Unemployed students are in the news again. This they’re from the International Business Management Program at George Brown College, and they claim the program isn’t properly recognized and hasn’t qualified them for jobs. Hence the lawsuit. Here’s the Star’s article on the story:
Now, this claim isn’t quite accurate. It either reflects a gross over-simplification of the situation by the students at hand or by the Star itself. Most likely the Star simply repeated their claims verbatim rather than try to untangle the details. I think we can do better.
So here’s the program at George Brown. They claim that the program “can also prepare students to pursue three industry designations / certifications in addition to the George Brown College Graduate Certificate if they choose to do so.” Now there’s some waffle words for you. “Preparation” can mean a lot of things, and the implication that students “choose” (or not) to pursue these additional certificates should send up some red flags. Obviously there aren’t any promises made here.
Now with regards to the requirements of these three designations, here’s what a bit of research has uncovered:
- The certified customs specialist designation, from the CSCB, has three potential prerequisites. One is certification in the U.S., another is one year working in the industry, and the third is the completion of an approved college program – which does not include George Brown. So in that sense it would be accurate to say that other programs may be superior, though there are only two that are approved and both are in the GTA, so it would also seem unlikely to suggest that an approved program is absolutely required.
- Then there’s the certified international trade professional from FITT. From a look at their accreditation chart, it appears that study at George Brown is as recognized as any other college.
- Finally, the certificate in international freight forwarding, from CIFFA, apparently requires all of a high school diploma to begin accreditation. At that point you’re into their internal designation system, and you move up from there.
So what does this tell us, aside from the fact that the Star has less time to browse the Internet than I do? The preparation required for professional designations varies considerably, from place to place. It’s just about inevitable that it will. These professional bodies aren’t standardized in any meaningful way. These are voluntary bodies that stamp their seals of approval on students’ qualifications in much the same way that Fair Trade stamps their seal on chocolate bars. The various certifications may have some value and recognition, but expecting a standardized regime is a bit much.
It’s no wonder that students are frustrated, when they’re left to wade through this muck. Now I’ll gladly assign a large share of blame to the students as well. These are university graduates, enrolled in postgraduate college programs, who claim they were unable to learn in all that time what would be required to enter their chosen careers. And here I’ve gone and researched three different organizations in an hour. It wasn’t hard. But they are right to point fingers at the glaring disconnect between the program of study they take in college and the requirements of the relevant professional association(s) who regulate the credentials they may or may not need to actually work in their fields.
What all of this adds up to is simply a widespread institutional problem that isn’t going away any time soon. This isn’t really George Brown’s fault. They can’t control the requirements of the relevant professional bodies. And we haven’t even discussed the actual standing of these bodies and qualifications. Please don’t get the sense that all of these designations and certifications carry the same importance as being a registered nurse. They don’t. These designations may be sought by employers. They may even become de facto requirements for employment. But that’s only a function of whatever credibility and standing the relevant association can attract. Just like Fair Trade, it’s only meaningful to the extent that people care. And that, again, is a variable beyond the control of colleges.
What a mess eh? The only reasonable conclusion, as always, is buyer beware. In a perfect world we wouldn’t have this confusion of college diplomas and professional certifications and employment requirements that don’t mesh perfectly. But we don’t live in a perfect world and there are limits beyond which the government simply can’t police the situation and colleges can’t make firm guarantees. So students must do some research on their own and be sure of what they’re getting for their time and tuition. It’s natural to want to blame someone, when things go wrong, but going into the situation students are still in the best position to protect themselves.
Questions are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org. Even the ones I don’t post will still receive answers, and where I do use them here I’ll remove identifying information.