How Professional Certifications Can Improve The Federal Workforce
A reliable, competent, and motivated workforce is the most powerful asset of an organization. It’s the engine that propels the organization forward, and like all mechanical engines, it requires the right approach to “maintenance” to keep functioning properly. Good retention policies instill reliability and incentives, compensation, and good managerial practices can keep the workforce motivated. Competency, however, often requires going outside the organizational fold. There are several different ways to keep your workforce competent but the essence is simple: Hire right and train right.
No matter how perfect an individual is for a role, their efficiency will decline over time if they don’t evolve with the role and the market at large. This evolution requires both self-motivation and induced encouragement from the organization, and one way to streamline both is by introducing a culture of professional certifications.
7 Benefits Of Professional Certifications For A Federal Workforce
From an organizational perspective, a competent workforce is just one of the benefits offered by professional certifications. But before we explore other benefits, it’s important to define what we perceive as professional certification. We define it as a credential that signifies an individual’s up-to-date knowledge and skill in a specific professional domain. The domain may be highly specific, which is common in tech-related professional certifications like AWS-certified security or Azure DevOps Engineer. Or it may be broad, like certifications for HR generalists.
Regardless of the scope of the certification and the specific organization/administrative body, there are several benefits a federal workforce can enjoy with an emphasis on professional certifications. The emphasis can be on hiring as well, i.e., mandating certain certifications or choosing from a select pool of candidates, but most of the following benefits are associated with encouraging federal employees to achieve professional certifications.
Attracting Top Talent
Learning opportunities and continuous skill development are one of the things professionals, especially younger generations, seek in a workplace. According to Deloitte Insights, about 50% of workers consider switching a job if there are better learning opportunities elsewhere, and 60% remain in their current positions because they believe the current organization is offering them the right learning opportunities. If we zero in on the top talent of the available workforce, the percentages would likely be even higher because continuous learning is one of the things that keep them at the top.
The top talent among the younger generation understands the importance of continuous learning and improvement, as they have seen firsthand how rapidly skills can become obsolete thanks to new technologies. They understand the importance of upskilling better than the former generations that focused on gaining expertise in one or a handful of skills. They would see federal jobs with an emphasis on professional certification as opportunities to remain market relevant.
The top talent from the older generation that may seek to join the federal workforce for a stable career with better job security will be attracted by the federal certifications as a means to climb up the organizational ladder.
This may even give federal workforces an edge over the private market in attracting top talents.
The federal government, as a whole, has a problem with employee retention, and it has gotten worse over the years, especially for younger generations which will make up the bulk of the workforce in a few years. A survey of federal employees regarding their intentions and reasons for quitting identified that lack of growth and development opportunities and respect were stronger factors behind quitting than compensation.
Professional certifications can be part of a larger solution to this problem, and its positive impact (for retention) is more far-reaching than improving growth opportunities for employees. Professional certifications in the HR and administration domain (especially if they are tailored for a federal workforce) can contribute to a positive culture change. Professionals trained and certified in specially designed courses that incorporate the best private sector practices in the federal workforce can bring about true, long-term change.
More technically-leaning certifications can help improve retention by providing federal employees opportunities they wouldn’t find in the private sector. These certifications can also counteract a fear that many federal employees have regarding their skill development. They believe the longer they stay in a job where they are out of touch with the current trends, skills, and best practices, the broader their gap with the current talent becomes. This may cause them to quit for private sector jobs sooner than later. Professional certifications, especially when they have the potential to push them ahead of the curve, will encourage them to remain with the government for a relatively long time.
A study conducted by IBM identified that a team where each member receives 40 hours of relevant training is three times more likely to meet the significant goals of a project than untrained teams. This shows the influence of training and certification on the success of individual projects and certification Return on Investment (ROI). Federal employees with relevant training and certifications can close more projects in a year, have a significantly higher chance of meeting project goals, and consequently make significantly better use of the budget.
With the right training and certifications, federal employees can also adapt to technologies that can make them more productive as individuals and teams. From project management and human capital management tools to agency-specific technologies, like AI-based wildfire tracking tools, knowledge of the right technologies can radically increase the productivity of federal departments and agencies.
Such certifications can also help the federal government cultivate skills associated with cutting-edge technologies in-house, reducing their dependence on private contractors.
A Versatile Workforce
A workforce where a decent proportion of employees are cross-trained and certified in multiple domains can be significantly more resilient to turnover rates and high demand influx than a workforce without this advantage. It’s easy to motivate employees to grow skills beyond their domain by communicating the advantages effectively. The advantages include better growth opportunities, freelancing opportunities (in some cases), more transfer opportunities, etc.
It can also help make the operational capabilities and domains of different government departments and agencies on a permanent and ad-hoc basis. An example would be federal employees trained and certified in different disaster management scenarios lending their support to FEMA or local bodies for resource dissemination, evacuation, communication, etc.
One of the hallmarks of a healthy workplace/organization is that it exposes its employees to different training/learning opportunities and helps them find areas of work that are a better temperamental and motivational match. This is equivalent to helping employees “find their calling” and as part of the work culture, it can help them feel more valued. Certification (and training) opportunities can play this role in federal workplaces.
Elevating The Entire Workforce
Not every federal employee has to be certified for the workforce to reap its benefits. The right people with the right training and certifications can pass on relevant skills far more effectively to their teams than a coach that’s taking everyone through the same regimen. This type of learning often takes place in a more practical setting, i.e., with teammates working in close proximity to the certified individual or working with them on the same project. The certified individuals also impact the culture and approach of their departments and agencies. So if the training they undergo for the courses is imbued with relevant positive elements, they can be subtly induced in the culture. Departments and agencies can leverage this power for positive social engineering.
Empowering Regional/Departmental Workforces
Transfers are a powerful tool available to the federal government to effectively distribute its talent across the country, but the government rarely gets to use this tool at its full potential. Transferring a talented and trained individual that might find it easy to find a job in the private sector to an unwanted location or department just to fill a skill gap can motivate that individual to leave.
One way to counteract this problem is to train and empower the existing federal workforce in such regions and departments, i.e., use training and certification to fill the skill gap instead of dislodging a useful employee. Another positive impact of training and certifying local resources in areas where transfers are difficult is that local employees well-versed in local issues but benefit more from tailored certifications than the ones merely pursuing them for skill development. You would also raise the bar and make the federal jobs more lucrative for the local workforce and may actually retain local talent.
Access To A Better Pool of Candidates
A benefit of offering certifications and training to federal employees and improving the workforce from the inside is that the government has a better pool of candidates on hand. It can be for a new role/position or for tasks that previously required the government to leverage talent from the private sector. It can also benefit the transfer system. Having more employees capable of filling a specific role can allow agencies and departments to find the most motivated individual for the transfer, reducing the probability of a turnover.
If leveraged with the right approach, professional certifications have the potential to improve the federal workforce in unprecedented ways and rectify problems like accessibility to top talent and retention rates.