Professional designations are so important that in some cases, they can make or break a candidate’s chance of getting hired, according to an industry expert.

For example, some organizations ask an applicant up front for a PMP (project management professional) certificate, and if they don’t have

it, that’s the end of the discussion, says Colin Morris, vice-president of professional development, for the Project Management Institute’s Toronto chapter.

The Canadian Information Processing Society’s ISP, or Information Service Professional designation is almost 10 years old, but it isn’t as popular with CIPS members as its executive would like.

Of the association’s roughly 10,000 regular members across the country, only 1,600 are ISP-certified, according to Karen Lopez, director of professional standards for CIPS. Members’ lack of enthusiasm for obtaining the designation is somewhat of a mystery to Lopez.

“”We ask ourselves the same question,”” she admits. “”In a booming economy, where anyone who can spell HTML can get a job, perhaps it’s seen (simply) as a means of getting a job rather than a mark of a reliable certification.””

Marilyn Harris says there’s a dearth of ISPs in Canada because many people working in IT aren’t qualified to pursue it.

“”I’m not an ISP holder and I won’t be going for the designation simply because I’m not qualified,”” says the former CIPS president who is a director of KLR Consulting in Victoria. “”A lot of CIPS members are interested in the ISP designation but they’re simply not qualified (to pursue it). It encourages people to upgrade their skills and maintain those skills through continuing education. If the qualifications were easy, the designation would hold no value.””

But Greg Michetti, a CIPS member — though not an ISP — and the president of Michetti Information Solutions Inc. in Edmonton, questions the value of the designation in the private sector.

“”It’s important when you’re dealing with a government contract or a large organization,”” Michetti says, but not extremely relevant beyond that.

Lopez says CIPS is trying to change that perspective by placing an even stronger emphasis on the level of professionalism associated with the designation.

“”We’re working out the details as to how to get that message out effectively to our members and non-members,”” she says.

Many industry certificates are granted without requiring practical experience, she says. The difference with the ISP standard is it requires students to have minimum levels of professional experience and competence. Certified ISPs are required to complete a program of relevant education and practical experience before receiving the designation. They must also commit to ongoing professional development.

CIPS is shifting its recruitment efforts to look beyond it traditional boundaries for new members.

“”Originally, our focus was on people who had graduated from computer science programs, but we’ve now expanded that view and are looking at how to assess people who haven’t studied through traditional studies at a university or college,”” Lopez says. “”CIPS is putting its emphasis on being an association of IT professionals, not just a computer club.””

Morris says what differentiates professional designations such as ISP and PMP from other industry-standard certifications is that neither is associated with a specific product or technology. “”There are some 89 different organizations involved in certifying IS professionals,”” Morris says. “”About three-quarters of those associations offer certifications that are directly applicable to a certain product. We’re not tied to a commercial product of any kind, I think that’s a significant aspect of it.””

Lopez says she’s confident the certification is gaining in recognition across the country, citing CIPS research that shows Ontario and Alberta have had success in hiring workers with the ISP designation.

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