Sticker Face

Certifications and Sticker Face. This is an important topic for our industry. My intent is to deliver this respectfully with a goal of driving more robust solutions in the marketplace.

The challenge is the perceptions around unqualified certifications. A test does not validate the quality of output from an individual. It merely shows that the individual has the capacity to understand and retain information, perhaps some knowledge, and pass a test. The certification, the course, and the test are not the problem. The problem is the perceptions of businesses when it comes to hiring qualified people.

Let’s explore the continuous learning paradigm. Or the lack thereof.

Do you have sticker face? You know, a bunch of certifications? The motivations behind certifications vary, but let’s explore the full intent of the consumer. We all know the motivations of the companies offering them. Here are some general reasons why people obtain certifications.

  • Learn new skills
  • Increase marketability for jobs
  • Forced to by management or the market

However, what is often lost in the race to the top of the pyramid is real and practical experience using those skills in a controlled environment. For millennia, the master carpenter trained budding carpenters for years before the journeyman emerged.

In today’s model, certifications are handed out like newspapers.

Shiny new labels, err, certifications

Are you here?


or here?

Le Mans-winning Ford GT.

I’d rather hire the jalopy. At least it has some experience.

We all must acknowledge some vanity in our achievement of certifications. I’m as guilty as anyone, reluctantly. The certifications are only the labels. They simply equate to your race car being dressed for the occasion, like the two time Le Man winning Ford GT. Now you have to pass technical inspections and enter the race.

Fixing Perceptions

It is the economics. The reason why companies don’t address this critical issue. No one really wants to invest their hard earned money in skills development. Or at least, individuals are reluctant to unless they perceive clear market drivers for the investment. Everyone wants someone else to pay for it. That discussion is for another article so let us go with an economic motivation for stopping investment at certification.

But wait, oops. Businesses spend an enormous amount of time and money (same thing eh?) recruiting “qualified” people. In our industry, the certification gets you a peek in the door.

The certification *probably* has a well thought out and structured approach to learning and solid thought leadership behind it. The certification isn’t the root cause.

The root cause is that the process becomes unstructured and highly subjective after the certification checkbox.

This is the reason why most high-level positions are hired through existing networks and channels. It isn’t because of the recruiting firm “validating” performance with even more pointless testing and gauntlets of mediocrity. The hiring manager probably knows the candidate and has observed the outputs/outcomes of their performance. So their mental model returns a positive on hiring as uncertainty is very low!

Possible Solutions

  1. Don’t stop certifying people
  2. Organizations must invest in creating a structured approach to training, validating and qualifying people
  3. Break down the mental models that drive organizational behavior and perceptions supporting the idea that certification = qualification.
  4. Certification mills: Step 1: certification. Step 2: let’s create qualification mills. We used to call it college, but that is a crap shoot anymore and prohibitively expensive. Tech schools do a better job of this. The Lean-Agile industry needs more tech schools.

Published by Marshall Guillory -

Information Technology professional, transformation leader, agile evangelist & coach, change agent, scrum master, servant leader and more...

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