Building a certification program, Step 4: Identifying and researching the role
Posted on
July 17, 2018

NOTE: This is an ongoing series. To view all articles in the series, click here.

Before you can create certifications, you must determine the role to be certified.

In the first article in this series I shared the need to develop an operational definition that you and your leadership teams buy into. In the second article in this series I demonstrated what I have found to be the key to getting leadership buy-in for a certification program — namely a simple graphical model that represents the high-level concept that is the foundation for your proposed program. The model, to be effective, must be simple to understand and communicate, logical in its approach, and finally must be stable in its representation of your program’s mission.

In the third article I shared with you a plan to tell us what we need to do to ensure the program meets the definition, and will help us know where we are in the process. I shared the outline of my fully articulated project plans and the basis of my project charters. My goal for this article is to provide you with an in-depth view of the first two steps of the nine-step plan that I have had success with.

The steps we’ll cover today are as follows:

Step 1 — Identify the Role(s) to Be Certified

Step 2 — Research Current Role Description and Assigned Tasks

STEP 1: Identify the Role(s) to Be Certified

This is the step where you begin scoping for your program and where you lay the foundation for your program. Though this sounds quite intuitive and simple, it may take some time and negotiation to decide which roles you need to certify, as well as how the role is identified in the workplace.

For example, say I wanted to certify chaplains. The question arises: Which type of chaplain? There are chaplains who work in the military, in hospitals, in healthcare, in palliative care, in nursing homes, in prisons, as chaplain supervisors, as chaplain educators, and the list goes on.

While writing A Career-Changer’s Checklist, I had been in the process of changing careers. As you know, changing careers in IT — or any other sector — in this current market is challenging at best. I followed all the suggestions that I had given in that book and still experienced challenges locating the right job/career. The lessons I learned while writing that book translate well to this first step in the PLAN.

While I was writing one of the chapters, I had an epiphany. My troubleshooting skills —analyzing, theorizing, hypothesizing, scrutinizing, and all those other -izings — went to work. What I came up with is the key to finding a good job in any sector.

The key is making sure that your names for your skills and talents are the same as others’ names for them. It’s all in the label. We all hate labels, but if you mislabel yourself and your skill set, then you will never find a good job.

Another way to say this is that it is all in the name you give to a job, a career, or a skill set. (This has historical roots.) It is what you call what you can do.

Before you can create certifications, you must determine the role to be certified.

Have you ever gone into a hardware store to look for some small item — a pipe connector, for example — and not known what to ask for? You say, “I want one of these,” and you show the old part to the clerk.

Sometimes the clerk in the store looks at you like you are a complete moron. But when you go back at a later date and ask for the part by name, you feel like a genius. You know what a “street elbow” is and what it is used for. Wow. The key is the label — the name.

The same is true when you are looking for a job, or when you are trying to identify a role for certification. You know what you can do and you have an idea what it’s called, but others might have a different label or a different name for that particular skillset.

You are using different labels; you are speaking different languages. I have learned, through trial and error, that this is a major problem in IT. It also is a problem in virtually every market sector known to humanity.

The labels we use for jobs and skills have gotten way out of hand. Unless you know what others call what a role does, you will have a difficult time finding a good job or being able to identify what is done by a person in that role.

Let me give you some examples of recent searches I have done. Each of these is for the same job, but different companies and sectors label the job with a different title. They use a different name than I would use.

Example 1: Trainer Search

My standard search on the job boards at one time was for a trainer who offers IT training. That produces a variety of results. Everything from Microsoft trainer to fitness trainer to simulation trainer for the military comes up in the results.

Sure, I could filter this a bit better, but the revelation that I found is that the labels and names used for an IT trainer differs from sector to sector.

Before you can create certifications, you must determine the role to be certified.

Here is a list of the names used by companies for those who offer IT training as a trainer. When you look at the job descriptions, they vary a little bit, but not that much. These are all for trainers who offer IT training:

  • Trainer
  • Instructor
  • Technical Trainer
  • Technology Trainer
  • Technical Instructor
  • Technology Instructor
  • Training Specialist
  • Training Analyst
  • Training Consultant
  • Learning Analyst
  • Learning Consultant
  • Training Consultant
  • Education Specialist
  • Education Analyst
  • Education Consultant
  • Training Developer
  • Training Engineer
  • Education Engineer
  • Learning Engineer
  • Instructional Architect

For those looking to manage or direct training operations, the following names are used:

  • Training Manager
  • Training Director
  • Learning Manager
  • Learning Director
  • Director of Technical Training
  • Director of Training
  • Director of Education
  • Director of Learning and Development
  • Director of Learning
  • Learning Manager
  • Learning and Development Manager
  • Education Manager
  • Education Director
  • Technical Training Lead

So what is the difference between all these options? It depends on the company or sector that is advertising or wants to certify a given role. The military uses one name, whereas the healthcare community uses another name for the same job. The banking and finance sector calls a trainer by one of the variants.

Depending on the vendor IT companies simply call a trainer a “trainer” or an “instructor” for branding and for certification. Education calls a trainer a “training specialist.”

So if you simply search for a “trainer,” you will have a tough time identifying the role to be certified. If you know what is done and what others call what you do, you will have a much easier time identifying a given occupational role.

Example 2: Network or Systems Engineer

I frequently did a search for a network engineer. That always meant someone who worked on LANs and WANs. Now many companies look at this title as someone who strictly does WANs. Most network engineer positions are for Cisco folks, but that also depends on the sector that is advertising. Some sectors use this title for LAN engineers while others use one of the variants.

The other confusing title is “system engineer.” Some companies use the term “network engineer” and “system engineer” interchangeably, while others use the term “systems engineer” for infrastructure folks. There is no rhyme or reason to this.

The following variants are used as well for these two “occupations”:

  • Network Specialist
  • Network Analyst
  • Systems Specialist
  • Systems Analyst
  • Network Administrator
  • Systems Administrator

What do you call what these occupations do and what do others call what they do when it comes to these skillsets?

Example 3: Course Developer

If you really want to feel confused, do a search looking for a “technical course developer.” The wheels come off when it comes to this field. There are more names given to this set of skills, which are for the most part self-evident, than I could ever imagine.

Before you can create certifications, you must determine the role to be certified.

Here are some names given to this occupation:

  • Instructional Designer
  • Curriculum Developer
  • Curriculum Designer
  • Instructional Design Analyst
  • Course Developer
  • Course Designer
  • Instructional Technologist
  • Instructional Systems Analyst
  • Instructional Systems Designer
  • Content Developer
  • Technical Content Developer
  • Technical Writer
  • Technical Editor
  • Documentation Specialist
  • Documentation Analyst
  • Instructional Analyst
  • Learning Analyst
  • Educational Technology Developer
  • Training and Development Specialist
  • Learning Developer
  • Education Analyst
  • Technical Education Designer
  • Technology Education Designer
  • Technology Education Course Developer

This same exercise can be done for nearly every IT specialty — it doesn’t matter whether it’s database work, programming, or web development. Every one of these has a host of names given to the same job and same skill set.

This same exercise can also be done for other sectors. One that I was interested in when I was identifying the problem had to do with a job that I held at a medical college early in my career.

In that job, my title was manager of life safety services. That same job today has more names that I can list in this article. Some are safety engineer, environmental health and safety engineer, and environmental health and safety specialist.

It is mind-blowing.

Before you can create certifications, you must determine the role to be certified.

The bottom line is this: You might know the education, the experience, the skills, the certifications, the credentials, the references, and everything else, and still have problems identifying an occupation. The problem might be that you are calling what is done by those in an occupation something different than what the employers are calling what those in the occupation do.

It is all in the name you give to a job, a career, skillset. Be open to searching for different titles or names for the jobs you want to certify. Search all the Internet using the different names given to the occupation you are interested in certifying.

The KEY is making sure that you name what is done the same way that others name what is done by those in the role.

This then takes us to Step 2.

STEP 2: Research Current Role Description and Assigned Tasks

Once you have identified the role, then the work really starts — before you do anything else you need to learn what the role’s duties, tasks and responsibilities are. If you don’t have a clear documented idea of what a person in the role does how do you then say that a person entering the role is certified to do the job?

This is where interviewing the leadership and management comes into play. For example, say you are tasked with certifying a number of different roles involved in deploying a major release of software product BA. Two of the roles are Technical Engineers and Implementation Consultants. Since you are new to these two terms you decide to research them by interviewing the organization’s leadership and managers.

After 6 months of meetings you finally meet with a VP who informs you that these teams of engineers and consultants work off of a project plan which has each role’s major tasks listed. BINGO! As soon as you hear this, you ask this VP for a copy of the plan. From that discussion, building a certification program for these two roles has become systematically easy.

Also, this is the step when you determine whether certification is actually needed, or whether a simple assessment will fill the bill, or whether a 20-minute eLearning course might suffice. If certification is not needed, then what is the reason it is not needed?

A big part of the research done in this step is a Needs Assessment. This Needs Assessment might come in the form of a three-layer DECISION MATRIX which will help you determine in a systematic way whether you needed to certify, test or simply provide some additional training.

Here is part of one (see below) that I developed and used successfully with several software based organizations. You will note that certification is always required when an occupation is customer/client facing. This worked well for my clients. If this does not work for your organization, it is your job to offer a deciding metric.

If you discover that a certification program is needed, then based on whether the role is well documented or not you need to consider conducting an occupational analysis. In the next installment I will share with you how I have been doing these analyses using DACUM. Stay tuned.

Before you can create certifications, you must determine the role to be certified.
About the Author

Warren E. Wyrostek is a Solutions Oriented Educator and Leader, a Certified Trainer and Facilitator, an Experienced DACUM Enthusiast, and an innovative Certification and Assessment expert in demand. Warren holds a Doctorate in Education in Curriculum and Instruction. Currently Warren is an Adjunct at Valdosta State University and the owner of 3WsConsulting - Providing Efficient And Effective Top To Bottom Solutions To Learning Issues. Warren can be reached at

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