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Why Do Employee Certifications Lag Behind Goals (+What You Can Do)

Lee Waters
Posted by Lee Waters

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Getting employees to keep up with their certifications and training can be important for a number of reasons. For some, the goal is to ensure that employees have the right skills to provide top-class service. For others, it’s critical to maintain regulatory compliance. Whatever the reason, employee certification can be a critical part of business.

Certifications can even help increase labor participation. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), “Labor force participation rates are substantially higher for people who have a professional certification or occupational license than for those without such credentials.” For example, labor force participation for high school graduates without a certification were 54.3% while participation for those with the same education level with a certification or occupational license was 88.4%.

It should be noted that the labor participation gap closes with higher levels of education. The labor participation rate for those with advanced degrees (Master’s, Doctorate’s, etc.) and no certifications was 65.3% while the participation rate for certified employees with advanced degrees was 87.3%. This shows a positive correlation between education/learning and labor participation.

Despite the positive impacts of training, leaders may struggle with motivating their employees to complete their certifications. According to BLS data, only 40.2% of employees received formal communication, employee development, or quality training with their current employers—and only 22.8% of employees received formal training in these categories within the last 12 months (as of September 2022).

Why don’t employees complete their certifications? What can you do to motivate them to keep up with both critical and optional certification training? Let’s take a look.

Why Employees Don’t Get Certifications

There are a lot of reasons why employees skip out on completing certifications. Some of the ones that have been brought up by employees (or their managers) include things like:

1. Lack of Time for Training

One common reason given for not completing certifications (and training in general) is a lack of time for training. This is such a commonly-cited reason for not completing certifications or training that it made Inc’s top 5 list of reasons why employees don’t get training.

When employees are under pressure to meet production or sales goals, they may view time spent on training as wasted time—even though training can help them improve their productivity and results by giving them new skills. So, instead of spending an appropriate amount of time on trying to complete certifications, they spend it trying to get work done as that’s the “higher” priority in their minds.

2. Certifications Not Being Relevant to Employee Job Role

Motivating employees to complete certifications can be incredibly difficult if the certification doesn’t directly apply to their core job functions. Even with mandatory certification courses (such as ones about occupational health and safety that can be applied to virtually any job role), it’s important to connect the subject of the training with the employee’s work to keep them motivated to complete the course.

When a certification isn’t important to the employee, they’ll simply see it as wasted time and will do what they can to avoid wasting that time.

3. Lack of Training Resources/Budget

Another commonly-cited reason for employees not getting certifications is a lack of training resources or budget. If there are no training resources available, employees might not be able to pass certification tests when they’re administered by a third party.

For example, Jake is a call center agent that specializes in tech support. His company recently started acting as a reseller of a new tech solution and he wants to be able to help customers that call about issues with it. So, he pursues a certification in that vendor’s software. However, his company didn’t set aside the budget to create a training program centered on the new software.

Jake tries to complete the certification on his own, but he fails a couple of times because he simply didn’t have the resources needed to help him succeed. He gets there eventually, but it takes longer than it should have and he ends up feeling like leadership didn’t do anything to support him or other agents who were supposed to provide support related to this new product.

4. Out-of-Date Training Content

Even when employees assiduously complete training programs in the company’s learning management system (LMS) or undergo extensive coaching in preparation for a certification exam, they might still fail if the content of that training/coaching is obsolete.

Some third-party certification standards undergo periodic changes. Certification training content needs to keep up with these changes to ensure that employees can pass their third-party exams.

5. No Motivation/Incentive to Train

For employees, certification training can be viewed as an inconvenience—something that their managers tell them to do but doesn’t have a clear purpose or even an incentive to complete.

For example, let’s say that Bob is a sales rep with a performance bonus resting on whether he can make his numbers BUT he’s also supposed to complete a four-hour training course to earn a certification assigned to him by a manager. If Bob spends four hours selling, that’s four hours of work closer to making his bonus. If he spends that time on training, he might fall behind his coworkers in the race to the top of the sales chart and earn his bonus.

If there’s no clear reward for completing the training (or even a risk of penalty for failing to earn the certification), Bob is naturally going to prioritize regular sales activity over getting the certification.

How to Drive Employee Certification

So, what can you do to get your team to complete their certifications? Here are a few tips for driving more of your team to complete their necessary certifications:

  • Make Certifications Relevant to Your Team. Try to link earning the certification to the employee’s core job responsibilities whenever possible. If a certification isn’t relevant to that employee and isn’t part of some regulatory compliance requirement, do they really need to complete it? Focusing on relevant certifications helps reduce time waste and avoids eroding the employee’s engagement with certification training.
  • Consider Creating Incentives for Training. What’s in it for the employee if they get an optional certification? If the only reward is more work without additional benefits, they may actively avoid getting certified if they can. One steel wire product manufacturing company actually closed critical skill gaps and drove high certification rates for different manufacturing equipment and company processes by incentivizing certifications. How? For each skill certification an employee earned, they’d be given a permanent pay increase based on the value of the skill and how in-demand it was for the company.
  • Provide Time Specifically for Training. Only the most motivated and engaged employees are going to actively pursue certifications when they’re “off the clock.” By setting aside time for training, leaders can ensure that their people are able to fully dedicate themselves to earning important certifications.
  • Create and Update Study Guides for Important Certifications. Is there a particular certification that the majority of your employees need to have? Consider creating a study guide to help your employees pass their certification exam. Providing (and periodically updating) this document can help your team members pass certifications more consistently.
  • Set Aside Payroll Budget for Training. To ensure that you can follow up with your training plans, consider setting aside a set percentage of your payroll budget for training. To get an idea of how much budget you should set aside, take a look at all of your training expenses at the end of each quarter and compare that to your successful certification rate. If you’re missing certification goals, you might need to rework your training program (and need more budget to cover the change). On the other hand, if you’re crushing your certification goals, take a look at your training program to see why it’s working and what you can do to streamline costs.
  • Coach Employees and Roleplay Certification Sessions. If you know that the certifications your employees need will have an interactive component where the employee will need to demonstrate certification-related skills, consider setting aside some time to have a one-on-one with them. During this certification coaching session, you can walk them through what they should expect and have them practice for the interaction in a safe environment where they don’t have to worry about failure. Then, based on what you see, you can provide guidance to help them pass on the day of the certification.

Integrating Your LMS with Your Employee Performance Management

Most of the tips in the previous section don’t require a dedicated learning management system to pull off. However, having an LMS can help make managing your team’s performance easier. But, it’s important to fully integrate that system into your employee performance management workflow to maximize results.

For example, let’s say you have a support-oriented call center and want to keep track of all the certifications of your employees, what their performance levels are, ensure that they keep up with new certifications as they’re introduced or come up for renewal, and check to see if certifications are helping them improve results.

With a standalone LMS, you could track which certification courses an employee has taken and even send notifications when their certs are up for renewal. However, it would be divorced from data on the results those employees are generating. So, you would have a hard time determining the impact of certifications and justifying investing in employee training.

By integrating learning management with employee performance tracking, you could correlate performance with the specific types of certifications each team member has earned. This could help you determine which optional certifications are benefitting your team and which ones aren’t having a noticeable impact on your team. By doing so, you could streamline your employee training program to control costs and improve results.

Let’s say you’re tracking customer satisfaction rates for your call center and you have two agents there who, historically, have similar satisfaction levels. However, one employee completes an optional certification that helps them provide better service to customers over the phone. Now, the certified employee has a 10% higher overall satisfaction rate than the non-certified employee.

Using this information, you could push for more call center agents to earn the certification and potentially improve customer satisfaction across the call center.

Want to streamline learning management, coaching, and performance management with a single solution that does it all? Reach out to C2Perform today to get started!

Topics: "coaching", learning management system, strategies for employee engagement

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