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When did certifications become as important as education? It’s been a quarter-century journey

  • Joanna
  • February 27, 2017

WorkKeys, the ACT-built workforce readiness test, has been around in various formats for nearly a quarter-century.

But every few months, it seems, someone else discovers the exam — and treats it a bit like something new.

That’s in no small part because ACT appears to be quite content with the very slow and steady growth of the test, and the credential it produces — the National Career Readiness Certificate, also known as a CRC. It hasn’t over-boasted and hasn’t over-promised. It’s just provided a solid certification process, and even improved upon it year after year for decades.    

WorkKeys was, in many ways, an idea ahead of its time. And like many other ideas about how to best measure proficiency — from high school diplomas to SATs — it’s now become less of a value-added proposition and far more of a standard. More than 3 million certificates have been issued across the nation, and that number is weighted heavily toward younger workers, who are increasingly likely to have been introduced to the test in high school.

That doesn’t mean that WorkKeys is not longer valuable — it most certainly is — but it’s also not the differentiator it once was. A person who might have stood out for their possession of a Gold-level CRC several years ago might only be one of several people with that certification on his or her résumé today.

But WorkKeys has set the stage for a professional world that increasingly sees certifications as just as important — if not in some cases more important — as education itself. And just as someone with multiple degrees might have looked appealing to an employer in the past, a person with multiple certifications will look more appealing today.