Industry certifications offer clear path to jobs during the COVID recovery—and beyond
Research and Evaluation

Industry certifications offer clear path to jobs during the COVID recovery—and beyond

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By Frank Swanzy Essien Jr. and Michelle Van Noy

Americans struggling to find and keep jobs amid the global pandemic are discovering a clear path to employment: high-quality credentials that prove both knowledge and skills.

But deciding which credentials are high-quality is not always easy or clear. That’s especially true for non-degree credentials offered outside of classrooms, including industry certifications. With more than 5,465 certification programs in today’s educational marketplace—not counting licensures, apprenticeships, and badges—it’s difficult and time-consuming to assess their quality and results.

As Americans seek to reskill and upskill in today’s economy, this lack of clarity poses risks for learners who want to be sure they are wisely investing their time and money on credentials that lead to stable jobs.

Amid the confusion, new insights are emerging. Data on industry certifications, specifically, are starting to shed light on their quality. Many of these certifications offer direct paths to careers, as credentials awarded by industry or professional groups are designed with employer needs and industry standards in mind.

A recent Gallup poll and newly available data show the value of certifications for workers and employers alike. Job posting data point to employers’ use of certifications in hiring – with 50 certifications commonly mentioned on two-thirds of job postings across a range of occupations. For instance, employers often request certifications when they hire accountants, project managers, security experts, and auto mechanics.

National survey data of American adults reinforce that certifications bring a greater chance of employment (82% versus 68% among those without a certificate or bachelor’s degree) along with higher earnings.

Putting it all together

As industry certifications become a popular path for job seekers as well as a tool to help revive our economy during and beyond the COVID-19 pandemic, policies and practices reflect this. Lumina Foundation recently began to include high-quality industry certifications in its count towards the nation’s 60% postsecondary credential attainment goal. More states are recognizing and rewarding these credentials, and postsecondary institutions are embedding certifications into their degree programs.

But as this evidence grows, no one had pulled it all together. So, Lumina Foundation recently worked with Rutgers University’s Education and Employment Research Center (EERC) to do just that.

This short issue brief summarizes what we know about industry certifications, ranging from earnings data to a variety of innovative programs and partnerships. It also offers guidance for states seeking to design systems to identify high-quality credentials to help learners navigate the fast-changing job market.

We invite you to read the full report and share it with others. Together, we can build on these insights as we help Americans learn, earn, and create a brighter, more stable future.


[Frank Swanzy Essien Jr. is the Strategy Officer for Research at Lumina Foundation. Michelle Van Noy is Associate Director of the Education and Employment Research Center at the School of Management and Labor Relations at Rutgers University.]

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