
Ultimately, of course, it's the time and effort and genuine learning that IT certs can provide that confer the real meaning and value of such experiences. For students at any level (high school or beyond), the time and effort they put into learning and doing on the way to certification is what really counts.
This is a great opportunity for younger people to get some idea of what it's like to work in IT, as well as more simply dealing with the concepts, theories, systems and equipment that go into "doing IT." I recommend it highly, especially for students who will find their career and lifetime earnings prospects bolstered by an early (and hopefully, effective) dose of professional education.