What is a “good job” and how do you get one?
Let’s start with a simple answer to the first part of that question. For many people, a good job means that you are earning good pay and benefits, and you can grow and advance in your career. On the flip side, there is no single answer for how you get that job. The pathway isn’t the same for everyone. And that is a good thing since it means you can find the path that works for you.
Certifications as a Pathway to a Good Job
One doesn’t have to have a college degree to land a good-paying job. Professional certifications for middle-skill jobs can be a profitable and satisfying career path for those who have no postsecondary degree, according to a recent Gallup report commissioned by Lumina Foundation.
The most common professional certifications are those granted by business or trade industry associations and are tailored to meet industry needs. They confirm proficiency in a given field and allow employers to assess the skills of job applicants.
2018 U.S. Census data shows that 39 percent of adults 25 years of age and older have no formal academic credentials beyond high school. Fifty percent of non-Hispanic whites have no postsecondary degree. The number rises to 64 percent among blacks and 74 percent among Hispanics.
Recent research on the quality of work found that only 40 percent of workers are in so-called “good jobs”, and that Americans without a college degree or credential have seen the biggest decline in employment opportunities. A 2018 report from the Georgetown Center on Education and Workforce found that two out of three jobs now require at least some education or training beyond high school.
But the Gallup report shows that 49 percent of high school graduates with a professional certification are most likely to be in what is considered to be a “good job”, second only to those who have earned a Ph.D. at 57 percent.
The Value of Certifications
“We believe everybody needs postsecondary education of some kind and that includes certifications,” says Courtney Brown, Ph.D, vice president of strategic impact for Lumina Foundation. “I hope (the report) informs people that certifications are high quality credentials, that certifications can lead to good jobs and good lives.”
Certifications appear to be advantageous specifically for workers with a high school diploma and no postsecondary education. Workers who have some postsecondary education and a credential will generally not see an improvement in job quality.
Hispanics are almost as likely as white workers to obtain certification—40 to 44 percent—with black workers at 37 percent.
Workers who do not have certifications are more likely to be vulnerable to automation. Sixty-six percent spend their time on short repetitive tasks compared to 53 percent with certifications. Workers with certifications are also more likely to say they are expected to be creative or innovative in their jobs, 58 percent, than those without certifications, 43 percent.
Certifications are Offered in Many Fields
Employers use of certifications varies by occupation. In healthcare, nonprofit or government services, 62 percent of workers without postsecondary education have a professional certification. That number drops to 53 percent for finance or real estate, and to 42 percent for construction, transportation, farming or energy. At the low end, 18 percent of workers are certified for restaurants, entertainment, or the hospitality industry.
Being certified in a profession leads to greater employment and more confidence in career prospects. The Gallup study shows 41 percent of Americans in their prime working years have a professional certification of some kind. Eighty-one percent of them are employed compared to 68 percent of those without certification.
Seventy-six percent of those with professional certification surveyed feel they have the education or training needed for the type of job they’d like to have for the next five years. That number drops to 61 percent who are not certified.
“A lot of these places where certifications have great value to an individual and to society are really in those essential jobs that people continue to work in—healthcare, cybersecurity, and logistics,” Brown points out. “These are the areas where we were having a short fall in the U S and they were the most important jobs in our current situation. These essential jobs are the ones that require certifications.”
Certifications are also associated with higher job satisfaction rates, including career advancement opportunities. Fifty-two percent of those with certifications say they’re satisfied with such opportunities compared to 37 percent of those without certification. Additionally, 36 percent with certifications say it’s likely they’ll be promoted in their job versus 24 percent without.
Workers with certification are more likely to see their job as a career, 54 percent, than those without certification, 37 percent.
In addition, those with certifications are more likely to be satisfied with certain job characteristics like stable and predictable hours, enjoyment of day-to-day work, having a sense of purpose, and the ability to change things about the job with which one is not satisfied.
Interestingly, jobs in which certifications are less common are more strongly associated with satisfaction in career advancement for those who have certifications. These would be industries with customer-facing employees like sales, restaurants, and hospitality and industries with more manual-labor jobs like manufacturing, construction and farming.
The report says those findings suggest increasing the use of certifications in such fields may provide workers with more opportunities to work their way up from entry-level jobs to positions offering a path to advancement.
“Certifications are more and more important to employers,” adds Brown. “You see them listed more frequently and employers are demanding them, asking for them, hiring for them. And so you know, that that optimism people are feeling is real because it is what the market is calling for.