How Can Professional Certification Benefit Both Your Business and Employees?
Certification is the invisible backbone of your employees’ career progression, and ultimately organisational success. That’s because it’s a facet of continuing education, aka a mutually beneficial business endeavour.
Your employees possess the most up-to-date capabilities, and your business stays competitive with reduced business risk. Sounds good, right? Certification really can be a win-win. But what makes it different from other professional development programs?
In this article, we’ll dive deeper into how certification differs from other forms of employee training, the business and employee benefits, and how to effectively incorporate certification in your L&D programs.
What is certification?
Professional certification refers to a focused training program or assessment that develops skills or knowledge needed to perform their job better. The result of a certification course is a credential that formally attests to an individual’s level of achievement in a job-related set of criteria. Third party institutions are usually responsible for assessment.
Why should you incorporate certification into professional development?
Firstly, certification is not:
- A replacement for an accredited degree
- A substitute for your unique internal employee training
- An alternative to professional experience.
Rather, professional certification is a chance for employees to build on existing knowledge or skillsets and distinguish themselves from uncertified peers in their field. Whereas tertiary degrees are seen as formal education and necessary precursors to many roles, certification is often viewed as an optional subset of training.
Certification as continuing education
Industry-based certification is a rising method of knowledge building for employees. Some studies have shown that certifications can be used to extend credibility into areas one’s degree did not cover in a quicker timeframe. For this reason, it can be a useful tool for bolstering your employee’s skillsets to help meet workforce planning goals and market demands.
Another way that certification can complement employee’s standing expertise is by providing more product or role-specific training. There’s an argument that what is learned through university qualifications, as an example, can be quickly outdated or high-level compared to what an employee actually needs to know in their role—particularly in fields such as IT.
This isn’t to say tertiary education isn’t important (because it is), but let’s consider dentists. They must renew their practitioner registrations and certifications every year to stay up to date on the latest regulations and advancements. Would you go to a dentist whose working knowledge is up to date as of five years ago? Probably not. (As an aside for you to remember for later, said dentist likely wouldn’t be able to charge as much as their certified peers.) Therefore, ongoing upskilling through certified pathways can actually be a shrewd way to ensure skills stay relevant to environmental changes and your organisation stays competitive.
Business benefits of offering employee certification
Offering professional certification for employees often means the organisation is footing the bill, but it is an investment you will want to make.
Look at it as strategic incremental investments. Every time an employee (or employees) seeks another certification, your company’s value rises. Then you will find the following business benefits stacking up over time:
- Happier, more satisfied employees
- Improved productivity
- Increased availability of skills
- Reduced risk.
A happier workforce
Lowers turnover & increases retention
Organisations that ignore their employees’ desire to grow and achieve lofty career goals are likely to find themselves with a disengaged and disloyal workforce. Those that tap into a human need for achievement will help develop motivated individuals who are open to being challenged in study and in the workplace.
Achievement motivation is the specific term used to describe when people are driven by success or accomplishment. It’s not just a metric for learning and development, but one that helps organisations recognise their high achievers and in turn create a continual supply of talent. Consider the following flow-on effects of a happier workforce thanks to certification.
- Satisfied employees are less likely to seek greener pastures elsewhere. Investing in their professional development communicates that they are valuable to and needed at your organisation.
- Less turnover means less disruptions to the pace of work and lowered recruitment and onboarding costs.
- A happy workforce is a healthy workplace. Those employees who are invested in their roles and enthusiastic about their work can inspire their co-workers to act the same. This stamps out resentments, toxicity and even bad management styles that can spread like wildfire when left unchecked.
- Development creates more confident employees. When they’re surer of their skills, having recently reinforced them or built new ones, employees are productive and less likely to make mistakes. This means managers don’t need to micromanage their teams, wasting time that should be spent on strategy in the process.
All this offers your organisation two distinct competitive advantages:
- Development is a valuable employee proposition for potential recruits. For millennials—the largest cohort in the global workforce—the number one factor when considering a company is training. (Training beats out company culture, workplace flexibility, salary and work perks, if you were wondering.)
- Professional certifications give your organisation a measure of the highly skilled and motivated, allowing you to create a talent pipeline. This means your organisation has greater internal mobility and can confidently fill roles thanks to existing employees already possessing the skills you need.
Achieves business goals faster
There’s a widening gap between the companies that take advantage of digitisation and those who resist it. Those who are at the global frontier of efficiency are 3–4 times more productive than their peers. The key lies in combining your human capital with the right technologies—such as learning technologies.
Top performing companies know the importance of developing the right skills in their people. According to IBM, 84% of employees in the best performing organisations say they’re getting the training they need. You don’t even need to be investing huge amounts of time into developing skills and experience; the same study found that when employees completed 40 hours of relevant training (e.g., project management), any project they worked on was three times more likely to meet objectives.
That could mean with just two hours a week worth of relevant study over five months, employees are better equipped to achieve your business goals.
So, we’re not just talking about increased productivity, but improved productivity. This empowers:
- Learning by proxy, or more colloquially, learning by osmosis. This occurs when employees unconsciously learn behaviours, attitudes and skills by working with others who are more experienced. It’s an invisible kind of workplace learning, but one that underpins your culture.
- A wide array of available skills. When done as part of strategic workforce planning, professional certification builds new skills that will underpin productivity. And, again, when you have an abundant pool of capabilities, you’re never short of talent.
- Better team dynamics. Nobody likes working with somebody who doesn’t seem fit for their role. Just one certified professional on a team is one more internal subject matter expert for people to turn to.
Widened talent pool
That increases agility & competitiveness
The skills you have right now will likely be out of date in five years’ time, if not already nearing expiration. Technical skills reach their use-by in just over two. Having the talent you need at any time available all the time is crucial for internal mobility and future-proofing your organisation.
So, if gaps are frequently occurring regardless of your current course of action, you may as well lean into it. Using it as a chance to continually reskill employees in relevant and emerging capabilities helps you pivot towards skills that are durable, transferable and in demand. There’s a rise in “new collar jobs” where employees develop hard and soft skills through non-traditional learning pathways, such as certification courses. It allows you to create the skills and roles you need in emerging business areas—artificial intelligence, people and culture, and content marketing amongst them—without waiting for a wave of graduates traditionally learned in these areas.
Why consider new collar jobs? To avoid unfilled roles, you need to create new pathways for employees as opportunities for your organisation to find talent. You could even find candidates that you hadn’t considered before, simply because they weren’t given the chance to undertake specialist study. Skills, whether new, white or blue collar:
- Drive the growth and evolution of your organisation
- Provide a pipeline of leadership talent
- Give you a competitive edge in your market
- Fortifies your workforce against potential future skills gaps by enabling employees to move between different roles.
Builds brand trust
Client trust is crucial to an organisation’s success. It’s your insurance policy. And having certified employees goes a long way towards boosting or maintaining your reputation.
Titles that relate to certifications (e.g. CA or chartered accountant) or qualifications (think MBA) are key to building a good reputation. Remember our dentist analogy? One study found that the more consumers realise what they don’t know about a topic or problem, the more likely they are to seek out a certified professional—and pay more for their services.
Offering ongoing certification opportunities then becomes an exercise in offering added value to your target audience. It conveys that an employee (or workforce) with professional credentials has attained a level of expertise that someone without certification has not. As there are many voluntary certifications, it also shows initiative to better oneself and the service they provide.
As an aside, companies with a high level of brand trust are allowed to branch out into new areas. Supermarkets can produce magazines, airlines can sell health insurance, social media sites can plug smart glasses. These new ventures are successful because their audience trusts their brand. Ergo, becoming leaders in your space is directly driven by, if not majorly affected, by your organisation’s level of brand trust.
Reduced business risk
Leads to better ROI
You might be tempted to ask, “What if we provide certification for employees and they leave?” After all, it costs as much as 33% of an employee’s annual salary to replace them, another third of which goes towards career development and building institutional knowledge. It’s better if you look at the situation on its head, and ask what will happen if you don’t train them and they stay.
The loss of institutional knowledge, for one, is nothing compared to compartmentalised business information. Zealous guarding of information and fragmented ownership of processes hinder collaboration and make handovers incredibly difficult. Information that can’t be readily and easily accessed (unless via the person who keeps it) can affect the turnaround time of projects and business objectives. It can also damage a collaborative culture and can even cause segregation within teams.
Another way to put the cost of employee certification into perspective is to consider the direct correlation between competency, capabilities and business success. In short: Developing skills based on competency helps build a more resilient workforce. A more nuanced explanation follows that professional certification:
- Gives an organisation a data base of what employees have what skills and any expiration or refresher dates connected to those, which helps managers and HR leaders in particular understand how competent staff are and ensures knowledge is current.
- Allows you to justify higher costs for services—which could even cover the cost of certification in the long run.
- Helps standardise roles and capabilities. This makes workforce planning easier to manage within your own and industry capability frameworks.
Benefits for employees gaining certifications
The skills employees studied so hard for will sadly be outdated quickly. This isn’t on employees; technologies and specialised processes are updated frequently. Even disposition-related skills like project management have a half-life of just over seven years. This is why it’s important to continue learning even after you’ve got a job.
If employees ever want to change roles or companies, they can feel confident in their chances. When putting yourself forward for a role, particularly one that is a step up in responsibility, it’s a real winner for employers if you have skills that can be applied across industries. This includes emotional intelligence (big tick for leadership roles) and digital literacy (because it gives business a leg up). Internally, it makes you more valuable in mergers or if teams are reshuffled. Management will search for transferable skills to fortify their internal mobility or for leadership opportunities.
Why should employees feel positive about their contributions and impact? Being confident in one’s knowledge and abilities equates to better performance, a more positive demeanour and a drive for high-quality work. Without a sense of confidence, you risk becoming a low performer who fears making mistakes, doesn’t take risks and doesn’t reach their full potential.
Proof of learning ethic
This heading may sound strange, but being a certified professional signals you’re a self-starter. Hays found that 77% of employers are more likely to promote a candidate who regularly upskills. On the back of that, added certifications ensures that your skills are modern and industry-relevant. Proactivity is highly desirable to employers; compared to passive peers, proactive employees perform, contribute and innovate better.
Increase earning potential
Along the same lines, having documented qualifications gives employees a differentiator. Add value to the organisation, and you could be rewarded. We know it can be crass to talk money, but just as companies with certified employees can expect to charge more for services or products, certified employees stand to earn more—more than double the standard pay rise for the same role without certification, that is.
Effectively facilitating certification in the workplace
Encouraging employees to seek certification isn’t always the easiest task, considering varying workloads and remote work arrangements. But as we know, continuing education is important to closing skills gaps, keeping your organisation competitive and retaining literally certified talent.
There are few steps to successfully incorporate professional certifications into your employee training programs.
- Set ground rules
- Create goals
- Skills application.
Set ground rules
It’ll be a free for all if you don’t determine guidelines for what certifications your organisation will recognise. You’ll also want to denote the amount of time you’ll allow employees to study during work hours, as well as any cost-related restrictions.
Tie certification back to the training programs you already have in place. Consider compliance training, leadership development, department-specific courses. What certifications could complement those? Are there certain designations that you could only offer through a certified course? This isn’t to say you should shut the door on employees pitching courses they believe would be useful. It’s important to encourage this kind of communication with their managers, and gives employees the autonomy to search for career opportunities.
The importance of choosing trustworthy institutions
Not all industry-recognised training institutions are made equal. Some may not be recognised in different countries, which could be an issue if you operate on an international scale. You’ll want to associate with leading institutions who are universally-trusted and recognised, considering you’ll want the most accurate and high-quality content for employees. Look for those who “set the standard” for industries in both brand reputation and practice.
Much like learning pathways in learning management systems, you want to give meaning to continuing education. You may align certain certificates against a specific profession, which can help create common language for succession and workforce planning amongst employees and executives alike. Plus, goals establish a pace for employees; it gives them a maximum amount of time they can devote to a training program and details timeframes for managers to keep track.
Encourage skills application
Some certifications can be months-long. Information that’s learned in week two may be fuzzy compared to the clarity of resources studied in the final month, which is why you want to encourage employees to implement new ideas, skills and behaviours while still studying. Learning in the flow of work mitigates the forgetting curve, provides a safe environment in which to take risks and forges adaptable mindsets in real-time.
To sum up
Certification focuses on upskilling employees in the latest industry, role or product-relevant capabilities. While many people seek it out themselves, it’s a worthwhile endeavour to incorporate into your existing employee training programs.
Continuing education is a big driver of an organisation’s credibility, potential revenue, and market standing. It can also:
- Create more satisfied employees
- Improve productivity
- Build a culture of lifelong learning amongst staff
- Widen your talent supply
- Reduce your business risk with a pretty good return on investment.
For employees, this all translates to better career opportunities, self-assurance, increased earning potential and validation of their abilities.
And for all its benefits, it needn’t be hard to start offering certification to your employees. Aligning courses with current learning objectives ensures you’re not doubling up on information nor paying for irrelevant courses. Be sure to let employees search for their own opportunities as a way to build trust. It’s also key to encourage employees to apply skills in the workplace while they’re still learning, to bolster their study and convey confidence in their newfound abilities.
Related Reads on This Topic
How a Workshop Can Improve Employee Expertise & Business Performance
Employee workshops have a range of benefits to staff and your business when conducted effectively. Learn about why you should hold workshops in your workplace….
How Cohort Learning is Changing the Game for Future Leadership
Cohort learning is a form of collaborative learning, where individuals collectively pace through a program…
The Value of Executive Development for Future Leaders
Executive development plays a key role in helping prepare and train your executive employees. Find out why and the value it has for your future leaders…