Remember when you graduated from college and the valedictorian said something about learning being a lifelong process? With a freshly minted diploma in hand, though, the last thing you wanted to think about was going back to the classroom.
With increasing frequency, however, technology professionals are returning for short stints of training in the latest programming languages, Internet applications and network systems. As certain technologies become obsolete within a few years or less, university extension programs and private training companies are playing an important role for professionals who see continuing education as the key to career survival and advancement.
"With so many companies downsizing, people need to make career transitions faster than in the past," said Mary Metz, dean of UC Berkeley Extension, which offers 3,000 courses and awards professional certificates in fields such as engineering and information technology. The workers with the most job security, she said, are those "who bring multiple skills and different knowledge bases to their jobs."
Indeed, a study this year by International Data Corp. found that workers who completed a series of related, specialized courses to earn a professional certificate made nearly 12% more money than their uncertified counterparts.
Often, workers are sent back to school by their companies to learn a skill they need to complete a project or launch a new one. Classes also draw managers who want to get a broad understanding of a new technology before they decide whether to buy it or invest in employee training.
Instructors say the most popular classes are those that teach students how to build World Wide Web pages for their companies or create animation for the Web using the computer language Java. Courses can be taken singly--to acquire a specific skill--or in combination to earn a certificate. Sometimes they count toward a master's degree.
In the fast-changing world of technology--where upgrades are almost continuous and new applications are introduced in rapid succession--a certificate may be just as useful as a second degree.
"Certification provides a portable credential that will enhance an employee's career and help them when they want to make a move," said Alan Salisbury, president of Learning Tree International, a company that offers 117 classes and 17 professional certification programs. "A college degree is a foundation. To stay current with the technology, a professional certification is a very important complementary thing to have."
Jack Grams can attest to that. When the software engineer was hired into a management position at Northrop Grumman in Pico Rivera, he knew he needed to brush up on his technical skills. Over more than a decade, he has earned 11 certificates through the UCLA Extension program that have kept him on the cutting edge of his field.
"This is definitely a better way to learn," Grams said. "If you don't, you're going to lose out because the company will look elsewhere to find those skills."
Karen Kaplan covers technology and careers. She can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org