The Quest for Standardized Certificates

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The computer industry is truly a wonder. No other industry has so much innovation, grows so quickly, or comes up with such a diverse method of doing things. As such, the industry seems to lack specifics regarding how to best learn about the technology. Most people within the industry then learn by experimenting, after given some basic information from the developing company.

But what if the skills desired are not necessarily applicable to a single company, but range through an entire industry and has diverse applications? This becomes problematic, as the development of any training material or reference material can become outdated quickly, and yet the need for such material is overwhelming.

On such example is Search Engine Optimization. Currently, there are several programs out there that claim to offer certifications based on their own issuance, but there is no guarantee that the certificate is recognized as an industry standard. Because of this, Search Engine Optimization is treated like an art form, rather than a set of skills that can be applied in a given situation.

The Lack of Standardization

Standardization only comes from an overwhelming acceptance from the industry at large. This can either be done unilaterally (i.e., Microsoft Certification, Sun Certification, Red Hat Certification), through a cooperative that organizes themselves from the industry's base to form a set of skill standards (i.e., Linux Professional Institute), or from a set of recognized experts that determine the standard within their fields (i.e., standard college educational standards).

In the world of industrial training, the needs assessment is based on the skills required to do the job. Most companies conduct their own internal needs assessment, which will result in a job description. Some may even look at what other companies assign, and try to duplicate those requirements without truly understanding what the requirements mean. Either way, the needs assessment is completed based off of an individual company's needs.

How to Build Solidarity
Solidarity within an industry comes from an industry-wide recognition of the requirements for a specific position or skill. Once solidarity has been reached (i.e., network administrator tasks are identified), they can be customized based on the company's unique requirements and are more easily met by those looking to participate within that industry.

In order to gain that industry-wide recognition, it would be necessary to focus on building ties between the industry leaders, find the similarities, and focus on the skills that can bring about success as defined within the industry. This means conducting a massive task analysis across multiple companies in order to identify the standard skills that will benefit all.

The Daunting Task Simplified
While this may seem like an impossible dream, it can be achieved if identified in these generic terms:

1. What is the expected result?

2. What skills are necessary to achieve that result?

3. Which results and skills are unique to the company, and which are universal?

4. Which should be unique, and which should be universal?

5. How can the skills be best presented, so that those learning can apply them?

Once these questions are answered, a consensus has been reached to the point that training can be given, and that training has recognized industry approval. At that point, any certificate that comes with it can be seen as an industry standard. That is, provided that there is an evaluation system that can certify the skills can be practiced.

The Evaluation
All standard certificates come with some sort of standardized evaluation system. Whether it is the old reliable multiple choice test, or a more hands-on evaluation process, the results are the same. That person is now recognized by the industry to have the skills required to perform the job he was trained to do. Whether that be SEO Specialist, Linux System Administrator, or Underwater Basket Weaver, the evaluation system is necessary to identify what is being absorbed.

But that's not all! It's also an excellent way to evaluate how effective the training material is, or the reference material can be. It all comes down to the Bell Curve, that hated curve what was always incorrectly applied in High School. The Bell Curve is actually the shape of a graph showing the normal distribution where the mean, median and mode are all identical.

If the materials achieve a success rate that at least meets that normal distribution, then the material can be called a success. If it weights heavily below the acceptable level then there is something wrong with the materials or the evaluation method, and therefore needs review and revision. This is very much unlike the High School bell curve grading system, where the bell curve was applied after grading to assign grades. If that method were applied in professional training, it would do injustice to the skills required, as it does not accurately reflect learning.