The Changing Face of Certification for Associations

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Why associations need to move certification management to the front seat

When we think about the growing needs for association and nonprofit technology, certification management has often taken a backseat. Best practices in membership management has dominated our news feeds for years, and for good reason. But there’s a change in the air, and associations with certification programs (and more importantly their constituents) are leading the charge.

Many associations and certification boards have patiently waited for this kind of shift for years.

“The industry talks a lot about membership management needs and specifically the importance of implementing quality association management software (AMS), but there’s a vast group of organizations out there, who don’t even use the word ‘membership;’ it’s almost a four letter word in their vocabulary.” says Stephen Spruce, Founder of the software consulting firm, Agilutions, who has focused on serving associations and certification boards since 2005. “We can’t keep talking to these organizations like their technology needs are all the same.”

“We can’t keep talking to these organizations like their technology needs are all the same.” – Stephen Spruce, Founder, Agilutions

Not only are more organizations investing in and developing new certification and credentialing programs, they are also beginning to see new revenue streams based around their constituent’s behavior.

Across the spectrum, consumers are expecting and demanding information and products be available immediately with a click of a button. Expectedly, they are now wanting to gain knowledge and demonstrate their qualifications in a moments notice. Gone are the days when a candidate is willing to spend years preparing for, and hours taking, a high-stakes exam, and then spending large application fees for an all-encompassing certification when their career goals only cover a fraction of the knowledge domain.

It’s not surprising that this shift has been driven by the people; associations have long known the value and impact of their members, and the recent transformation in certification trends is no different. As in most industries, the old guard and their long-standing traditions are taking a backseat to the new players enforcing change. In fact, it’s challenging to find an article that doesn’t reference Millennials and this shift. It is indisputable that their impact is reshaping the certification playing field.

Gone is the need for an all-encompassing credential and the requirement to sit for a high-stakes exam. These skills-based certifications help the certificant prove what they know or how much information they can retain in a very broad field of study or industry, but the price tag is often steep, and the time and investment can take years.

These new players want a simpler, less expensive option, and more than anything, they want it now. Specialization has proven to be better than generalization, with more and more associations offering microcredentials or digital badging as a competency-based alternative to bulky and broad credentials.

Take the industry of financial management. One commonly sought after credential, once complete, gives the certificant expertise in several principal categories: general finance, education planning, risk management, insurance, investment planning, tax planning, estate planning, retirement savings and income management. While the credential is very prestigious and highly respected, there is a high abandonment rate as the time and monetary investment are high and the exam is quite difficult. So why would a professional, working strictly in the field of estate planning, go through these traditional “hoops,” when there are certificate programs specifically targeting estate planning, that are recognized and still give the certificant recognition they seek at a fraction of time and expense?

As associations begin to diversify and grow their credentialing portfolio, the need for that can simplify or streamline this new learning path becomes essential.

This “grab and go” concept of only pursuing certification that is targeted to a specific field and can be obtained in real time, feeds the growing “gig economy.” People aren’t going to the same job for 30 years, but rather making lateral and vertical moves across a number of industries. A bulky and broad credential is not conducive or appealing to the new workforce.

As associations begin to diversify and grow their credentialing portfolio, the need for technology that can simplify or streamline this new learning path becomes essential.

We’ve combined Community Brand’s best-in-class AMS solution, NetForum , with Agilutions’ best-in-class Credentialing Engine™ to bring clients a powerful credentialing management solution that understands the changing certification needs of associations. The Credentialing Engine™ drives revenue, improves retention, and empowers members to take their learning into their own hands throughout the course of their career.