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As industries and technologies continue to advance, it is becoming increasingly important to become a skilled employee. One of the best ways to grow your industry knowledge, validate your skills and gain the confidence of an employer is to obtain a credential. When you cite a credential, an employer understands the framework of your knowledge base and can trust that you are qualified by a reliable source.

What is a credential?

Credential” is a broad term that encompasses several different educational and work-related achievements, including certificates, certifications, degrees, licenses, Registered Apprenticeship certificates and badges.

A certificate is awarded when one successfully completes a brief course of study. Certificates usually require one to two years of education and are given by two- or four-year institutions of higher education, the workforce development division of a college or a career and technical center.

Not to be confused with certificates, a certification is not tied to an educational program and is awarded through assessment and validation of skills by an employer, trade association or industry group. Certifications may need to be maintained through continuing education or re-assessment.

A degree indicates the completion of a multi-year course of study from a two- or four-year institution of higher education. There are multiple levels of degrees, ranging from associate and bachelor’s to master’s and doctoral.

A license proves legal authorization to perform a task and is often granted by a government agency after completing a course of study, passing an assessment or gaining work experience. Licenses may need to be renewed over time.

A Registered Apprenticeship certificate is given once an on-the-job learning experience, paired with classroom training, is completed. These occupation-specific certifications are nationally recognized and do not need to be maintained.

Lastly, a badge is earned by completing a project, course or assessment, which can range in length and rigor. Badges are offered by a variety of organizations and are often displayed digitally, like on a LinkedIn profile or portfolio, for example. Badges may expire or require maintenance over time.

Why are credentials important?

Credentials provide access to opportunities and roles that are not as easily achieved with only a high school diploma. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 45.2% of civilian workers were required to have a credential in 2022. Credential requirements vary amongst industry sectors, ranging from only 10.8% in office and administrative support to 92.4% in healthcare practitioners and technical workers.

Even if your industry-of-interest does not require a credential, the benefits of a credential are still worth considering. A study conducted by CompTIA in Illinois showed that people with certifications had slightly higher employment rates and significantly higher wages than those who did not. Additionally, credentials provide confidence and preparedness and can help you stand out amongst other job applicants.

Which credential should you choose?

The immense number of credential options available can be overwhelming, as more than 26,000 U.S. postsecondary providers issue certifications, according to the Lumina Foundation. Due to various inconsistencies, the value, quality and authority of these credentials can be difficult to determine.

Fortunately, the Florida Department of Education, along with their educational and economic partners, formulated a Master Credential List that is available through CareerSource Florida. This list consists of 512 certifications that are selected from qualified providers, align with labor market demand across the state and provide evidence of employment and middle-high wage outcomes.

Where should you start?

You don’t have to wait until after high school graduation to pursue a credential, and taking advantage of these opportunities early will set you off on the right foot. Talk with a school guidance counselor or career coach about opportunities and scholarships that are available locally or even at your school. Career & Technical Education (CTE) Programs aim to educate students from middle school through state college on different occupations in Florida’s key industries. Some school elective courses will offer opportunities to attain credentials at no cost to you, such as earning a ServSafe certification in a culinary class or an Agricultural Associate certification in an advanced agriculture course. CTE Programs and credential opportunities can be found for almost any area of interest, from carpentry and firefighting to computer coding and veterinary assisting.

Like we previously mentioned, CareerSource Florida’s Master Credential List is a handy tool that ensures the validity of the credential you want to pursue, and it can easily be sorted by industry sector. If you are unsure what industry you will fit well in, Earn Up’s Career Pathways are a great place to begin your search.

Whether you are seeking employment in a technical role, getting a head start on college training or supplementing your education with additional skills, credentials can pave the way for your unique path to success.