Between Certification and Competence: A Search for Balance

Between Certification and Competence: A Search for Balance

A couple of days ago, I shared my thought on how certificates don’t confirm your competence on a job. Your results on the job do. Wale Olusi, an analyst, and friend added his view in a confirmatory comment while Emmanuel Akindoyin wrote a concise but detailed follow-up piece on it too. I think I need to add a little more to the discourse. This is what birthed this piece.

I was heading home from work two days ago when I received a text message from one of my mentees who is a student of the Federal University, Otuoke, Bayelsa State. He sent the message to inform me about his semester result. He had done well and he was proud to inform me about it. I was equally impressed by his performance.

Then I sent a reply to commend him and to also know his current academic standing. He replied and I told him: “Raise it (his current academic standing) with enough A’s. It shouldn’t drop any further henceforth. Then make sure you learn a skill in addition to your academics. Skills rule these days. Good night.”

I am an accountant and as one who knows what rules in practice, I needed to tell Japan, as he was nicknamed, that he should equally give attention to skill development. He will need the skills so much as he needs the academic result to break through the labour market if he chooses a non-entrepreneurial route. Whichever way, he needs the skills.

I told Japan to learn a skill because I know he needs it. I personally don’t think there is any job that is not skill-based at the moment. I believe virtually all jobs are skill-based. Yet, not all jobs are certificate-based but without the needed skills, you can’t do them. I hold this view because it is skills that we use to complete tasks on the job. People need to know that they need to horn those skills (and not only gather certificates) to deliver on their jobs. Notwithstanding, certification on its own lends credence and gives legitimacy to skill on the surface.

Albeit, skills are honed on the job. It goes to say that employees should focus on honing their skills on, and for the job (rather than pursuing more certifications except where the job requires them).

Wale Olusi’s opinion cemented my position. He said, ‘In my profession, the CFA is the most revered certification. If you go ahead and bag one and show up at work clueless, you’ll be humiliated out of the job. Thankfully, the process is so rigorous most people don’t get to complete it after failing severally. But if you demonstrate knowledge, depth, and outstanding technical competence with just a B.Sc., you’ll be celebrated!!!’

His comment above is from field experience. He is in practice as an analyst and he knows that a B.Sc. — which is a meal ticket — can be all you need to excel if you demonstrate competence through requisite skills.

Then, what should the student who is in a dilemma of pursuing academic excellence and skill development do? I will answer you. Since our system is one that first needs your certification (especially for fresh graduates) before giving you a chance to prove your mettle on the job, I advocate a 60% versus 40% focus on your academics and skill development respectively. This is not an International Labour Organisation (ILO) rule. You can strike a balance that suits you but don’t leave out skill development while you pursue only academic excellence. Strike a balance somewhere there. This is what I will do assuming with my current knowledge, I just want to pursue a university study for the first time.

A student may ask: what skills should I horn while in school or after I graduate? Will the school teach me the skills?

Well, they are not skills made in heaven but your school will not likely teach you either. They are man-made skills for man.

Learn how to use a computer. That’s weird to start with but there are graduates who know how to use the latest smartphones but can’t punch the addition sign (+) on the computer keyboard. Please, learn how to use the computer.

Learn how to process documents well. Know the documents used in your field. Get familiar with them. Know their likely layouts too. Learn Microsoft Word processing for the job’s sake!

Learn how to use the system to manipulate figures. Learn the use of Microsoft Excel.

Learn how to face an audience while you talk with poise. Confidence is a skill you need. Learn how to use Microsoft PowerPoint.

Learn how to talk convincingly and analytically without cutting the figure of a bully. I know you can argue sports or football but also learn how to talk to people in a winsome manner. You will need it in the way you write and reply e-mails. You will need it so much so daily at work.

Learn how to write well. I repeat this: learn how to write correct English Language or the acceptable language where you work. Your poor writing can kill projects or proposals. You will do plenty of writings.

Don’t forget the skill of respect. Even if your uncle owns the company, learn the skill of courtesy and due respect. It is a soft skill but it is hard enough to mar your career.

You won’t know all just yet until you get on the job. Be very attentive as you give total attention to details. Listening is a skill. This is needed for your learning on the job. It is a career-long skill needed for your on-the-job skill honing.

Before landing the job, make it a duty to talk to those in the field already. Ask what skills you will need to excel in that field. Spend a weekend or arranged time schedules with someone in your field. Talk and learn from him. That knowledge alone prepares you for what’s ahead!

Do you want to wait till you graduate before you learn all these? No way! The time is now. Volunteering is there to do. Job shadowing is another. Free office assistance won’t be bad either.

Put all the excuses of not having a computer, not getting IT placements, etc, aside. By all legitimate means, get these things done. That is one way to confirm you mean business. It will make you that ready man.

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