On Track: Maintaining Your Certification Records
Whether it is keeping a pulse on technology or keeping pace with industry trends, most IT professionals would agree: Staying current in Information Technology is the best way to stay on track with your technical career.
For IT professionals holding certification credentials, staying on track requires another dimension for maintaining your finely honed skills and knowledge: making sure the certifications you hold are current so that credential titles and program benefits don’t lapse.
To help you keep track of staying on track, this article focuses on how you, the certified IT professional, can stay focused with managing your certification credentials. Specifically, this article covers:
- What is meant by continuing certification requirements or continuing education units.
- How different IT certification programs require maintenance and upgrades for their credentials.
- Which tips and tricks you can use to keep track of your certification credentials.
CCRs and CEUs – To Be Continued
Let’s first take a look at what is meant by CCR and CEU. Literally, CCRs (continuing certification requirements) and CEUs (continuing education units) are means with which to “continue” your professional standing in a group or organization. Specifically, CCR and CEU requirements assume an individual already has membership within a group. It is now up to that individual to maintain good standing by committing to continually educate themselves for their own benefit as well as the betterment of the profession.
Both CCRs and CEUs are typically used for maintaining certification, licensure and credential requirements. For example, CCRs may be required for individuals who are certified in IT, project management or automotive engineering. CEUs are typically required for nurses, doctors, teachers and accountants.
CCRs can take the form of tests, field-related classes and actual job performance. Specified requirements are dictated by the credentialing entity, such as an IT certification program. Typically, credential holders are notified ahead of time about requirements for fulfilling CCRs. For example, an IT professional who holds a certification in the 10.x Operating Systems track of the XYZ company should be notified six months ahead of time as to when the certification will expire. At time of notification, the certificant would typically have the six months to take an upgrade test to 11.x to maintain the certification.
CEU requirements provide more flexibility for the credentialing body and for the individual. CEUs were defined in 1970 by a national task force of volunteers who were looking to establish a form of credit for continuing education that was different from the semester system used in higher education. This body, now known as the International Association for Continuing Education and Training (IACET) (www.iacet.org), is the founder and guardian of the CEU and determines the criteria for awarding CEUs to a myriad of different professions.
Typically a CEU represents 10 contact hours of organized instruction under responsible sponsorship and qualified instruction. Each qualified course is assigned a number of CEUs based on the average number of hours it will take an individual to complete the course as specified by the course designer. For example, if you take a course that is equivalent to two CEUs, it would equal 20 hours of instruction. CEU instruction is flexible; it can be instructor-led or self-directed, such as reading materials or online courseware. It is up to the credentialing organization to determine the number of CEUs required for an individual to maintain a particular credential over a specified amount of time.
As with CCRs, certified professionals have a certain time frame to complete their CEUs, or they can expect loss of their credential and/or license to practice.
CCRs: Different Ways to Get There
What are some different ways IT certification programs require their certificants to stay on track with their credentials?
Most IT certification programs require some type of retesting for individuals to maintain their certification status. IT companies with certification programs, such as Cisco, HP, IBM, Novell and Oracle, will typically require one of three different methods for certification maintenance:
- Upgrades: Upgrade or migration tests require certificants to take a “delta” test between the product version they already know and the new features they need to know. The most likely place a certificant is going to see an upgrade test is with software products—whether it’s operating systems, databases or other applications, software products lend themselves nicely to upgrade tests.
- Full tests: Full tests require certificants to take a full exam for new content, regardless of what they already know. So both the new candidate as well as the returning certificant will take the same exam to obtain or maintain certification status. The most likely place a certificant is going to see a full, new test is with products that fall within the same certification track but have had dramatic technology changes. For example, knowing the difference between WinTel-based blade servers versus cluster servers or virtual-array versus disk-array storage devices might constitute the need for a full test update requirement.
- Additional electives: Additional electives require certificants to take any one of a number of electives within a given track to help an individual maintain their certification. The most likely place a certificant is going to see an elective requirement is when product and technology changes aren’t significant, yet some time may have passed since the track was initiated. Or, perhaps new technologies were added to the track, with minimal change to the rest of the track. In these cases, there will be a requirement to validate skills around the new technology.
In all CCR cases, the IT certification program will contact certificants who have taken exams within a given track, notifying them of the requirement to recertify. Typically, dates for recertification completion are defined. Candidates must complete the track recertification requirements before the specified track retirement date in order to maintain their certification.
Then there are the multiple upgrades. If you are one of those individuals who have certifications in multiple technologies, products or companies, prepare to do a multi-tuneup for your certifications. Maintaining certifications in multiple IT programs is no small feat. You can expect to be required to maintain all of them to stay on track.
Keeping Track of Your Track
The last phase of keeping pace with your certification requirements is making sure you physically keep track of your records.
First, this means making sure you know where you’re headed. As the saying goes, if you are not sure where you are going, any road will take you there. Here are some questions to help with your planning:
- Where do you want your certifications to take you?
- Do you have a specified career path?
- What do your short- and long-term career goals look like?
- Is your certification track prepared to get you to both those goals?
Once you’ve decided you’re on the right track, make sure you keep a documented flow chart of your progress toward your certification goals. For example, make sure you know what your certification path looks like: Calculate the number of exams you will need to take and the estimated time you are looking to complete your certification track.
After you have started on your path, make sure you keep both a paper copy and an electronic record of all of your certification test achievements. This way if there is ever any question about your credential, you have the paper to back it up. This means score repo