Civil engineers may have noticed a series of events being held across the United States during the last few months that offered a day of training on Autodesk Civil 3D followed by "certification." They may also have wondered why, as qualified professionals, they really needed any further validation of their skills.
In fact, certification is a growing trend for anyone using any form of IT in their working lives. It is increasingly important in the building and civil engineering sectors because of the radical changes to working methods brought by digitization during the last decade.
For example, the number of U.S. and Canadian professionals seeking certification in the use of Autodesk software increased 10 percent last year as more employees and employers alike began to recognize the benefits. This means there are now more than 18,000 architects, designers, engineers, and CAD professionals certified across North America, a 100-percent increase since 2010.
An international benchmark
The United States still has the largest IT certification market in the world, but emerging countries are catching up. For example, growth is rapid in the BRIC economies – Brazil, Russia, India and China – and in Eastern Europe, regions where the overall expansion of the IT market has accelerated dramatically in recent years. When Autodesk's own scheme got underway in China, 89,000 people were certified in the first year.
It's easy to see why it's so popular. Certified professionals from these regions now can compete for jobs all over the world on an equal footing with local workers in established economies. Indeed, they may well be at a competitive advantage as employers recognize that increasingly certification is taken into account when they tender for large multi-national projects.
Many companies today operate in a global context and certification provides an international benchmark, enabling the holder to widen his or her job search. In reality, it probably indicates more uniformity and a better guarantee than many degrees, which vary so much in content and standard across the globe. It certainly means that a civil engineer, for example, who passes a certification exam in Mumbai, India, has the same qualification as one passing the scheme in Baltimore and the same benefits apply wherever in the world that engineer is based.
Yet pressure from developing markets and from large corporates bidding for business are just part of the explanation for certification's growing popularity. One of the key challenges here is the shortfall between the teaching in some engineering curriculums and what is needed in the workplace. Of course, many universities, colleges, and schools collaborate closely with industry leaders and software developers to ensure that their teaching is current. However, with budget cuts and other pressures, some fall short of this. Consequently, students are taught traditional methods but lack the knowledge of the latest applications and working methods.
Think of how civil engineering has changed during the last few years. Consider just one fairly common task: calculating cut and fill volumes. This used to involve some complex equations and, if there was an error, you could easily be up half the night trying to track it back to the source and re-doing all of the affected work. Or if changing the position of a median on a divided highway, everything on the plan had to be adjusted accordingly and then checked.
These days, intuitive and intelligent software means that these tasks can be completed in a fraction of the time with far greater accuracy. And while it's useful to know the traditional formulae once required, it is probably more valuable to be familiar with the use of 4D scheduling tools to control highly complex supply chains and coordinate concurrent workflows, for example.
Even young graduates, who have already learned something about these enabling software tools, may not have learned best practice and how to maximize functionality. This is why more targeted IT training and certification are becoming more popular as a valuable add-on to a degree. Although it's important that graduates use an authorized training center, they can often also download course materials from the Internet to help assess their knowledge levels and tailor learning accordingly. Training is usually hands-on using real-life situations, so it gives students experience of the type of challenges they will encounter.
It also ensures that graduates begin their working lives knowing how to use the software in the most efficient and effective way, so that future employers can be sure they are optimizing their investments.
In other words, certification gives prospective employers the confidence that a young person has been properly trained and can do the job. Many all-important first interviews are carried out by human resources managers who are not technically qualified. Certification will demonstrate to them that they are interviewing a candidate of the right caliber and won't be wasting the time of managers further down the line. Ultimately, it significantly reduces the perceived risk of taking on a young, inexperienced graduate.
Importantly, undertaking training and achieving certification also demonstrates initiative motivation and self-reliance – all qualities that employers look out for in job candidates.
Benefits for older workers too
Young graduates aren't the only ones who can benefit. Many older civil engineers – even those now only in their 30s and 40s – began their working lives in a completely different environment than today. Globalization wasn't so prevalent and employers were not so risk averse when it came to hiring staff, so were more willing to train on the job rather than insist on certain qualifications.
Often they taught themselves AutoCAD or other solutions. They may be unaware of ways to maximize the value of the software and its efficiency and some of the current ideas on working methods surrounding the software could easily have passed them by.
Many at this age and in this position don't believe they need training, so they don't put themselves forward. In many cases, their work is too integral to operations and managers don't want to spare them.
But they still have years of work ahead of them. Training them on how to get the best from the latest technologies and working methods will still be an important investment for their employers, harnessing best practice skills to their experience and authority.
So, in the end, most of the benefits of IT training and certification come down to enhanced competitive edge for both employers and employees alike. With so many civil engineers outside the United States taking this route, this is no time to ignore the growing trend.
Julie Gaudet is senior director, Customer Operations, of Gilmore Global Logistics Services, Inc. (http://gilmoreglobal.com).