Does Certification Matter?

As a manager, I’m often faced with the question of what requirements we should put into a job description when we are ready to hire a person. Experience is always the easiest one to figure out. You think about how senior the position is and then you base years of experience or type of experiences on that. Education and industry certifications are different and always cause a lively discussion. Do people really need them? Do they matter?

I make the argument that, yes, they do matter, and here is why.

I consider AVIXA certifications, the CTS, CTS-I and CTS-D to be the gold standards. Having these certifications immediately shows a number of things to me. It tells that the person has at least considered project management issues, customer service issues and the basics of AV design. I have worked with numerous people who have taken these tests. They have ranged from over 25 years in the industry to five years. Every one of them had to do some studying to pass the test. They are not simply a meaningless hurdle to clear.

I have heard others argue that the test wants you to answer questions in a specific way and often these are not ways you would actually do the work. That is actually a bonus to me, when considering how the certifications provide value. It means that you have had to put in critical thought to how you do something, versus how the certification committee thinks it should be done. It also means that you have enough knowledge of and experience in the industry to make that judgement. Finally, it means that you are knowledgeable to make an informed decision about whether the test is correct. In the end, it’s developing that critical thought process that certification is all about.

The comment that I find the most frustrating is, “I have worked with people who have these certifications and they don’t know what they are doing.” They present this argument as though one or two people somehow represent the other thousands of people with the certifications. Interestingly enough, the people saying this are often people who don’t have certifications of their own. When I hear this, I wonder who does not know what they are doing.

Certifications also show a certain level of commitment. It shows that the person studied and passed the exams. It also shows that they are continuing to keep up to date on their education, as needed to keep their certification. We all know that in a busy organization, this is not easy to do, for the individual or for the business. Doing it shows a commitment by the individual to continually learn, and by the business to provide time and expense for that person to grow. If I am going to do business with a firm, that is the type I want to do business with.

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We are also fortunate in our industry to have so many manufacturer-specific training and certifications. Often, the manufacturers do “sell” their products during the training, but that is part of how it works and not a reason to avoid taking the training. Having taken part in training from manufacturers, I absolutely learned the value of direct training. In a previous life, I did some computer programming and thought that this would easily translate to programming systems. In many ways it did. However, after taking the manufacturer-specific training it was clear to me that there were better and quicker ways to get things done. I didn’t know what I didn’t know. I have seen this experience repeat itself with all the people we have sent to training. They come back with new knowledge that they wouldn’t have had otherwsie.

Despite the value that certification provides the customer, it also provides the individual great value. Yes, you can certainly work your way up through the industry and become skilled without certification. But by doing so, you are relying on the knowledge and experience of others. How do you know you are learning things the best way, unless you have some other experience to compare it to?

It is my opinion and argument that certifications do matter and that firms and individuals should actively seek out those certifications that are applicable to the work they do. I also believe that architectural firms and customers should make these certifications part of requirements on bids. If you think the industry is not providing the correct value with these certifications, you should speak up. Get involved; get on the certification committees. Make the changes you believe need to be made. Everyone knows this industry, like many, is rapidly evolving. If people are not staying constantly up to date, they are not providing value to their customers.