The Interplay Between Education, Certification and Experience

© mstanley13 - Fotolia.com

© mstanley13 – Fotolia.com

When contractors are responding to a federal RFP (Request for Proposal), there will be specific requirements for the staff who will be involved in the contract. These may be a level of education, e.g., college degree or post-graduate degree; certification, e.g., Microsoft certification for certain kinds of networking equipment; or experience with similar tasks in a similar environment.

A person can have no education and no certification, but be experienced enough to do a good job. Increasingly, however, RFPs require education and certification. This affects the federal contractor in two ways:

First, this situation will tend to favor the incumbent who already has people doing the job. Second, it tends to be more costly because you’ve had to invest in both education and certification for your people, rather than just time on the job getting experience. Someone with more education will also demand a higher salary.

Most companies in the industry do provide some kind of educational reimbursement, and a cost-offset for taking one of these certification tests. In order to be reimbursed, TAPE and most other companies require people to pass the certification or to get a particular level of grade with their educational degree. There is no such thing as a free lunch.

Sometimes RFPs allow for a trade-off between education and experience. For example, if a college degree is required, an associate’s degree would be acceptable if coupled with two or four years of experience. For someone with six or eight years of experience, the entire educational requirement might be waived.

(Note that it’s far more rare for there to be a trade-off for certification. Presumably because it should be easy – though costly – for someone with experience to pass a certification test.)

Personally, if I were looking for the safest path, I’d want someone who was certified and had experience. The certification tells me an independent authority has tested them on the knowledge base required for the job, and the experience tells me they can handle situations that no one can predict.

I wish I could say I have some vast solution for this problem, but I don’t. There is an offset – a clear trade off between education, certification and experience. I know we’ll continue to wrestle with this topic with RFPs and otherwise.

One thing you may want to point out to a contracting officer is that if there are no trade-offs for experience, and if the certification and educational requirements are very specific, it can have potential anti-competitive effects.

Is it fair, for example, for an agency to require only agency-specific air traffic management certification and education? Wouldn’t FAA certification be sufficient, and possibly identical?


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