Thinking of Continuing Your Education?

Certification Programs Offer Affordable Alternatives to Degrees, But All Are Not “Created Equal”

DEARBORN, Mich., October 21, 2009 — With the national unemployment rate hovering at nearly 10 percent and a brutal job market to match, many of the unemployed are either throwing in the job search towel to start their own business or returning to the classroom.

Those who choose education quickly learn the high price associated with that decision as the average cost to obtain an undergraduate degree can push $34,000 per year, while that amount can climb to $50,000 per year for an advanced degree.

Available in many fields such as human resources, information technology, and manufacturing, certification programs provide affordable options for those who may find the tuition and time commitment of a degree a bit steep.

According to a recent HR Certification Institute survey, one out of two hiring managers considers a candidate’s certification status when making decisions on whom to interview or hire.

“But be careful which certification program you select,” warns Kris Nasiatka, certification manager for the Society of Manufacturing Engineers. While there are a number of certification programs offered by for-profit companies and well-known universities, “not all of them are created equal.”

Nasiatka explains, “There are some organizations who claim they are offering certification, but they really aren’t. They’re giving you a certificate of completion rather than a continually renewable certification.”

Alexis Chng, spokesperson with the HR Certification Institute, an affiliate of the Society For Human Resource Management clarifies, “The main difference is the work experience and education components required by certification. With a certification, certain requirements must be met.”

For example, the certifications at the HR Certification Institute require that HR professionals stay current with the latest HR laws and practices and make it compulsory to maintain one’s credentials through recertification every three years.

“With a certificate, it’s just a completion of a course with no credential after your name and no recertification process,” Chng adds.

Certification is also a crucial part of who gets to “pass go” during an interview in the field of information technology. “Certifications in network security, such as CompTIA’s Security+ are most in-demand right now. You have to have them,” says Marc King, an independent IT consultant.

Certifications can also be a gateway to good-paying jobs in the manufacturing industry. Even in this economy, manufacturers are having difficulty finding qualified candidates for many high skilled positions.

Holding an industry-respected certification such as those available from the Society of Manufacturing Engineers (SME) can be a way to demonstrate your skill and experience level.

SME’s flagship certifications include an alphabet of credentials including the Certified Manufacturing Technologist (CMfgT) and the Certified Manufacturing Engineer (CMfgE). With an increasing focus on sustainability and waste elimination issues, the Society’s multi-level lean certification program which recognizes tactical, integrative, and strategic applications of standard lean principles is in high demand.

“A lean certification is tangible and portable proof that you have acquired a body of knowledge agreed upon by industry professionals. And more and more manufacturing jobs have added a “check here” box for lean certification on job applications,” Nasiatka said.

What makes SME’s lean certification program different from others is that it not only adheres to rigorous industry standards but that it’s also backed by partnerships with the Association for Manufacturing Excellence and The Shingo Prize for Operational Excellence.

The Bronze Level demonstrates a solid understanding of basic lean principles and tools for measurable results, while the Silver Level recognizes experience at a value stream level. The most comprehensive Gold Level demonstrates a body of knowledge on all aspects of lean transformation.

For Jeff Lytle, already a lean six sigma master blackbelt with Omnova Solutions, SME’s Lean Gold Certification Program was his only option. He found the SME certification program to be “attractive” because of the partnership with AME and Shingo. And he chose to move through each level, all the way to Gold, because it best suited his experience.

Since becoming the first person to earn the SME Lean Gold certification, Lytle says he not only continues to lead lean and Black Belt Six Sigma projects at this company but has made “dozens of new industry contacts.”

For Pat Wardwell, chief operating officer at the Greater Boston Manufacturing Partnership, earning the Lean Gold certification was not only a milestone (she became the first woman in the country to do so), but one she says elicited congratulations from colleagues.

“People seemed to acknowledge that I had done something that should be recognized and celebrated,” she says.

Wardwell also chose the program because it is “endorsed by SME, AME and the Shingo Prize organizations” and it provided the first opportunity to get a nationally-recognized professional credential centered entirely on lean principles, systems, and tools.”

Wardwell says that the certification is a step in an ongoing learning cycle. “It is a very nice feeling to see the “Lean Gold Certified” tag line behind my signature and to know that every year more people are aware of the value of the body of work necessary to attain it,” she adds.

For more information about SME’s certification programs, please visit

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About SME:
The Society of Manufacturing Engineers (SME) is the premier source for manufacturing knowledge, education and networking. Through its many programs, events, and activities, SME connects manufacturing practitioners to each other, to the latest technology and the most up-to-date processes spanning all manufacturing industries and disciplines, plus the key areas of aerospace and defense, medical device, motor vehicles, including motorsports, and oil and gas. A 501(c)3 organization, SME has members in more than 70 countries and is supported by a network of technical communities and chapters worldwide.

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