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Talent Advisory Board — Picking the Right Credentials

April 3, 2024
Two experts on manufacturing talent reflect on the role of certifications for a successful manufacturing career.

The IndustryWeek Talent Advisory Board offers monthly advice on how its members got to where they are in the manufacturing world. If you have a question for the group, please send it to [email protected].

For March, we asked a question aimed at helping those new to manufacturing prioritize the pursuit of credentials: What role have certifications and advanced degrees played in your manufacturing career?

Bill Good — GE Appliances

I have always looked at my career as a long journey filled with self-improvement and personal achievement. Over the past 36 years, I have focused heavily on the enhancement of my leadership skills in business aptitude through the investment in both formal and on-the-job training. 

Formal education provides a solid foundation of knowledge and theoretical understanding, which can be enhanced and applied through practical, on-the-job experience. During my career, I chose to invest in my advanced degrees and targeted training in areas like Six Sigma, LEAN Manufacturing, and other technical coursework. Furthermore, staying versatile and learning about various aspects of the industry, such as human resources, and engineering, has broadened my perspective and contributed significantly to my overall success. 

This balance of theory and practice has been instrumental in my success and continues to be a cornerstone of my approach to professional development. I foster a culture of continuous improvement and lifelong learning, reinforcing that education does not end after high school or college. This combination of continuous learning, adaptability, and hands-on experience is a powerful formula for navigating the ever-evolving landscape of the industry.

Timothy Noble, President & Managing Partner  — The Avery Point Group, Inc.  

I’m going to answer this question more from the perspective of my role as an executive recruiter.  After an 18-year career in the industry with executive roles in both GE and Stanley (Stanley Black & Decker), I started an executive search firm 20 years ago. As a result, I have a comprehensive understanding of how employers view the value of advanced degrees and certifications. The value of an advanced degree and certification can vary significantly depending on industry, role level, and specialty area. As a result, it is essential that you view the decision to invest in an advanced degree based on the ROI it will bring in your area of focus, industry, and career objectives.

In many operational leadership positions I have recruited for, an advanced degree or MBA was not necessarily a firm requirement. However, in many cases, candidates with an advanced degree gained an advantage over others who didn’t have the additional qualifications due to the knowledge and insights they gained from their advanced degrees. On the other hand, it was infrequent that a client came back to citing that a candidate didn’t have an advanced degree as the sole reason for rejection for a candidate. So, choose the advanced degree you seek wisely, and ensure that it truly adds value to your area of focus or your broader career objectives. Take every opportunity your current employer might offer regarding tuition reimbursement and sponsorship, as they are often focused on your area specialty where both you and your employer can benefit from your advanced degree. 

Certifications can offer some of the best payback and return for your time invested. Often, employers will have “must-have” job requirements related to specific certifications, in some cases even more so than an advanced degree requirement. My best advice is to gain your certification(s) from well-established manufacturing professional trade organizations like the American Society of Quality (ASQ), the Society of Manufacturing Engineers (SME), or whatever is related to your specific area of specialty or discipline. These organizations' certification process often requires testing of the body of knowledge and demonstrated work experience related to the targeted certifications. Once gained, these certifications often require ongoing training, participation in the organization, and relevant work experience to maintain the certification over time. 

I have to add a word of caution, especially concerning the proliferation of training and “certification” organizations in the market for areas like Lean, Lean Six Sigma, and Six Sigma from organizations that provide substandard training. In almost every case, I find that if Black Belt and Master Black Belt training and certification is not paired with some form of statistical software like Minitab or an equal alternative, students will fail to gain the full power and understanding of the tools, methodology, and body of knowledge. I even have some clients who will refuse to interview a candidate if they have gained their certification from a well-known Lean and Six Sigma training and certification organization due to the poor level of understanding these candidates demonstrate around the basic body of knowledge despite receiving a Black Belt and Master Black Belt certification. So, it is crucial that when selecting your training and certification, you do your due diligence with regard to how that certification is received and accepted by employers in the marketplace.

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