Creating a Successful Certification Program through Education and Industry Collaboration

According to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, 74% of hiring managers agree that there is a skills gap in the current labor market, with 48% saying that candidates lack the skills needed to fill open jobs. These statistics continue to rise, leading industry and education to discuss how to improve the alignment between curriculum taught in the classroom and skills required in the workforce.

A large part of this conversation is how industry-recognized certification in the classroom can help close this gap. However, implementing and maintaining a successful certification program can become a challenge due to state legislation, restrictive funding, and a lack of support from the various parties involved.

To discuss these challenges and why it is important to specifically leverage Microsoft Office Specialist certifications, we sat down with:

  • Kathy Schmidt, Customer Success Manager for CCI Learning and ten-year veteran educator.
  • Linda Brown, Computer Science Coordinator for Washington Country School District.
  • Kevin Bernstein, Global Practice Lead – Governance, Change Management, Adoption, and Service Success Management at SoftwareONE

View highlights of this discussion below and find the full recording here.

Show students the relevance of certification

One of the biggest tips that our panelists recommended for educators to implement is to have their students understand the “why” behind certification. Learners need to be able to see the impact that certification can have on their own personal and professional journey.

One easy way to do this is sharing other students’ successes through certification. There are countless stories of how Microsoft Office Specialist certification empowers students to get a job at fifteen, earn a promotion at work, and start their own business.

Another way to bring in the purpose of certification is to collaborate with local businesses. Through collaborating with local businesses, students can see how companies operate, and even open the door for paid internships and career opportunities.

“Employers seem to be wanting kids to have these certifications. I would like to see the employers coming in via Zoom into the actual classroom and giving students challenges,” said Linda Brown during the panel discussion. She continued to explain how educators’ partner with local businesses to assign projects with real-life instructions and deadlines. Through these project-based assignments, students can validate their skills in a real-life job setting.

Additionally, this real-world experience will provide context to the certification exams themselves. Each Microsoft Office Specialist exam includes job scenarios and projects that reflect employers needs and requests.

Educators need to get certified

“The first thing I tell educators is get certified,” said Kathy Schmidt. “Get certified, get certified, get certified. It carries so much weight.”

When educators are certified themselves, they can see what is on the exam and it will change the way they teach the material. It will empower them to tweak projects, as well as glean from their personal experience to create a more engaging learning environment. Even if the educator has no prior industry experience, they can build up trust with their students by letting them know that they also took the exam, and it was difficult.

Leverage stackable credentials and digital badging

Another tip from our panelists was to continue to encourage learners to reach for the next level and earn stackable credentials. If your students have already earned their Microsoft Office Specialist – Associate, encourage them to work towards their Microsoft Office Specialist – Expert.

Through leveraging stackable credentials, learners can continue to build their foundational skills and develop the necessary career skills requested in industry. Additionally, Kevin Bernstein noted it will instill confidence in the student and give them a powerful tool for their resume and LinkedIn profile. Once they pass their certification exams, students can easily add digital badges to their LinkedIn profiles to showcase their achievements to employers.

Communication, communication, communication

The biggest component of making a successful certification program is the communication from all levels of the education system and professional industry. This includes:

  • Students and teachers discussing why certification is important and how students can leverage their certifications.
  • Educators communicating with their CTE Directors and principals about their classroom achievements, important resources needed, and the impact of certification.
  • CTE Directors and principals communicating on the district level on how certification meets state standards.
  • Industry experts communicating to the Department of Education on the skill gaps they are seeing in the workforce to help shape and change state education standards.

Kathy Schmidt explains that it is important to understand how each level of the education system operates and the mindset of the different decision-makers on each level. For instance, when she is talking to a state CTE Director or her Business Pathways Director they are always looking at the legislative angle. How can they meet state standards or communicate what they are doing? With this information, she can collaborate with educators to showcase how Microsoft Office Specialist certification fits into this part of the system.

“When there is a stop anywhere in the flow [of this communication chain] there’s a problem,” mentioned Kathy Schmidt. “And somebody bears the brunt of that problem.” It is important to identify the stopgap and communicate with all parties involved to prove the importance of certification and ensure that students are successful. Not only is it important for the education system to communicate on all levels, but for the industry to be a part of the conversation.

“Teachers are the ones who teach what they’re told to teach,” expressed Linda Brown. “But what needs to happen is businesses need to take a look at the standards for the courses that they believe map to their business that they're looking to scout students to hire.”

By combining the above elements, educators can inspire their students and showcase the true impact of obtaining an industry certification. It will also help bridge the skills gap between education and industry leading to a more successful future for learners and businesses. Clear and open communication is pivotal to truly unleash the power of certification.

Ready to discover the power of industry certification? Learn more about Microsoft Office Specialist here.