Understanding Certifications: New Report Now Available


As millions of workers look for new jobs and careers during turbulent economic times, a new report offers insights about certifications—one type of credential that can offer high value in the job market. The report, “Understanding Certifications,is a collaboration among Corporation for a Skilled Workforce (CSW), George Washington Institute of Public Policy (GWIPP), and Workcred (an affiliate of the American National Standards Institute), and was made possible by a grant from Lumina Foundation.

The report offers a comprehensive overview of the diverse landscape of certifications. It covers their purpose, who awards them, what value they provide, ways to assess quality, and how they align with educational pathways. It also frames questions about the future of certifications.

“Certifications are the least understood credential in the marketplace,” said Larry Good, CSW president and CEO. “This report is aimed at making them easier for policymakers and practitioners to understand.”

Awarded by industry groups, professional associations, and companies, certifications have the potential to be useful tools in addressing re-employment, re-deployment, and re-education challenges that workers face in the current labor market. Certifications are based on an individual demonstrating through an examination that she or he has acquired the knowledge, skills, and abilities required to perform a specific occupation or job. More than 6,700 different certifications are currently awarded to millions of workers nationally. Yet, many employers, workers, students, policymakers, and education and workforce development practitioners know little about the use and value of certifications.

“We published this overview of what’s known about certifications because it’s important to understand their value at a time when workers, companies, and educators are all scrambling to make changes that help them adjust to rapidly changing labor markets during and post-pandemic,” said GWIPP research professor Stephen Crawford.

High-quality certifications are based on a third-party oral, written, or performance-based assessment. They require recertification and are therefore time-limited, and can be revoked for proven incompetence or violation of a code of ethics.

“This report illuminates the rigor it takes to produce high-quality certifications and why they are among the most reliable credentials industry can depend on,” said Roy Swift, executive director of Workcred.

The report is part of a larger research project intended to untangle the complexities of certifications by providing policymakers, practitioners, employers, and funders with a clear picture of the patterns and trends among certifications, as well as how they currently or could interrelate with other parts of the credentialing ecosystem. The study, scheduled to be completed late in 2021, will examine, in-depth, selected certifications in four industries/occupational areas: healthcare, information technology, cybersecurity, and manufacturing.

Access the report, “Understanding Certifications,” and stay up to date on project progress here.

About Corporation for a Skilled Workforce

CSW catalyzes change in educational and labor market systems and practices to increase economic mobility, particularly for people of color and others historically excluded from success. We focus on achieving scalable improvements in worker skills, lifelong learning, and job quality. CSW collaborates with change makers to develop strategies, identify evidence to inform strategies, build the capacity of organizations, manage initiatives, and evaluate lessons learned.

About George Washington Institute of Public Policy

The George Washington Institute of Public Policy (GWIPP) is George Washington University's hub for interdisciplinary social science research on public policy issues. Its faculty includes research professors with deep expertise in labor economics and workforce development. GWIPP played a leading role in the development of Credential Engine, currently manages the nation-wide Non-Degree Credentials Research Network, and recently launched its Program on Skills, Credentials and Workforce Policy. 

About Workcred

Formed in 2014, Workcred is an affiliate of the American National Standards Institute (ANSI). Its mission is to strengthen workforce quality by improving the credentialing system, ensuring its ongoing relevance, and preparing employers, workers, educators, and governments to use it effectively. Workcred's vision is a labor market that relies on the relevance, quality, and value of workforce credentials for opportunities, growth, and development.

About Lumina Foundation

Lumina Foundation is an independent, private foundation in Indianapolis that is committed to making opportunities for learning beyond high school available to all. The foundation envisions a system that is easy to navigate, delivers fair results, and meets the nation’s need for talent through a broad range of credentials. Lumina’s goal is to prepare people for informed citizenship and for success in a global economy.