Recently I came across a news brief about a high school student named Morgan Autrey who excelled when she was hired to input data at a local business. Seeing someone so young making a difference in the corporate world was impressive, but I noticed something else about the article -- Autrey had earned Microsoft Office Specialist certification prior to being hired.
Autrey's simple story demonstrates an important concept that, if implemented on a grade scale, could have a real impact on unemployment and the skills gap in the United States -- technology training and certification prepares students to succeed in today's workforce.
The business that hired Autrey needed someone to input data. Any student could have claimed to have computer knowledge, but Autrey had a Microsoft-endorsed certification that proved she would be efficient and effective on the job using programs such as Microsoft Word and Microsoft Excel. Turns out she was very effective -- and went above and beyond data input to complete two websites, brochures and catalogs while she was employed -- all before the age of 18.
When most technology professionals think of certification, they think of the advanced certificates from Cisco, HP or Microsoft. However, basic technology certifications in some of the most popular software programs in the world can be beneficial for any type of employee ranging from office managers to accounting professionals. Not only do these certifications prepare students directly for internships and jobs -- they also improve their performance in high school.
According to Florida's Department of Education 2010 study, Career and Professional Education students with certifications graduate at a significantly higher rate (23 percent) than their peers outside of the career academies. These same students have a higher GPA (17 percent), and typically enroll in college level courses (61 percent) because it gives them a tangible, real-world skill to place on their resumes and college applications. With just a few certifications under their belts, high school students attain confidence and self-esteem as they go on to various fields of study.
Every K-12 school district in the United States (and in the world for that matter) should and could offer basic technology certification. Students who arm themselves with these skills will succeed in today's economy -- just like Autrey. If I were a betting man, I would bet her certification and the great experience she had at her first corporate job put her on a straight path to college and career success.
Jim Holm is a leader in training and certification, working to bring performance-based certification testing into the education market worldwide. He is currently the Executive Vice President of Certiport, the world's leading provider of computer literacy skills training and credentialing programs.