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#AskExcelinEd: Why do industry certifications matter?

• Lowell Matthews

February is Career and Technical Education (CTE) month. Today, we’ll tackle the question of why industry certifications matter for secondary students. The benefits are undeniable! Consider each of these advantages:

Foundational Skills

The process of earning an industry certification allows students to experience the real-world demands of work in a practical way. Acquiring an industry certification helps students with essential skills such as critical thinking, problem solving and prioritizing information. It also serves as a signal to employers and colleges that the student has “grit,” as anyone will tell you after passing the CompTia A+ exams or other rigorous industry exams. These industry certification exams are hard. It takes time and dedication to pass.

Student Engagement

Certifications help keep students engaged in learning. In Florida, for example, 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 statistics below shows how significant the benefits are for students in that state:

Performance Indicator All High School Students + Certification All High School Students with No Certification
Average GPA 3.08 2.72
Chronically Absent 9.1% 15.3%
Disciplinary Action 6.0% 12.5%
Standard HS Diploma Rate 96.6% 73.3%
Take AP or dual enrollment 50.0% 32.9%

Source: Florida Department of Education Information System

Anchors for Career Pathways

Industry certifications are often the beginning point for students on a career pathway and serve as benchmarks along a career map. Fortunately, the skills embedded in certification courses often can transfer to multiple career pathways, retaining their relevance as the student learns and evolves their career interests.

Industry certifications can also help students earn college credit in high school. For example, in Florida, a high school student can earn:

  • 12 hours of college credit toward an AAS/AS degree in Supply Chain Management by acquiring a Global Logistics Associate certification;
  • 15 college credit hours toward an AAS/AS degree in Engineering Technology by acquiring a MSSC Certified Production Technician certification; and
  • 6 college credit hours toward an AAS/AS degree in Computer Engineering Technology by acquiring a CompTia A+ certification.

There are many industry certifications that confer college credit across career clusters. These opportunities to earn college credit while earning an industry certification save families money, too. Even calculating with one of the lowest tuition rates in the country ($71.98 per credit hour), a certification that also delivers 15 college credit hours would potentially save a student more than $1,000 in tuition costs.

Validation of Skill Acquisition

The biggest benefit to students earning an industry certification is that the certification validates that the student has demonstrated mastery of up-to-date skills in a career field. Industry certifications reflect the industry’s latest needs. Not only does a certification help a student just entering the workforce who may lack work experience, it helps job and career changers, too. Below is just one example of career pathway options anchored in CompTia industry certifications.

View an even more advanced career pathway map. Again, this is just one example from the IT career cluster. Industry certifications offer a roadmap to career interest and success in any number of career clusters.

Higher Wages

Ultimately, industry certifications can help students earn higher wages when they enter the workforce. The Automotive Service Excellence (ASE) certification is a good example. According to Burning Glass Technologies, the ASE certification “is the equivalent of seven years’ experience in job postings, and applicants who have the ASE command a 21% salary premium.”

In summary, industry certifications help students develop their career interests and reach their goals. In dozens of career fields, certifications are a ladder to future success. However, they are not created equally. Some industry certifications provide a greater return on investment to students. We’ll tackle that topic in our series of CTE playbooks, the first of which is available now –  Putting CTE to Work for Students: A Playbook for State Policymakers.

About the author

Lowell Matthews

Lowell is the Director of College and Career Pathways for ExcelinEd. He previously served as Staff Director for the Florida Legislature’s Senate Committees on Education Pre-K-12 and Higher Education, where he helped create Florida’s industry certification incentive to create a nexus between education and the workforce. Lowell is a graduate of the University of Michigan and Vanderbilt University Law School. He also served in the U.S. Army. He lives in Rochester, MN with his wife and two kids.