Certifications Make Students Career-Ready

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Friday, September 22, 2023
By PeopleCert
Photo by iStock/katleho Seisa
Certification programs in high-demand areas fill the skills gaps that corporations face, while making graduates more employable.

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  • Many of today’s job-seekers don’t have the skills employers want, and that problem will worsen as technological advancements accelerate changes to business practices across industries.
  • Schools can prepare graduates for the workplace by pairing degree programs with microcredential programs in areas such as project management, process improvement, and information technology.
  • PeopleCert enables institutions to deliver industry credentials in business fundamentals and IT, and it also provides testing in language proficiency.

Today’s students are making more informed choices about what and where to study—or whether continued study is suitable for them at all—based on the outcomes they expect and the value they hope to get for their money.

At the same time, employers increasingly expect graduates to have the knowledge and skills that allow them to make meaningful contributions as soon as they’re hired. And organizations around the world are seeking to fill skills gaps that have emerged in the post-pandemic era. They’re also looking for workers who can help them accelerate their digitization and automation programs.

Business schools can meet the needs of both students and employers by offering professional, best-practice certifications that equip graduates with the skills that companies require. When schools offer microcredentials in business fundamentals and information technology, as well as testing in language proficiency, they increase graduate employability and help businesses meet their most pressing challenges.

Matching the Skills Industry Demands

Why are microcredentials so important for today’s higher education providers and the graduates who are poised to join the workforce? McKinsey Global Institute summarizes the situation in a May 2022 report. “The job openings that exist are typically for higher-skilled positions and many people who are looking for work don’t have the skill sets employers are looking for…it’s a structural mismatch within the job market—and one that is growing more urgent as the adoption of automation technologies accelerates.”

According to the McKinsey article, one way to address the problem is to move “away from the old paradigm of four-year degrees and shift towards skills-based recruiting and more modular and targeted training and educational programs.”

Students who earn these credentials will have an advantage when they start their jobs, because they will already have the professional capabilities currently in demand.

Schools can work toward this goal by embedding global best-practice certifications into higher education curricula and running these offerings in parallel with core undergraduate and postgraduate studies. Students who earn these credentials will have an advantage when they start their jobs, because they will already have the professional capabilities currently in demand, such as project management, risk management, and process improvement. As a result, from the start of their employment, they will be speaking the professional “language” their organizations need.

That professional “language” usually extends to the spoken and written word. Non-native speakers who are pursuing higher education in English-speaking countries or seeking jobs in multinational companies generally need to prove their competence in English. International students with proven knowledge in English can participate in the large skilled migration programs some countries run to attract tradespeople and professionals from other nations.

Students who have earned qualifications in current best practices, have been certified as proficient in English, and have attained their first degrees or completed their postgraduate studies will find they have increased their opportunities to find internships, part-time jobs, and full-time employment in their chosen fields.

Embedding Certifications Into the Curriculum

Higher educational institutions in the U.S. and South America are already taking the approach of combining academic studies with professional training in the same higher education setting.

For instance, Texas A&M University in College Station and the University of Texas at Dallas (UTD) both have embedded ITIL 4 into their curricula. ITIL is a globally recognized and adopted IT service management framework, supported by an extended certification scheme.

At Texas A&M, students are studying ITIL 4 Foundation. As Dave Sweeney, director for information technology, says, “Before we incorporated ITIL 4 into our technology management program, our graduates would be technically competent, but they’d need to get additional training later. Having it as part of the curriculum is now an advantage for them in the job market. Recognizing the value of ITIL certification at the undergraduate level is not about becoming a trade school, but about preparing students for their future jobs.”

Sweeney points to the value of having students develop both technical skills and people skills. With additional professional training, he says, graduates know how to “talk to customers and sponsors, how to frame strategy, and how to manage vendors.”

At UTD, ITIL 4 Foundation training for students has been in play for more than two years. When the idea was suggested to the dean of the Naveen Jindal School of Management, he responded, “Why are we not doing this already?”

Making Students Career-Ready

When students have professional certifications, “it’s easier for them to relate to what employers are looking for and to ask for top-dollar pay,” says Gaurav Shekhar, program director for the MS in Business Analytics at UTD. Shekhar, who has ITIL training himself, was instrumental in introducing the certification to his school. “ITIL is one of the most-needed skills and certifications, according to the World Skills report,” he says.

By offering certification in commonly used industry tools, Shekhar says, UTD is not only evolving its curriculum, but also improving students’ work-readiness. Students can draw on the knowledge they’ve gained in these certificate programs to solve the challenges that companies bring into the UTD classrooms. “We’re creating an environment which mimics how industry operates,” he explains.

"A student well-educated with degrees and certifications is not only ready for the future of work, but also can demonstrate fluidity in learning."
—Paul Bujak, Saint Xavier University

What’s more, certification programs are successful across the spectrum of higher education institutions and student demographics in the U.S. For example, Saint Xavier University in Chicago—whose students come from mostly ethnic minority and white, blue-collar backgrounds—has adopted ITIL and PRINCE2 in its Graham School of Management. PRINCE2 is one of the most widely adopted project management methods in the world.

While students from Ivy League and other top-tier institutions benefit from their schools’ prestigious reputations and extensive alumni networks, students who earn professional certifications have their own distinct advantages, says Paul Bujak, adjunct professor and project manager in supply chain IT at Saint Xavier.

“The combination of a business degree and professional certification makes them extremely marketable,” he says. “A student well-educated with degrees and certifications is not only ready for the future of work, but also can demonstrate fluidity in learning.”

Certification programs can extend well beyond IT and project management. Ohio-based Kettering College, which specializes in health science education, has recently introduced the Lean Six Sigma course and certification for staff and students. Because Lean Six Sigma focuses on process improvement, the aim is to ensure process excellence is part of everything the college does.

Another example is the Colombian School of Engineering Julio Garavito in Bogotá, which now offers ITIL 4, PRINCE2, and the Agile product delivery method, Scrum. Again, the school’s goal is to help students gain employment and to plug skills gaps in industry and commerce.

Incorporating Professional Certifications

Arguably, one of the key roles for universities today is providing students with training in professional competencies and expertise. That’s especially true because the skills that industry demands change with such regularity and at such a fast pace. When students can learn best practice methods and earn professional certifications while they are studying core curricula, they will gain the skills they need both to obtain employment and to add significant value once they’re on the job.

If universities want to offer their students training and certification in project management, risk management, and IT skills—or if they want to provide testing in English language proficiency—they can turn to PeopleCert.

PeopleCert’s Accredited Academic Partner program enables higher education institutions to deliver a range of valuable industry credentials and language testing. The process includes a simple accreditation that gives access to certifications such as ITIL, PRINCE2, Scrum, and Lean Six Sigma. And LanguageCert, a member of the PeopleCert group, provides testing and certification to individuals who need to demonstrate their language proficiency.

In addition to course materials and learning resources, the program offers live, virtual, hybrid, or self-paced training, available with special pricing and student discounts.

When students can learn best practice methods and earn professional certifications while they are studying core curricula, they will gain the skills they need both to obtain employment and to add significant value once they’re on the job.

Higher education institutions now recognize that graduates need to be career-ready when they’re moving into their first post-study roles. There are many benefits when schools enhance their educational offerings by offering training in professional, work-based best practices. Students get an extra boost to their employability that they can add to the knowledge they’ve gained in their degree studies. Students also are able to justify their significant investments in education because they know they will be able to achieve meaningful and well-remunerated employment following their studies.

Through PeopleCert’s range of certifications, students can gain better employment, individuals who are changing jobs can update their skill set, and working professionals can improve their career prospects. And when educational institutions provide such certifications, their graduates will be career-ready when they move into their first post-study roles.

For more information about becoming a PeopleCert Education Partner, please email [email protected].

The views expressed by contributors to AACSB Insights do not represent an official position of AACSB, unless clearly stated.
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