CSW Launches National Certification Study

February 12, 2020

A two-year, comprehensive study of industry and occupational certifications is being undertaken by Corporation for a Skilled Workforce (CSW), Workcred, and George Washington University (GWU), funded by Lumina Foundation. 

The purpose of the study is to provide policymakers, practitioners, employers, and funders with a clearer picture of the dimensions, patterns, and trends among certifications, as well as how they currently or could interrelate with other parts of the credentialing ecosystem.

"Certifications are the least understood and studied type of credential," said CSW president Larry Good. "Our team seeks to provide a solid baseline about the dynamics of certifications and inform their improved use." 

During the study, the research team will examine certifications in seven industries/occupations, including some that have been previously studied and some that have not. Among the dimensions the team will explore: the purpose of the certification, its relationship to education and employment, the scale of use and customer expressed value, quality assurance, and transparency. The team will use the seven industries/occupations being studied to build an integrated picture of the continuum of certifications in use in the United States. 

This research study will shed light on the current and potential roles for industry and professional certifications as a means of representing competencies attained, and as a vehicle for increasing labor-market mobility. The study will also explore where certifications present the risk of being dead-end credentials that can limit access to opportunity, and how to instead ensure certifications serve as part of lifelong pathways for advancement. 

"Certifications are one of the most important and fastest growing credentials today," said Roy Swift, Ph.D., Workcred executive director. "As certifications require individuals to recertify and update knowledge on an ongoing basis, it is the only 'lifelong' credential that can continually adapt to the fast and ever-changing workforce. This in-depth study will serve to highlight the use, quality, and effectiveness of certifications in achieving the goals of lifelong learning."

The study team is currently searching for relevant prior reports and data sources. "Since the certification landscape and information about it is so fragmented, the directors of this study welcome any suggestions that others may care to offer regarding relevant reports, data sources and developments," said Stephen Crawford, research professor at GWU's Institute of Public Policy. 

"Lumina Foundation is thrilled to support this vital research project on industry and occupational certifications," said Courtney Brown, Lumina's vice president of strategic impact. "With nearly 5,500 certification programs in today's educational marketplace -- not counting licensures, apprenticeships, and badges -- it's important that we paint a clear picture of the complex mosaic of industry and occupational certifications that can inform their use by employers, jobseekers, educators, policymakers, industry/professional associations and researchers." 

About CSW
CSW catalyzes transformative change in education, economic, and workforce development through research and action. A 28-year-old nonprofit, CSW is dedicated to reimagining work and learning as a means to increase economic opportunity and sustainable prosperity across the nation. CSW's work includes a major focus on increasing the use of competencies as currency within labor markets and in connecting credentials to increase their value to individuals and employers. 

Formed in 2014, Workcred is an affiliate of ANSI whose 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 George Washington Institute of Public Policy
GWIPP serves as a university-wide nexus for faculty and graduate students engaging in important public policy issues. GWIPP is currently convening the Non-Degree Credential Research Network. 

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.