Performance-Based Certification: The Most Underrated Tech Trend of 2019

By August 30, 2018News, Trends
Tech trends 2019 AI, virtual reality and blockchain

Performance-Based Certification: The Most Underrated Tech Trend of 2019

What do Artificial Intelligence (AI), virtual reality and blockchain have in common?

They are emerging technologies that went from obscure rumblings to family dinner conversations over the past year. And they are all poised to significantly change daily life as we know it. 

According to Diffusion of Innovation Theory, trends happen in five distinct phases Innovators, Early-Adopters, Early-Majority, Late-Majority, and Laggards. The majority of today’s frequently published tech trends of 2019 are still in the “Early-Adopter” phase.

Major publications will soon begin releasing articles about “the top tech trends for 2019.” Expect some overlap from last year’s trends, as these technologies continue gaining traction with consumers and private companies alike.

Interestingly, there is one trend we are certain won’t make the list: Performance-based assessment for the digital world.  Unlike traditional workforce exams that gauge how much someone knows about a particular subject, performance-based assessment reveals what the person can do with that knowledge in a real environment.

While these types of digital assessments aren’t yet affecting the lives of everyday Americans, they are impacting the lives of the professionals — software engineers, actuaries, scientists and paralegals — who currently engage in them for training assessment, job skill demonstration and professional certification.

Behind the scenes, industry leaders like Google, Red Hat and Cisco are altering the way they recognize technology mastery with performance-based certifications.

What makes these modern high-stakes certifications different than their predecessors? They allow moderators to assess skill levels with a higher degree of accuracy thanks to new technologies. 

For example, CompTia, recognized global leader in IT certification,  recently launched a beta period for a performance-based version of their CompTIA Cloud+ Certification Exam.

Instead of presenting candidates with multiple-choice questions — that don’t gauge true ability — CompTia presents candidates with the opportunity to show what they can do via customized simulations.

A handful of tech companies are pushing performance-based certification even further by utilizing 100 percent realistic test-taking scenarios called emulations. 

Google’s Associate Android Developer and Mobile Web Specialist performance-based certifications are some of the first on the market that test candidates in live replicated environments. 


So, why are an increasing number of companies developing their own hands-on certifications? And why are so many developers, data scientists, and finance pros seeking out evidence-based assessments?  

In this article, we’ll outline the merits of performance-based assessments, how today’s professionals can benefit and how the industry will continue to evolve. Let’s get started:

Why Are Companies Like Google Building Performance-Based Certifications?

We have all heard the saying “talk is cheap.”

When it comes to programming, that statement couldn’t be more true — considering that anyone with a laptop, an Internet connection and an ounce of curiosity can teach themselves to code these days.

In fact, some of the world’s most talented developers are completely self-taught and have never sat through a traditional computer science course. With that said, the disparity between skill levels can be extraordinary (like, Grand Canyon vast). Complicating things even further, one programmer’s definition of proficiency might be entirely different than that of another.

For these reasons, organizations struggle to accurately evaluate talent. Performance-based assessment is the long-awaited answer to the question: How can we be certain this person will excel using our technology on the job?

New performance-based assessment technology allows organizations to certify today’s digital workforce with an unparalleled level of accuracy. What makes these platforms better than their predecessors?

They are created to run at the highest level of fidelity short of actually working on the job. Featuring a real-world environment with emulated work scenarios.

This means, the candidate will access the real software and tools they would use on the job through a web browser. Another cool feature? No more version control concerns since all tools are live applications and are updated in real-time.

Until recently, the only available performance-based testing options for companies developing professional certifications were low fidelity multiple-choice exams and in-house simulations limited in scale.

Both methods fall flat for a number of reasons, including testing bias, lack of scalability and low fidelity. In other words, neither option definitively answers the most important question: Can we be certain the test-taker would successfully perform on the job?

They will leverage the technology to create certification exams based on real work environments.

These 100 percent real-world, live emulations are derived from the pedagogy of Miller’s Pyramid; a learning model first developed to assess clinical competence that is now used as a roadmap for increasing professional ability.

As you can see in the diagram below, demonstrating learning via simulation is one step below integrating knowledge within the direct interaction only an authentic emulation can provide.

Adaptation of Miller’s Pyramid for learning

Put simply, there is no substitute for real-life experience when it comes to professional competency. Performance-based certifications help businesses make smarter hiring decisions by adding an increased level of certainty to the evaluation process.

Savvier companies also use performance-based certification programs for the upskilling of current team members. Why does this matter? Studies show the benefits of investing in employee skills often outweigh their associated costs.

According to the Dale Carnegie Training Center, 40 percent of poorly trained employees leave within their first year on the job. Conversely, employees participating in professional development programs are likely to demonstrate increased loyalty, productivity and job satisfaction.

Another study conducted by Matthew Bidwell, a management professor at Wharton University, found outside hires to perform significantly worse than existing team members. Furthermore, external hires often demand greater compensation than those promoted from within. 

For these reasons, expect an increasing number of companies to continue adopting performance-based assessments and certifications in 2019. With that said, businesses aren’t the only ones who stand to benefit from these exams. Another group currently reaping their rewards are coders, developers and software engineers.

Why Should Tech Talent Care?

According to the Global Knowledge 2018 IT Skills and Salary Report, certified IT professionals make more money.  

IT professionals in North America earn an impressive 22 percent more than their non-certified peers; that translates to approximately $16,000 of extra money in the bank per year. Additionally, developer certifications correlated with raises of 9 to 16 percent.

Salary of IT professionals

With that said, is there really value in becoming certified — beyond owning what some view as a participation trophy?

Yep, you betcha.  

As reported by the study, developers substantially benefit from the knowledge they gain from studying, preparing and participating in exams.

IT managers and decision-makers reported that certified team members are better at several things, including:

  • Meeting client requirements
  • Closing organizational skills gaps
  • Troubleshooting issues
  • Providing an edge over the competition
  • Completing projects quickly

According to The Business Value of IT Certification white paper, certified application developers are 90 percent more productive and 60 percent more efficient than those without certifications.

Unsurprisingly, those who get more done — with fewer mistakes — can command higher compensation than their peers. Considering that the number of unfilled, senior-level programming jobs is only expected to grow, entry and mid-level developers have every incentive to acquire additional training. As of 2017, there were more than 500,000 open jobs nationwide.

The Future of Performance-Based Assessment for Today’s Digital Workforce

While you’re unlikely to hear performance-based assessment mentioned on the nightly news (anytime soon), it is, nonetheless, one of the most important internal tech trends of 2019.

Evidence-based testing is the answer to helping both students and the digital workforce to develop the innovations you will hear about on the news! As the world’s biggest tech companies continue to adopt performance-based assessments of higher levels of fidelity, expect educational institutions to follow suit.

According to the Career Advisory Board, only 11 percent of employers believe higher education alone is effectively preparing graduates to meet the skills needed in the workforce. Thus, organizations are being forced to identify more effective avenues of closing the current skill gap, especially those that do the majority of their work digitally as opposed to in-person. 

Whether you’re a certification program manager, learning and development leader, trainer, developer or strategic corporate leader, the time to begin integrating performance-based talent assessment is now.

Delve into relevant research on the subject of designing and launching a performance-based certification program for your organization by using our how-to tools.