Bona Fides for Every Job

June 18, 2008

IT department employees aren’t the only people who can get a string of letters behind their names. Today, anyone from a secretary to a CPA to the manager running a company’s employee rewards program can take courses leading up to a certification.

    Robert Half International, a Menlo Park, California-based staffing firm, lists 40 certifications in administrative, accounting and finance alone. Secretaries can become certified administrative professionals through the International Association of Administrative Professionals. CPAs can take additional courses from the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants to be certified information technology professionals. HR payroll specialists can become certified through the American Payroll Association.

    Certiport, a certification company in American Fork, Utah, helped Microsoft roll out the Microsoft Office specialist certification 10 years ago and recently created a digital literacy certification for people who have mastered basic computer and Internet skills and software. Certiport has awarded more than 5.3 million certifications and keeps a running total on the front page of its Web site.

    Certifications can bump up salaries, and for temp workers they can be the difference between bouncing from job to job and getting hired on somewhere permanently, says Certiport CEO David Saedi.

    Certiport also offers certification classes at Navajo Nation community centers in Utah in a program to help high school students and other tribe members gain computer and Internet skills. "It’s another way of empowering underserved populations," Saedi says.
After a handful of companies created the position of chief recognition officer, it was only natural that a certification program should follow, says Christi Gibson, executive director of Recognition Professionals International, an industry association based in Naperville, Illinois.

    RPI created a one-year recognition professional certification program in 2006. Since then, 84 students have passed the exam, including executives at Abbott Laboratories, Amtrak, BMW, Boeing, DirecTV and Verizon. Another 240 are taking courses, Gibson says. Amtrak was so pleased with the results that it promoted its employee rewards program manager to a C-level position. "If she didn’t have the certification, she wouldn’t have had everyone’s ear," Gibson says.

    Some companies pay for certifications. Tyler Technologies’ EDEN division, in Renton, Washington, is paying for employees who are working on project management and HR certifications, says Connie Shaw, the company’s HR manager.

    And some organizations make earning certifications part of an employee’s annual performance goals. "This isn’t subjective, so it’s a perfect way to benchmark accomplishments," Certiport’s Saedi says.

    The majority of people who hold a project management professional certification are in IT-related fields, but that’s changing. Michelle LaBrosse, a PMP expert, author, training company founder and herself a PMP, sees more people in engineering, law, facilities management and marketing getting PMPs.

    Any department that spends money on short-term projects can use a PMP, says LaBrosse, with Cheetah Learning in Carson City, Nevada. In marketing, for example, "If they did better project management they could spend less money and get better results," she says.