Are We Drowning in Over-Certification?
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Licenses are an important part of our civilized existence. While it may be a simple piece of plastic or paper, it often signifies that you’re qualified to do something. If I show you my driver’s license, I’m showing that I passed a test that says I’m qualified to drive on the road. If someone shows you their admission to practice law, that means that they’re qualified to be a lawyer (which is definitely something that you’d want to see before trusting them to defend you in court). While licenses and certificates can be great for something like driving or a professional occupation, can licensing go too far?
One problem that prospective job seekers are having is a certification gap. A certification gap is the gap between the amount of people who are currently in the work force that don’t have a certain certification (like a Bachelor’s degree) and the amount of job listings that require that certification. For instance, for management positions such as production supervisors, 68% of job listings require a 4 year bachelor’s degree, but 42% of managers in that bracket have one, leaving a 26% credential gap (Burning Glass). The credential gap hits potential workers the hardest in so-called “middle skill” jobs such as sales representatives and secretaries. The only job family where there is no credentials gap is the healthcare sector, which includes nurses and radiologists.
This credentials gap has proven to be a burden on both potential employees and employers. For people looking for a job straight out of high school, it has become nearly impossible to find a middle-level job. In the past, someone would probably have been able to get the same job and just learned the particulars through experience (Washington Post). Even associates’ degrees are not always cutting it for employees. Some jobs do admittedly require some amount of knowledge and certification before entering the job that wasn’t required before. However, with a steep competition for jobs, job recruiters have been using degrees and certification as an instant screening tool, which can kick out people who never got their degree or couldn’t afford to go to college. With a rising amount of people unable to get their foot in the door and a number of workers aging out of the workforce, employers will need to start re-evaluating what certification is genuinely required to do an adequate job.
Licensure has also become a bigger issue. Over the past 40 years, the percentage of workers who require a license has multiplied by 2.5 in the past 45 years (The Atlantic). While part of it may be attributed to more complex work, some have argued that some of these licenses are excessive, such as a florist or interior designer license. Does one need to spend hours of time and money to get a certificate or actually get some real world experience?
Licensure and certification can be an important way to make sure a potential employee is fully qualified to safely do a job, but certificate and license inflation has created a big certification gap in some job sectors. This puts potential employees in a rough spot as they try to weigh getting a degree they may not be able to afford versus losing employment opportunities. As important as licensing can be, we may need to have to re-examine how to assess a potential employee beyond a B.A. degree, especially if the job doesn’t necessarily require the skills that one would learn during a four-year education. Letting the credentials gap grow will only create a disparity between those who can’t find employment and people aging out of the profession, creating unnatural vacancies. Perhaps we need to look beyond the certificate and start looking at the actual person.