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Building Credentialing Pathways From the Ground Up

By Rebecca Hastings, SPHR, PHRca, Anjali Weber, MS, CAE and Pam Weber, CAE

It is sometimes difficult to explain the credentialing business to those not in the industry. Yet being able to do so is critical to attract talented people who have the skills credentialing organizations need, and to make a case for investing in ongoing development for credentialing staff members.

Certification industry jobs are unique and complex. Though some roles, such as a psychometrician, have clearly defined educational paths, many others do not. Ironically, the U.S. Department of Labor’s CareerOneStop website, which is designed to help people learn about various careers, has no information about credentialing careers, including no certification or academic programs specifically for those who develop and maintain certification programs.

However, the importance of credentialing job roles cannot be denied. Certification employees have access to highly secure and difficult to replicate intellectual property. Many have the critical responsibility for managing an organization’s subject matter experts (SMEs). Thus, certifying organizations must find, train, engage, develop and retain skilled, committed and ethical personnel who can protect an organization’s resources while engaging effectively with its most committed ambassadors.

This is even more critical in the U.S. today, where unemployment is low and job openings remain high, according to staffing firm Robert Half’s Q3/Q4 2019 “Special Report: The Demand for Skilled Talent.” Job seekers may have multiple job offers, giving them the advantage of choice and the power of refusal. “As professionals leave their jobs for greener pastures and skilled talent gets even harder to find, companies should be prepared to offer what top job candidates and key employees want,” notes the staffing firm. Like other organizations, therefore, credentialing organizations must find creative ways to attract new job candidates and grow them into key roles, while keeping existing employees engaged.

Growing Talent

How do credentialing organizations find, develop and retain the talent they need to fulfill their important missions? Fortunately, the kinds of skills learned in a credentialing organization, such as planning and facilitation, are transferable from and to other roles. This means credentialing organizations can promote learning and long-term growth opportunities to candidates.

First, people need to be aware of credentialing as an interesting and rewarding career path. In the ICE Career Pathway Survey, the majority (77%) of respondents reported they did not seek a career in the credentialing industry, but instead “fell into it.” However, even though there wasn’t a specific path to credentialing that drew someone in, growth opportunities certainly exist. A majority of respondents indicated they started credentialing in a coordinator or manager role and have since moved into a manager or director role, or plan to move into a director or senior level role in the next two to five years.

Although finding ready-made credentialing professionals can be a challenge, there are organizations that host career centers, including ICE, the Association of Test Publishers (ATP) and the American Society of Association Executives (ASAE), which make it easier to target candidates with specialized expertise.

Once hired, employees new to credentialing need to understand the overall process, methods and constraints involved in this field, and how their specific role fits into the larger picture. But organizations should not stop there. Instead, they should be prepared to invest in ongoing development in order to engage and retain their team members.

Fortunately, there is a wealth of external development opportunities available. ICE has a variety of learning and networking opportunities for new entrants, seasoned experts and everyone in between. The online Certificate Program for the Credentialing Specialist, for example, is suitable for those seeking to learn more about and then demonstrate their understanding of this field. Other programs address fundamental and advanced topics in certification, including international expansion, accreditation, legal considerations and assessment-based certificate programs.

Evolving Challenge

With the field of credentialing evolving, organizations must anticipate and prepare for change. “Evolving work demands and skill requirements are creating an enormous demand for new skills and capabilities, while a tight labor market is making it challenging for organizations to hire people from outside,” notes the 2019 Deloitte Global Human Capital Trends report.

To better navigate the competitive employment marketplace, organizations should follow a few foundational principles:

  • Have a plan. If and when key employees leave, organizations should be ready to deploy the right resources at the right time to minimize risk and potential disruption for their customers. This could mean implementing a well-thought out succession plan or increasing the use of vendors, consultants or temporary workers.
  • Manage effectively. Employees don’t leave their lives at home when they come to work. Make sure that people managers are truly equipped for this critical role and hold them accountable for good people management practices.
  • Make them want to stay. People join organizations — and stay with them — for a variety of reasons. Learn what motivates each person and create opportunities for them to learn, grow and shine.

While credentialing organizations are challenged with finding, training, and retaining good talent, there are resources available to assist with talent management. Credentialing organizations should always be looking for and paying attention to trends in hiring and retaining team members, as well as prepare their elevator speech for why careers in credentialing are valuable. 

ICE Task Force Develops Resources

In 2018, the ICE Career Pathways and Emerging Leaders Task Force was formed to better define the ways people enter and move through the credentialing industry and to assess how ICE can best assist professionals throughout their career. The committee was tasked to:

  • identify career pathways for professionals entering or advancing in a career in credentialing; and
  • build leadership opportunities to support advancement.

The task force created six personas, or profiles, representing the most common certification roles. Then they identified opportunities for each persona to help guide an individual’s professional development throughout their career journey, from onboarding to developing technical proficiency, community engagement and advancement. The task force recognized that these journeys are not always linear and can take many turns to align with each individual’s interests.

Task force members also created a comprehensive set of competencies for key roles in certification, from the certification associate to manager to director, test developer to psychometrician, and vendor managers. This information will be a valuable resource to organizations that must write job descriptions outlining key responsibilities and competencies. It will also assist with having more comprehensive conversations with credentialing staff that have an interest in staying in the industry, or even with those who are just newly considering credentialing as a career path.

Through the work of the ICE Career Pathways and Emerging Leaders Task Force, ICE has built a new way to think about careers in credentialing. As credentialing professionals, ICE members build and nurture their organization’s professions. Therefore, it makes sense for ICE and its members to invest knowledge and skills in developing the credentialing profession, whether through mentorship, the development of a certification for credentialing professionals or an academic program focused on our specialized knowledge.

Access ICE’s Career Pathway resources here.

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