A quick perusal of recent popular press articles on higher education reveals an ongoing criticism – these programs deliver less than perfect labor market returns on investment (ROI). As federally funded student aid rules change, higher education programs are feeling additional pressure to demonstrate ROI. This pressure is not surprising. A recent Training Industry study confirms that the labor pool is not well prepared for the workplace, with only 11 percent of organizations reporting the labor pool fully meets their current and future hiring needs. Similarly, a recent Gallup study showed that only 6 percent of Americans with college degrees believe they are prepared for workforce success.

Also troubling, the number of higher education programs appears to be waning. Many public university systems are eliminating programs in response to budget cuts and educational programs appear to be taking the brunt of this blow.

Still, learning opportunities outside of formal education abound. In an era of webinars, massive open online courses (MOOCs) and numerous other personal learning opportunities, learners represent the primary drivers of their own learning paths. Individuals recognizing development needs can improve their workforce readiness by opting in to these types of learning events. However, it remains unclear whether or not these events are delivering value. That is, are learners gaining the knowledge, skills and abilities (KSAs) they need to enhance their job performance and realize their goals? Research shows that for most MOOCs, less than 13 percent of learners complete the course. Moreover, these opt-in personal learning events generally lack validation of the types of KSAs that learners purportedly obtain.

Certification programs provide a solution to this dilemma. Not only do these programs offer targeted learning to address specific skills gaps, they also tend to require less resources than traditional degree programs, in the form of time and monetary commitment.

While the question of whether certification programs or higher education degrees best address skills gaps is often debated, this is generally not an either/or proposition. Although 41 percent of Americans agree that obtaining a professional certificate can open doors to high quality jobs sans post-secondary education, 59 percent are more dubious. Instead, these types of programs tend to pick up where higher education leaves off. They offer the opportunity to identify areas of weakness in one’s professional portfolio of KSAs and target those areas for development. Additionally, they proffer the chance to authenticate an already extensive KSA portfolio. By completing a certification program, learners demonstrate expertise that is validated by a certifying body. The value of these additional programs lies in enhanced career mobility and advancement, as well as a more skilled workforce. Individuals with certification in their respective fields receive six times more profile views on LinkedIn. Further, 90 percent of organizational leaders perceive HR certification to be beneficial. It’s clear that these programs add value and are helping to prepare the labor pool for the jobs of today and the future.

Check out Training Industry’s Certified Professional in Training Management (CPTM) program to find out how you can obtain credentials in training.