Credentials matter — it is an indisputable fact that credentials are important and are a vital part of our educational system. With 70% of jobs needing less than a bachelor’s or graduate degree, credentials are a key element of the workforce development system in the U.S. While a common misconception is that the only path to a successful career is through a college degree, the construction industry shows that credentials pave the way for lucrative careers, job satisfaction, and high skills.
Let’s first look at what a credential is.
Merriam-Webster defines a credential and credentials in a few significant ways; a credential is “something that gives a title to credit or confidence” as well as a “certificate or diploma,” and credentials are “testimonials or certified documents showing that a person is entitled to credit.”
The Association for Career and Technical Education describes education- and work-related credentials as “verification of an individual’s qualification or competence issued by a third party with the relevant authority to issue such credentials.”
In the construction industry, it is important not to get credentials and certifications confused. Because the terms are similar — and many times used interchangeably — there is confusion about what they actually mean. Although other industries may use these differently, in the construction industry, we view a credential as a building block within a training program to show competency of skills and knowledge. We use certification to represent journey-level knowledge and skill of a specific craft. For example, a certified electrician should not only have gone through training but also needs to have three to four years’ experience in that particular craft before sitting for the written and performance journey-level assessments.
With this in mind, credentials are a valuable stepping-stone in a person’s career path that can ultimately lead to certification. Career and technical education is about building foundational knowledge and skills. Just as an associate, bachelor’s or master’s degree cannot be earned without first completing a high school diploma or equivalent, NCCER Core Curriculum must be taken prior to whichever specific craft the student chooses to pursue. In much the same way, OSHA 10-hour is intended for entry level workers.
Employers who look for construction industry-recognized credentials are looking for specific crafts that are taught after the Core Curriculum is completed — pipefitters, ironworkers, electricians, instrument fitters, welders, boilermakers, insulators and the list goes on.
Next, let’s examine why credentials are important.
“Restoring the Dignity of Work: Transforming the U.S. Workforce Development System into a World Leader” points out that for every ten jobs currently available in the U.S., one requires a master’s degree or higher; two require a bachelor’s degree or higher; and, seven need a credential, certificate or an associate degree.
This ratio is key to building a successful workforce development system but is unknown by many students and their parents, in part because of the mistaken belief that a college degree is the only route to success. In fact, the occupational demand for higher education degrees does not match economy needs — the National Center for Education Statistics projected that through 2024 jobs needing a bachelor’s degree will be 50% oversupplied and careers requiring a master’s degree will be 90% oversupplied. Yet the construction industry is facing an estimated skilled labor shortage of 1.5 million through 2023, as reported by the Construction Labor Market Analyzer.
With 28% of the current workforce estimated to retire by 2027, new workers must join the industry now to be ready to replace retiring baby boomers — it takes a craft professional four to eight years to gain experience and competency and up to 12 years to become fully trained. Currently, younger generations are pursuing credentials after choosing construction as their second career choice. Our challenge is to show construction as an initial career option for individuals entering the workforce.
One way to do this may be to spread the word that, with apprenticeships and craft training programs, individuals can become credentialed and certified while accruing little-to-no debt. There are even scholarships available for those in training programs.
Finally, let’s review steps that can be taken to promote the earning of credentials.
Industry and education must work together in order to make the most impact for both students and the workforce.
One such partnership that has been successful is Sundt Construction and Central Arizona College (CAC). Sundt Construction was struggling to find skilled craft professionals while CAC’s construction discipline courses were decreasing in enrollment. Sundt and CAC were able to identify five craft pathways specifically designed to provide OSHA 30, stackable certifications equaling 30 college credit hours, and NCCER Level 1 and 2 credentials for specific crafts. With the commitment from both the contractor and college leadership, the program was put into place in three months — unheard of in a collegiate curriculum process.
Partnerships are even more vital at the secondary level. The Construction Trades program at Garret High School has been in place for 40 years and recently expanded to include career development. The Career Development program is sustained by local companies and associations. In fact, beyond monetary support, area businesses also contribute by interviewing the students, offering mentorships, providing gainful employment and sitting on the advisory panel. With this support, the program has been able to increase to include elementary and middle school students as well.
Credentials build upon learning components much like pre-algebra to algebra. Let’s inspire students to learn skills and earn credentials that they can develop further to find successful careers. The growing attention that credentials are receiving is important, especially as it highlights the importance of career and technical education in general. As an industry, let’s encourage students to pursue credentials and career options they may not have considered and support the schools and programs where young people are learning the skills our workforce needs.