Education is critical for jobseekers during a downturn – and industry certifications will get the job done
Human Work and Learning

Education is critical for jobseekers during a downturn – and industry certifications will get the job done

The jolting economic downturn delivered by this health crisis has cost millions their jobs and once more highlighted the critical importance of post-high school education.

But this time, those unemployed or struggling to hang on to a job are finding a way forward not just with diplomas, but with industry certifications, which can be acquired in a short time with less financial burden and can lead quickly to good jobs.

It’s still too early to tell how bad this recession will be or how long it will last, but there is unmistakable evidence about what can help us, based on what happened after the financial crisis of 2008 and the global recession that followed.

During that long recovery, the Georgetown Center on Education and the Workforce reported, more than 95 percent of new jobs went to college-educated workers, while those with a high school diploma or less were left behind.

Now we know it’s not just about diplomas. Most people can obtain a certificate or industry certification – the fastest-growing type of post-high school credential – in a fraction of the time and cost as a degree. Many are offered online so individuals can learn, obtain, and demonstrate their knowledge and skills while under stay-at-home orders.

Additionally, many certificates and certifications are competency-based, meaning learners can build on what they already know and can do, and obtain them after demonstrating mastery, regardless of where the learning took place or how long it took. Amid the crisis some associations, such as the Association for Supply Chain Management, have increased their support of digital learning and exam capabilities so their candidates can continue to learn and complete their certifications online.

Many of the jobs that are currently deemed “essential” – including healthcare, information technology, logistics, emergency services, cybersecurity, and manufacturing – require employees to hold a certificate or certification. These are also the same industries that, even in this downturn, are hiring in large numbers. According to CareerBuilder the top 20 job categories in the first week of April included healthcare, management, transportation, technology and construction. Forbes reported hiring increases by pharmacies, teleworking software firms, grocery stores, and tech support – all with job openings that require a certification (e.g. pharmacy tech, grocery supply chain logistics, transportation, and technical support).

There’s no question anymore that high-quality certificates/certifications lead to good-paying jobs. A recent Gallup poll shows that nearly half (49%) of American workers who didn’t earn a college degree, but earned certifications are in “good jobs” – meaning they earn good pay and benefits and can grow and advance in their careers – more than the 42% who earned bachelor’s degrees.

Not surprisingly, certifications also bolster optimism: Three-fourths (76%) of those with a certification feel they are ready for job growth in the next five years, versus 61% of those without one. Those with certifications are more likely to be employed and make more than those with only a high school diploma. According to the Gallup poll, among Americans age 25 to 54 with no postsecondary degree, 81% who have a certification are employed versus 68% of those without one. The Council for Community and Economic Research recently reported that workers with less than a degree, but a certification, had the largest and most consistent boost in earnings relative to their non-credentialed counterparts – earning at least $95 more per week with a certification or license in every state. And the Association for Supply Chain Management’s 2019 salary survey showed those with a certification reported a median salary 18% higher than those who are not certified.

As the pandemic’s national toll, measured in fatalities and economic despair, continues to mount, we know there are many stubborn questions. But it’s important to recognize the answers we do have – including the vital role of post-high school education. And at a time with few rays of good news to be found, we need to highlight the powerful promise that certificates and industry certifications hold for a country struggling to get back on its feet.


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