A Blueprint for Certification Development

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Amid a growing number of credentials in the marketplace today, how does an organization determine which certifications to roll out?

“I get innumerable requests from our lines of business to build certifications,” said Paul Sorensen, global director of certification at Oracle University. “The process of building certifications is rigorous, complex and time-consuming. It’s critical to do up-front planning to make sure you choose [the ones] that will be successful.”

After all, it takes an average of 16 weeks to create an exam in beta, and industry numbers indicate it costs anywhere from $30,000 to $50,000 to build it, Sorensen said.

“Hopefully, the end result is that it helps people with their careers, it helps businesses to be more successful and it gives [IT professionals] the knowledge and skills they need to make a difference in their own lives and in their customers’ lives,” Sorensen said.Sorensen outlined five fundamental criteria to consider prior to selecting a certification to build:

Definition: “It’s really easy to build something that’s too broad to be applicable to someone working with the technology,” Sorensen said.

On the other end of the spectrum, building a certification with a scope that’s too narrow will not be of much value either, he explained.

Another factor to consider is the training period required to obtain a particular certification. “[For example], if something takes five to 10 days of training, that would work, but if you’re looking at 30 to 35 days of training, it might take somebody five years to get the training under his or her belt, which isn’t feasible in IT,” Sorensen said.

It’s also important to determine whether to build a certification for advanced professionals, intermediate-level workers or those with more basic skills.

Demand: “A lot of people think it’s all only about money — of course, we want to break even, but in addition to that, we need to have a minimum number of people participate up-front during the beta process,” Sorensen said.

The minimum number of people required for a successful beta exam process is anywhere from 125 to 250, depending on the project.

“[We also need] an ongoing number of people — about 500 people per year — to participate in a certification for it to be a living, breathing project,” he said. “If we don’t have [sufficient demand], it’s hard to justify. Sometimes we’ll retire [a test] because it just doesn’t have the activity sufficient for us to reinvigorate it and build a new version.”

Resources: “It takes a significant amount of development resources to build a certification — not only my team to manage it, but [also individuals such as] subject matter experts to come in and spend the time to build the exams,” Sorensen said.

Also, organizations should be sure to secure these resources not only for the initial build, but for subsequent revisions, as well.

Funds: It sounds straightforward enough, but an organization should ensure it has sufficient dollars to finance the certification-build process.

Priority: In one particularly busy year, when several different projects were already under way at Oracle University, Sorensen said that even though a proposed certification fit the other four criteria, he couldn’t allocate staff members on his team to manage the project. This highlights the need for companies to prioritize projects and determine whether they have the manpower that will be required.

– Deanna Hartley, dhartley@certmag.com

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Deanna Hartley


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