The pros and cons of paying for staff certification

Are you thinking about bankrolling staff certifications? Find out how to decide when it makes sense--and when it doesn't--to spend precious dollars on certifying your people.

You always need to be concerned about retaining your best staff. You want to do what’s best for the company and your staff to keep everyone happy, productive, and energized. I usually start with doughnuts and coffee, but that will only go so far. There comes a point at which one of your developers will come and ask you what the company policy is on paying for staff certification. Or, if you’re organized, you’re already considering paying for certification as part of your overall management strategy.

But whether to pay for staff certification is a question that isn't easily answered. Is bankrolling certification key to keeping talented developers on staff? Or are you just financing their move up with another company?

The value of certification
Certification has a certain value that may be measured differently depending on whether you're the employee or the employer. Certification has a financial value that is measured in real dollars, opportunity cost, and perceived value of the employee in question.

Let’s assume for the sake of argument that, in most cases, certification enhances and raises the value of the employee. Conversely, it also raises the value of your organization as a whole in terms of its human capital.

Your staff situation
Consider your existing staff situation as part of the certification equation. Your staff situation is a significant variable when you're considering whether to bankroll staff certifications. You may be short-staffed, you may be overstaffed (unlikely in the current economy), your staff may be underqualified, you may be trying to move staff up the ladder in skill set, or you may be trying to improve the overall professionalism of your environment.

The morale of your environment and the prevailing staff retention conditions are key components. Your decision to pay or not to pay for certification will most likely have consequences and side effects.

Reasons against paying
There are a number of reasons against paying for staff certification. Some are more valid than others, but it all depends on your environment and particular circumstances.
  • You may face the double whammy of paying for certification and then budgeting for a raise.
  • Employees' self-perceived value is higher, so they’ll leave for greener pastures.
  • If you certify one person, then everyone else will want to be certified.
  • Certification doesn’t directly affect bottom-line performance.
  • The organizational perception/belief is that experience is more valuable than certification.
  • Funds aren’t available to pay for certification.
  • The company is laying people off, so how can it justify paying for certification?

I’m not saying the above reasons are necessarily valid. For some, though, they do represent legitimate management concerns.

Reasons for bankrolling certification
A branch of management theory postulates that investing in your people is the best investment you can make. There are a lot of good reasons why you should consider bankrolling your staff’s certification:
  • It’s cheaper to certify existing staff than to hire certified staff as consultants.
  • Professionalism and workplace methodologies improve.
  • The value of human capital is enhanced.
  • Employee morale, employee acquisition, and employee retention improve.
  • A greater skill set may lead to new client engagements based on having certifications on staff.

The fear that the staff member will move on for more money is the real kicker on the list. In my experience, most employees would prefer to work in an environment where employee development and training are encouraged and supported. It demonstrates that the company is willing to invest in its people.

Determine whether to pay for staff certification
How do you quantify or measure what makes sense for your environment? Start by answering these questions:
  • Will the employee pay for certification on his/her own without the company’s involvement?
  • Do your clients/prospects look for staff certifications?
  • Do you have employee acquisition problems?
  • Do you have employee retention problems?
  • Do you have negative staff morale issues?
  • Does your competition pay for certification?
  • Is there a high, perceived value for the certification?

If you answered yes to four or more items in the above list, it’s a strong indication that it makes sense to pay for staff certification.

Still, the greatest fear of most managers is that the employees will leave after receiving their certification. However, there's a pretty straightforward way of preventing that. As part of your policy on paying for staff certification, just be sure to develop a legal agreement that requires the employee to work for your company for at least "x" number of months after certification is completed. Agreements can always be broken, but, at the very least, it’ll put your cards on the table.

If it makes sense to pay for staff certification, then by all means do it. Ambitious staff will probably go out and get it done either way. If you’re not the one paying for it, employees may be less inclined to be loyal and somewhat more likely to leave for greener pastures.

What do you think?
Does your company pay for employee certifications? If so, how do you decide who gets certified and who doesn’t? If not, do you think your company should start?


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