I had a conversation last week with a prospective new student when he posed this very poignant question, “What is better to have — specific certifications, a college degree, or relevant work experience?” I have heard this question quite often and have actually had the opportunity to bounce it off our Program Advisory Committee. The answer I always receive, and give out, “…it depends.”
Every employer wants to hire a person that has intimate knowledge, skills, and ability in the exact area of the discipline for which they need an employee for. The more specialized the discipline, the more coveted the person with the specialized experience becomes and wages escalate – regardless of any certifications or degrees the person may have. Explicit experience therefore trumps anything else. But what happens when the employer cannot find anyone with the exact experience required?
All things being equal when it comes to certifications and other area experience, the next determining factor will be the educational level of the candidate for employment. Anecdotally, I have heard of 22 year old software developers — fresh out of college — that are receiving excellent salaries based on their recent education. While earning a degree is still the gold standard, employers are also looking for relevant applied experience more than a piece of paper. So why not simply study a specific discipline and receive the associative certificate?
Certifications are developed to assure the competency of persons in the discipline, or skill set, for which they are awarded. When an employer is looking to hire for a specific set of duties related to a discipline for which there is a certification, then of course they are looking for an individual with the specific certification…or relevant experience. Everyone would like to have the “alphabet soup” of certifications after their name (e.g. MSTS, CCNA, MSCE, ACP, CBIP, CCP, CDMP, ISA, etc.) but what I hear from employers is that they are looking for these certifications in addition to education and experience.
So, what did I recommend to the prospective new student? I told him that employers are looking for candidates that have the knowledge, skills, and ability required for the position. And…every employer mentioned wanting “well rounded and communicable” employees. I recommended that the student come to college and get a broad based education, along with specific certifications, and get some demonstrable experience through our praxis programs such as a service learning project.