Credentials & Certificates
An Industry Credential is a certification issued by an occupational or industry group to demonstrate competency or completion of training for a particular job category. It is an industry-recognized third-party or governing board administered assessment, examination, or license that measures occupational competency and validates knowledge and skills that demonstrate mastery.
Benefits and Challenges
- Supports skills-based hiring practices by demonstrating evidence of specific knowledge and abilities
- Intentionally connects workforce skills to workforce demands to address the skills gap while increasing an individual’s earning potential
- Finding education partners
- Communicating and identifying applicable certifications
- Understanding the laws and regulations
Students & Educators
- Mechanism for students to demonstrate mastery of knowledge and skills
- Increases marketability to employers and job prospects, as well as options for postsecondary education
- Provides districts the opportunity to tailor graduation requirements to better meet the unique needs of learners
- Many students and families are unfamiliar with career opportunities unlocked by credentials and certificates
- Bandwidth of educators, counselors, and students to foster partnerships and implement
The unique needs and resources of each district will dictate the implementation of industry certifications as an approved component of a district’s graduation requirement.
Completing an industry certification program and passing the industry recognized certification exam/license
Passing an examination that enables the award of an industry certification
Obtaining a state-issued professional license
A series of connected education and training programs, work experiences, and student support services that enable individuals to secure a job or advance in a demand industry or occupation.
The simultaneous enrollment of a qualified student in a local education provider and in one or more postsecondary courses, including academic or career and technical education courses, at an institution of higher education.
CTE (Career &Technical Education)
Organized educational programs offering sequences of courses directly related to preparing individuals for paid or unpaid employment in current or emerging occupations requiring other than a baccalaureate or advanced degree. (Carl D. Perkins Vocational and Technical Education Act, Public Law 105-332)
Company / Technical College Certificate
A higher education recognized certificate that is awarded for completing the coursework outlined in an approved academic program.
Industry Recognized Certification*
An industry recognized third-party or governing board administered assessment, examination or licensure that measures occupational competency and validates a knowledge base and skills that shows mastery in a particular industry
Colorado high school graduates demonstrate the knowledge and skills (competencies) needed to succeed in postsecondary settings and to advance in career pathways as lifelong learners and contributing citizens.” Adopted by the Colorado State Board of Education and the Colorado Commission on Higher Education, 2016.
Plans of Study
A progression of coursework that leads to an industry recognized certificate/certification.
Standard Occupational Classification system is used by Federal statistical agencies to classify workers into occupational categories for the purpose of collecting, calculating, or disseminating data.
Perform an internal analysis to determine if certifications are currently being utilized. If certifications are not being utilized, perform a high-level assessment of the district or school’s need and capacity to implement certifications as a component of the district’s graduation requirement.
Addressing these questions will encourage and require collaboration and coordination among administration, faculty and staff, as well as post-secondary and industry partners.
If it is determined that there is a need and the approval from the district leadership is received, the next phase is to design an implementation plan.
Questions for consideration:
- Is there a desire by key stakeholders to add Industry Certifications to the district’s menu of Graduation Guidelines?
- Are there certifications currently being offered in CTE or non-CTE programs? (see CTE section for details)
- Is there curriculum in place that could lead to industry certification?
- Is there a strong alignment with local workforce needs? Assess the Need Design Implementation Plan Launch
- Do partnerships with industry and/or post-secondary institutions already exist? (see industry outreach section for a detailed checklist)
- Is there a mechanism for communicating the need for industry certifications to our local constituents (students, teachers, parents, community members)?
- Is there an existing committee or entity that can lead the implementation (e.g. shared decision-making team, curriculum committee, etc.)?
- Does the existing staff have expertise is this area and what professional development might be necessary?
- Will identifiable certifications be district initiated, school initiated, or student initiated?
Create a diverse oversight committee. Create a committee of individuals who can lead the work. Members should include administration, faculty and staff, Career and Technical educators, post-secondary partners, industry partners, and students. By involving the community, schools will be able to provide avenues to new resources and opportunities for students and teachers.
Establish a process framework. Develop a framework that will support management and accountability as well as a commitment to a culture of quality certifications. Focus areas to include are:
- Internal policies – Develop polices or procedures to ensure quality and accurate use of the certifications. Incorporate connections into existing relevant policies for sustainability as appropriate.
- Internal systems and processes – Systems and processes to store and secure any necessary data and to focus on ensuring that data are actively used in decision-making and evaluation measures, processes to sign up, pay for, and take exams.
- Integration with existing programs – such as Credit for Prior Learning, Credit for Work or Internship Experiences, or Capstone Projects.
- Human Capital– Identify the human capital available and determine roles and responsibilities. Clearly identify if and how industry will be engaged in the process.
Create a shared vision and purpose. A common vision and purpose for including industry certifications is critical for long-term success and sustainability. Ensuring that all stakeholders understand the purpose and potential allows for focus and clarity. Public meetings can engage constituents in the design and purpose of implementing industry certifications. If the purpose of including industry certifications can be constructed transparently, communication to stakeholders is lessened.
Identify possible certifications. Certifications could be identified at the district level, the programs level or the individual student level. Consideration should be given to possible alignments with:
- District’s curriculum and academic standards
- Existing or expected career pathways and/or CTE programs
- Funding sources to support the costs of certifications
- Local, regional, and state workforce needs
- Accessible post-secondary programs
- ICAP implementation
- Alignment to concurrent enrollment opportunities
Create Industry Validation Process. Once possible certifications have been identified, establish a processes for identifying and documenting alignments to:
- Course Content through a sequence of courses (career pathways)
- Core content standards and CTE standards (see standards alignment section)
- Career and Technical Education (CTE) programs and/or courses (see CTE integration section)
- Alignment to Business/Industry needs and standards (see Industry Engagement section)
- Certifications and/or programs at post-secondary institutions (post-secondary alignment section)
Identify Accountability Metrics. Identify data related to the implementation of recognized certifications to collect. Examples include:
- Number of students and type of certificates that are awarded
- Number of students who earned a certificate that are hired in the industry of their
- Number of students transitioning to post-secondary programs or additional training that align with the certification
Utilization of industry certifications to show academic knowledge and skill mastery for graduation could require the district to validate the academic standards that are aligned in the certification attainment process, depending on district policy. Alignment between an industry certification and academic standards can be challenging:
- Industry certifications are utilized to measure skills and industry knowledge, which can look different than academic standards.
- Industry certifications vary widely both between and within industries. Alignment to standards may look different for each individual certification.
Academic alignment to industry certifications can be accomplished through utilization of various resources:
- Industry Certification Governing Body.The governing body for an industry certification can often provide the specifications of the knowledge and skills that are assessed within the process of attaining the certification. Some may have an existing crosswalk between the technical content and academic standards that are aligned. (See list of certifications)
- Colorado Career and Technical Education (CTE). CTE programs are built from state recognized technical standards. In some programs, these standards are created to align to courses that lead to an industry certification. Industry can play a key role in supporting the development of these programs to ensure that the content covered supports the competencies needed to earn the industry certification. Colorado CTE standards have been cross-walked to Colorado academic standards.
- Industry representatives. Representatives who have obtained the certification being considered can assist in identifying the academic content that is addressed in the industry certification process. The O*NET (Occupational Information Network) has resources that provide information on specific skills needed for jobs based on SOC codes (Standard Occupational Classification).
Steps for Standards Alignment
Engage the Advisory Committee for the certification program to:
- Document the competencies that are developed and demonstrated through the certification process. These are often identified by the governing body of the certification.
- Identify and document the core competencies that are demonstrated through the attainment of the industry certification. See the Colorado academic standards.
- Periodically review the identified alignments to maintain relevancy and currency
Career and Technical Education (CTE) programs are organized educational programs offering sequences of courses directly related to preparing individuals for paid or unpaid employment in current or emerging occupations requiring less than a baccalaureate degree. (Carl D. Perkins Vocational and Technical Education Act, Public Law 105-332)
The Carl D. Perkins Career and Technical Education Improvement Act of 2006 provides federal career and technical education funds to states. The Act urges states to use technical skill assessments aligned with industry-recognized standards to measure CTE students’ technical achievement. While there are many ways to demonstrate this technical achievement, industry certifications offer a vetted method of signaling that students have acquired a defined set of skills and knowledge. See the Colorado Community College System website for more information on Technical Skills Attainment.
CTE programs offer a unique opportunity for the implementation of industry certifications into the curriculum. Programs often have an appropriate sequence of courses that seamlessly lead to an industry certification. Note that while there are community/technical college certificates signifying completion of a series of courses, this is not the same as an industry recognized certification. Completion of a community/technical college series of courses can prepare a student to take the assessment to earn an industry recognized certification.
CTE Plans of Study and Individual Career and Academic Plans (ICAP) can be used to guide students to develop and maintain a personalized plan that will ensure program and workforce success. These plans of study can often lead to identified industry certifications, providing a guided pathway toward earning these certifications. Examples of these types of plans of study can be found in the appendix. See more information on plans of study. Visit Individual Career and Academic Plans for more information.
Industry engagement involves partnering with industry stakeholders to create educational programs that enable young people to acquire the knowledge, skills and attributes that are relevant in the current workforce. Industry involvement can be fostered at the district level, the program level, or even and the individual teacher or student level.
Connections with industry allow for:
- The community to be linked to the educational system via business, industry, and labor representatives that add expertise and resources to the certification program;
- Identification of new and emerging opportunities leading to modification of existing or creation of new certification programs;
- Communication among education, business, and industry regarding employment needs of the community;
- Validation of certification programs by providing student competency lists and reviewing curriculum;
- Assurance that each career pathway academic ladder matches the corresponding industry career ladder and career pathways within the community;
- Discussion of student outcomes (completion rates, placement rates, and state licensing examination outcomes);
- Relevancy of programs through assessment of equipment and facilities available and recommendations as needed;
- Opportunities for work-based learning experiences for learners and training opportunities for educators.
- Advocacy of certification programs to communities and
- Placement of program completers; and
- Leveraging of community resources (equipment, facilities, materials, and broker community partnerships).
- Possible funding opportunities for programs and/or certifications
Models of Industry Engagement
Establish or research existing models for industry engagement for the certification areas to:
- Every approved career and technical education (CTE) program in Colorado is required is engage with industry through a program advisory committee. Each advisory committee is made up of individuals with experience and expertise in the occupational field(s) that the program serves who advise educators on the design, development, implementation, evaluation, maintenance, and revision of Career and Technical Education (CTE) programs within a career pathway.
- Existing partnerships may exist between education and industry through a Sector Partnerships model
- Individual districts in Colorado have engaged with business in their communities.
A sector partnership is a model adopted by Colorado for workforce and economic development to ensure the state has a skilled workforce trained to match the needs of local industry and to maintain the state’s economic competitiveness.
The Colorado Workforce Development Council (CWDC) is the state-wide convener and facilitator for sector partnerships. CWDC is a public/private partnership of business, economic development, education, workforce development, and government at the local, regional, and state levels. CWDC coordinates education and training partners working with industry to prepare the workforce of the future.
The work of CWDC and its other statewide partners, such as the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment, promotes business-led regional public-private partnerships to address regional workforce needs for Colorado’s most critical industries.
- Bring employers from the same industry together with the education, training, and other community supports needed to implement solutions and services that ensure a target industry thrives.
- Support current or new career pathways, which are a series of connected education and training programs, work experiences, and student support services that enable individuals to secure jobs and/or advance in an in-demand industry or occupation.
- Can be a resource for identifying industry certifications or credentials.
- Are focused at the local and regional level, not the state level.
There may already be an established partnership between education and business through a sector partnership in your area. Check the CWDC website or with your local workforce center to learn
about sector partnerships in your region.
Concurrent Enrollment and Stackable Credentials
Industry certifications represent another pathway from high school to postsecondary education. Because industry certifications are earned through a series of courses taught by a postsecondary education institution, a student could potentially begin earning postsecondary credits and working towards an industry certification while still in high school.
Many schools and districts already take advantage of concurrent enrollment – 92% of districts and 75% of high schools have students participating in concurrent enrollment. These partnerships between high schools and higher education can support students in developing a pathway towards an industry certification.
Concurrent enrollment courses can be utilized for CTE postsecondary programs as well, many of which may end with the option to sit for an industry certification examination. Here are some additional resources on implementing concurrent enrollment in your district.
Another key way to support students’ educational and employment outcomes is providing opportunities to earn stackable credentials. These are credentials that are “part of a sequence of credentials that can be accumulated over time to build up an individual’s qualifications and help them to move along a career pathway or up a career ladder to different and potentially higher-paying jobs.”
Because there are an overwhelming number of credentials a student could earn, identifying a career pathway, and the stackable credentials within that pathway, can help narrow the focus on where to start and subsequent certifications that can be earned. Industry groups are working on developing a series or sequence of stackable credentials that will prepare students for employment in the industry.
Career Success Program
Through this program, participating school districts and charter schools can receive up to $1,000 bonus funding for each student who completes an industry certification linked to high demand jobs, finishes a rigorous postsecondary internship, residency, or apprenticeship program tied to key industry needs, or successfully completes a Computer Science Advanced Placement (AP) course. Recently the program was extended through 2024.
Examples and Partners
In partnership with the Chaffee County Economic Development Corp. the Salida School District offers students a construction trades program that is credentialed through Colorado Mountain College. Students enrolled in the program receive on-site skills training, safety certification, and workforce readiness leading to career opportunities in the growing field of construction and trades. Through the program, students have the unique opportunity to address an important issue in their community: affordable housing for district employees.
The St. Vrain Valley Schools Innovation Center provides experiential opportunities that helps students develop into tomorrow’s leaders, innovators, and change-makers. In addition to rigorous extended learning and mentorship opportunities, students gain valuable experience through employment that focuses on designing and engineering technology solutions for industry and community partners. Through Innovation Center courses, learners have the opportunity to earn a variety of industry recognized certifications.
Through its Performance Based Learning model and robust partnerships with local businesses and higher education Mesa 51 School District is working hard to create graduates that are ready for 21st century college and career opportunities. D51 (as well as Salida and many others) is leveraging the incentives from the Career Success Program which was recently extended through 2024.
The Colorado Community College System is a national leader in offering a new way to display industry-recognized, employment focused credentials that validate core employability and technical skills–Digital Badges. The Open Badge Standard enables the badge holder or badge viewer to verify the skills and mastery through verified organizations attaching data and evidence of skill attainment to their file. Digital Badges can be more dynamic than a resume, with new skills, competencies, and knowledge automatically published, and updated, after the badge is issued.
Aurora Public Schools digital badging program provides students the opportunity to demonstrate their achievement of 21st century (Essential) skills acquired not only in traditional academic settings, but also in their communities and job experiences. Digital Badges help students open doors by giving them the opportunity to tell a story about what they know and what they can do.