Implementation of a Certification Program in Supply Chain Management for Early Career Professionals
- The LINCS program expanded to colleges and students outside of the consortium during the grant period. All key LINCS activities—developing and implementing the certification track coursework, exams, and certifications—were achieved as planned. The consortium colleges successfully produced Common Learning Blocks and content in all eight of the planned certification areas. CSCMP successfully developed and implemented its certification exams in each of the areas and awarded the certifications. CSCMP’s higher level certification program, SCPro™, provided the foundation for the new program. Although SCPro™ existed before LINCS, the new credentials created entry-level to mid-level industry certifications using content from the LINCS program. They were later officially named SCPro™ Fundamentals certifications. All nine consortium colleges developed and offered certification track courses and the consortium designed its learning management system to make the certification track content available outside of the consortium colleges during the grant period. Students outside the consortium colleges could access the certification content through the same learning management system used by the consortium with the National Program Office enrolling and tracking their participation. The consortium achieved these successes by overcoming early challenges in program start-up including communication, procurement delays, and staff turnover in the National Program Office.
- The colleges developed the certification track courses to work within their specific contexts, which is essential for program sustainability. College staff and faculty integrated the centrally developed LINCS content into their institutions’ course offerings. The integration of content at the college level unfolded in a variety of ways; some colleges embedded the content into existing courses, some created new courses, and others offered self-study options. In addition, some partnered with employers to offer content off campus. Eight of the nine colleges partnered with the National Urban League affiliate in their area to offer coursework and exams in the format that worked best for the students of the colleges and affiliates. The various approaches to implementation were shaped by each college’s internal and external context, and the colleges employed approaches that worked best with their own institutional structures, processes, and local labor markets. This process for development and implementation enabled each college to create a program that fit its own needs but still offered standardized industry-validated content to prepare students for certification exams.
- A diverse group of students pursued certifications. The LINCS program attracted students who were demographically diverse and had a wide range of education and employment backgrounds. Across the consortium, LINCS students were older than the typical community college student. More than one in four had some college experience, and one in seven was a veteran. Although some were not employed at the time they enrolled and might have pursued certifications to enhance their immediate job prospects, nearly two out of three students were employed when they enrolled. Interviews with a sample of students indicated that some pursued certifications in the hope of getting a promotion or changing careers, and others sought more general skill development or improved marketability.
- Employers thought the certifications were valuable, but it might take time before they make the certifications a requirement of their hiring process. In spring 2016, employer partners reported that they valued the skills and knowledge of workers who had completed SCPro™ Fundamentals certifications. They demonstrated this in a variety of ways, including offering internship programs for certification track students and participating in college career events. Some employers went further and actively encouraged their employees to pursue certifications or even offered certification track courses on site. Although these actions indicate that employers valued the competencies reflected in the certifications, none of the employers Mathematica interviewed—who were identified as those most closely engaged with the LINCS program—had begun requiring certifications formally when making hiring decisions.
The U.S. Department of Labor TAACCCT program awarded a $24.5 million LINCS grant in supply chain management (SCM) to a consortium led by Broward College to develop and create certification track content, exams, and certifications in eight areas for early-career professionals in the SCM industry. The consortium included nine colleges that integrated content materials into traditional college courses or delivered them in short-term workshops or classes. The colleges partnered with the Council of Supply Chain Management Professionals (CSCMP), a global association for SCM, which served as subject matter experts and developed certification exams that assess knowledge in each of the eight areas. The colleges also partnered with three universities—Northwestern University, Rutgers University, and the Georgia Institute of Technology—to develop the materials to prepare students for exams in each of the certification tracks. The National Urban League and nine of its affiliates became partners with the consortium in June 2015, increasing the number of students enrolled and the breadth of student services offered. This study documents four implementation questions: (1) how the consortium collaborated to develop the LINCS program; (2) how the colleges and their partners implemented the certification tracks; (3) what students’ characteristics, perceptions, and participation patterns were; and (4) how employers perceived the certifications. The study team used both qualitative and quantitative data. Qualitative information was drawn from (1) reviews of program documents about the consortium’s activities from the application stage to June 2016, and (2) telephone interviews conducted from July 2015 to May 2016 with the consortium’s National Program Office, staff and faculty at consortium colleges, certification track students, and external partner organizations. Student-level quantitative data were provided to Mathematica by the colleges and the National Program Office.