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Project management qualification versus certification

Project management qualification versus certification

Project management training and education choices can be an alphabet soup of acronyms, so how do you know which one will be most useful for the career you want?

PRINCE2, ITIL, MoP—if you're new to the project management training and education space,  these acronyms are a bewildering alphabet soup of certifications that mean almost nothing without an understanding of the project management space. Even experienced project managers who have come through other professions such as engineering may not be familiar with the range of certifications now on offer that take project management further than ever before.

Because of the number of project management certifications and qualifications available, it's often hard for aspiring and practising project managers to tell what prerequisites they need to take the next step in their professional development. One confusion comes from identifying the difference between qualification and certification.

"Qualifications are generally nationally recognised training packages that are developed under the Australian Qualifications Framework (AQF). They are considered as either building blocks to further qualifications or it can provide recognition of prior learning towards higher education," says Steven Rowe, education and career consultant with CoursesNow.

"Certification is based around industry skills and so rather than having an academic approach, it's built around project managers that are on the front line who have developed these skills. Every time they find a better way to do something, they develop their certification. It's always being upgraded," he explains.

Whether a prospective student needs a certification or a qualification will depend on what they plan to do with it after they finish their studies. "Students might want to go down the academic pathway purely because they see that as a stepping-stone to further education. If that's the case, then we would look at an academic qualification. If they are looking to provide a better platform for themselves if they're currently working in the industry, or if they're looking at a specific industry, then we would certainly drive them more toward certification," says Rowe.

Which methodology?
Although project management is a skill set that can be applied across a range of industries, Rowe believes that certain industries have preferences for particular accreditations. Because of this, students should consider which sector they would like to work in and whether there are industry standards or preferences.

"There are specific methodologies out there that we use more for one industry over others. You'll see IT companies looking for people who have PRINCE2 behind them, along with ITIL. Then you have the manufacturing industry, which is geared towards Six Sigma," Rowe observes.

He says the most versatile is the Project Management Institute's range of certifications based on its Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK). "Although it originates from the construction industry, you'll see it used across a broad range of industries and it's certainly the most sought after. In my experience providing education support, people are leaning more towards having the PMBOK methodology behind them to run their projects."

The amount of exposure a prospective student has had to project management will also make a difference, Rowe notes. "Most people looking to go into project management have had some experience but haven't taken on the full duties of a project manager, so then it's about developing those skills. What it comes down to, in terms of what course they need to do, is what sort of industry they want to be working in, what sort of skill set do they want to focus on and then working out what's going to be the best option for them."

Rowe says when students take the initiative, it is a huge benefit for professional development, and it looks good on your CV. "Being certified or qualified demonstrates a certain level of aptitude in that area. It demonstrates to any potential employer out there, or your current employer, that you are looking to provide the best outcome for that company."

On an individual level, a qualification and/or certification provides confidence and that can be the difference between performing well and being plagued by a project's problems. "Having a structured approach to manage those issues is a huge weight off your shoulders. It gives you the confidence to know what you're doing and to know you're being effective," Rowe says. "I've always been an advocate of structure. If you want to be a successful project manager this is going to add value for you."

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