starting a Training Certification Program

I develop curriculum for the external customers of a software vendor.  We are often asked by these folks for a certification on our software.  We do not currently offer a certification program, and we're not even sure if we want to start one (for many reasons).  What I would like to do is start researching the idea more in depth, but I'm struggling to find a few good resources that delve into 1) the pros/cons of a certification program, 2) once you decide to start one, what are the implementation considerations, and 3) tips on maintaining the program.

Have any of you started a training certification program and would like to share your thoughts?

Anyone know of any good resources for me?  (books, organizations, blogs, seminars, training classes, etc.)


Thanks!

Heather

6 Replies
Bruce Graham

When I worked with Oracle, I was involved to some degree in dicsussions on Certification, I forget now which software it covered. At the time, one of the biggest discussions/areas of debate was the "Internal" vs. "External" certification model. The partner at that time was Sylvan-Prometric (you can see a 2000 study - http://www.prometric.com/itstudy/html/introduction.htm).

In these debates, and in future companies that looked at this, one main focus was on value

Why have a Certification Programme - if you have one, is it VALUED by the outside world, or are you merely doing it so that you can check your own internal skills levels?

The thing about Certification (IMHO), is what's the purpose? It used to be for example, that people valued certain (Microsoft) certifications - it was a benchmark of the skill that you were getting. I have also sat in meetings where people (in essence) said "They are 2 a penny".

It's a bit like my other love - just because someone is a member of The Magic Circle does not, in any way, guarantee that they are a decent magician! It just means they can do a trick or two, (I did not use the word "perform" for good reason....).

One company I worked at discussed certification as a way to sell more of their product. I pointed out that their strategy, (self-certification), was unlikely to develop that "trust" they were looking for, and that they needed to use an external certifier/exam board if they really wanted to develop this. As it turned out, their motivations were much more centered around trying to validate their own sales/pre-sales technical experience, because they had no mechanisms in place to do so.

If this makes sense, then you could probably do a lot worse than make contact with Prometric, and have a discussion with them, after all, this is what they do.

You may want to have a wander around the Oracle OTN boards at https://forums.oracle.com/forums/category.jspa?categoryID=48 , you might be able to dig up some ideas.

Hope these ideas help to get you started.

Bruce

Heather Steckley

Thanks for the feedback and offers to help.  We currently offer several industry classes and product classes to our customers.  They want to be able to say they're certified on our product.  It's one of the top requests we get from our customers.  We do not currently offer a certification.  We only give them a certificate of attendance of each class.

My biggest concern with a certification program is needing to be able to evaluate their level of proficiency on a regular basis.  After a new release comes out (twice a year), we will have to continually offer a re-certification program & evaluation to maintain their certification.  Also, once a program exists, anyone at any time could claim to have the certification.  We're worried how that will reflect on our company if people are in the market saying we certified them on our product.

Basically, I'm hoping to do some research on certification programs to help our leadership team make an informed decision on if we can overcome these issues or if we shouldn't pursue creating a certification program.

Do you know of any books such as "All you need to know about starting a training certification program"? 

j b

Well, if you can charge enough to cover all the costs, and it will help sell more software, why not?  The ultimate questions is this, 'Will this contribute to profits?"  To obtain a reasonable estimation, you must create a decision-making tool, determine factors and measurable variables, adding what makes sense.  Some people have to put a column in for "VP's really like it" and given that a point value!

I suggest maybe outsourcing it, if a 'we'll build your certification' company is around.   Otherwise call and talk to some orgs willing to discuss the topic.  Clearly most do it for the money and credibility (such as Microsoft and Cisco - where tests are very twisted and designed to trip up the student, not necessarily provide an honest test), and others more for the credibility (hopefully this means doctors and lawyers for example).  You'll also get 'brain dumps' where all the questions will be advertised, so it's best to use a 'testing center' to ensure cheating is eliminated, or doing screen prints, etc.

Does your boss or executive support the research?  If yes, then I suggest first create a framework for making a decision, like making rules before you play the game... and then conform the documentation, etc., to the framework.  Sample KPI's may include 'client interest level', 'survey results', estimated build-out and maintenance costs (time, costs, resources, etc.) for initial roll-out and long-term support.  KPI's may include company credibility (via user certification).  Most of it could be automated.

Once you determine YES.... then let's build an awesome multimedia certification test!  Once you get the main template, design it so that changes will not be as painful (as you may think).

I know certs have cost me thousands upon thousands.