Certification and the UX Skills Gap

There is need for experienced UXers not certified UXers.

Last year I chaired at debate at the annual UXPA (the professional body for the UX industry) conference on UX certification.

Ralf Molich and the German UXPA had put together a scheme to certify practitioners. Earlier this year they launched as the International Usability and UX Qualification Board (UXQB).

During the debate I had to be impartial. A year on I’d like to share my views.

My background is academic. I have a MSc in Human Communication and Computing so can be said to have a professional qualification in UX.

In my 12 years as a professional I have seen both good and bad UX work undertaken. I’ve rescued a few projects undertaken by inexperienced UXers. Did my MSc help? Not nearly as much as 12 years of doing the job.

If those inexperienced UXers had a UXQB certification would they have made the same mistakes? Almost certainly.

The problem UX is facing is a lack of experienced professionals.

The number of job openings for mid-weight and senior staff is really high – asking for candidates with 3 to 5 years of experience. There were very few of us practicing UX 5 years ago. These jobs are being filled by junior staff because they are the only applicants. Junior staff don’t always have the experience to do the job well.

Certification from the UXQB and the week of training that goes alongside is not the answer to skills gap.

I’ve met graduates from UK General Assembly UX course and have been impressed. Similarly Jared Spool’s Unicorn Institute shows promise. Both of these courses are designed to get you started not to certify you as a professional.

There is a need for experienced UXers not certified UXers.

Passing the driving test does not make you a good driver. Driving experience makes you a good driver.

Professionals in other fields have a period of training on the job. Learning from experience practitioners whilst working on practical, real work. If you have an in-expreinced UX team they need to learn on the job from experienced professionals.

To help I’m offering two things.

A service for businesses and organisations to help mentor their digital teams, to pass skills over whilst doing the job.

I’m also offering to mentor junior UXers or those new to the UX field.

If you are an experienced UXer your profession needs you. Offer to mentor those new to UX, share your knowledge and experience. We owe it to the next generation or we risk UX being nothing more than a certificate on the wall.

2 Responses to “Certification and the UX Skills Gap”

  1. Andy

    Hi Joe, this was interesting, especially as I recently failed the exam (TWICE!)… Perhaps a little off topic here, but here’s my experience. I thought the content / curriculum was excellent and thoroughly enjoyed the two day course. I wasn’t expecting it to take my knowledge to the top, but had modest expectations and simply wanted to fill in some gaps as I have been involved in UX for 10 years. I was confident in the material and felt I had no troubles during class exercises. However……… the exam………. I have no idea how it got through quality assurance or if they undergo any scrutiny outside the circle. I have never sat such a subjective and ambiguous test in all my life – and I have been an assessor in HE myself. If I had written some of those questions I would have been forced to reword them, or at least reduce the ambiguity of the multi-choice answers. I felt completely let down by the team behind the written exam and subsequently made my feelings clear about this to the UXQB. It’s not a cheap course and (curriculum aside) never recommend it due to the poor quality of the exam. The public beta test suffered from the same issues – I complained about one of the questions in particular, and it was changed, so I know I’m not being overly sensitive about this.

    Thanks for the useful article – for the record, I agree that experience is what counts 😉

  2. David Travis

    Joe, thanks for writing about this topic. I also attended the certification debate but I felt that Rolf’s key point wasn’t properly heard. It’s actually the thing that changed my mind about certification.

    The point is that this certification scheme (and it’s close cousin, the BCS Foundation Certificate in User Experience) is not aimed at practitioners. People that pass this exam are not competent to be the UX lead on a project. As you point out, those people — the UX leads, the practitioners of UX — need experience either gained on the job or learnt from immersive training courses like the ones you mention.

    The UXQB and BCS schemes are foundation level. The people that take these exams and the corresponding courses may never actually do UX day to day in their job (though it could spark their interest to make a career move). It’s about making sure they “speak the language” of UX.

    The reason this is important is because for every UX role in a design team there will be at least 10 other people who make day-to-day decisions that have a major impact on UX. For example, the project owner who sets the vision for the system; the scrum master who helps the team prioritise the backlog; the business analyst who captures requirements; the developer who decides on the workflow. There is enormous leverage to be had by having those people champion user experience. By having this fundamental knowledge on the team, the UX practitioner no longer needs to fight for access to users, or for time to develop and usability test a prototype, or to iterate the design based on user data. This is because it becomes the way the design team works.

    I think the biggest mistake made by UX folks who are anti-certification is to assume that it’s about them. It’s not about them: it’s about the people they work with day-to-day. It’s about getting those people to have a basic knowledge about the tools, techniques and processes in user centred design.

    Although it’s true that those people could be trained without certification, in my experience a certification scheme makes it much more likely that people in those roles will take the training in the first place (since certification schemes are already widely adopted in software development). By having an independent certification scheme (such as UXQB and BCS), it also ensures they are all taught from a common, publicly available, syllabus.

    So in my view, if you’re a UX practitioner who objects to foundation-level certification, you’re shooting yourself in the foot. It’s actually going to make your job much, much easier.

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