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Will project management credentials survive a recession?

Lynda Bourne
November 30, 2011

With the potential for GFC2 looming and an extended downturn in business continuing there is still a jobs market. The job situation in Australia and South East Asia is nowhere near as bad as in the USA or Europe and many project managers are proactively using the downturn to move their careers forward.

As a consequence of the uncertainty in world markets, corporate training budgets have been reduced, leaving a window of opportunity for people seeking a step up on the career ladder by investing their own resources to obtain a useful credential to advance their career.

We’ve noticed a significant shift in our local Australian training market over the last couple of years. Corporate training has slowed significantly and discretionary skills development courses have been largely deserted. However, these two downturns have been counterbalanced by a pick up in interest from self-funded trainees focused on earning credentials to boost their position in the job market. Despite the tough times it seems Australians are prepared to spend their hard-earned dollars on training provided there is a recognised credential at the end.

So while the slowdown has changed the training business, it would appear the value attached by project managers to professional credentials such as PMP (the Project Management Institute’s Professional Project Manager program), RegPM (the Australian Institute of Project Management’s Registered Project Manager program) and PRINCE2 (the UK Office of Government Commerce’s PRojects IN Controlled Environments program) has not diminished with year-on-year increases in the number of candidates taking each of the credential examinations.

This trend seems to be a positive step with more people being willing to accept greater responsibility for their own career path development, and being conscious of their job stability in a rapidly changing work environment, are seeking to bolster their curriculum vitae in the most effective manner.

The benefits of credentials

The good news is there is a positive return on this investment. The latest PMI Salary Survey shows a steady increase in salaries for qualified project managers and in the USA, Australia and a number of other countries, a $10,000 gap between PMP credential holders and unqualified project managers.

Combine this with the evidence from the International Project Management Association (IPMA) surveys and the message is clear: if you are interested in a successful project management career, holding a recognised credential is becoming essential. Whether this is a good thing for our profession is a different question; over the years there has been a lot of discussion on the value of credentials such as PMP frequently triggered by the failure of a ‘qualified’ person to perform in the workplace.

From a credentialing view point there are essentially two ways to assess a person; testing what they know or assessing what they do. Competency based assessments (what they do) tend to assume knowledge based on performance. You cannot perform a complex task such as managing a project without knowledge; however, competency based assessments have two disadvantages:

  1. Competency is demonstrated in a specific time and location. There is no guarantee the competent person will perform as well in a different setting with different people, cultures and relationships.
  2. The assessment of interpersonal competencies tends to be subjective and project management is very much focused on directing and leading people. Assessing behavioural competencies goes some way towards solving this dilemma but the assessment is still subjective.
Lynda Bourne
Dr Lynda Bourne PMP, FAIM, is an international authority on stakeholder engagement and the Stakeholder Circle visualisation tool. She is the author of 'Making Projects Work' (2015), 'Advising Upwards: A Framework for Understanding and Engaging Senior Management Stakeholders' (2011), and 'Stakeholder Relationship Management' (2009) and a contributor to many others.
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