Certification Versus Skill Development

certification-versus-skill-developmentCer­ti­fi­ca­tions are valu­able cur­ren­cy in the world of out­door recre­ation. In some cas­es they’re even required for employ­ment or pay increas­es. But it can be easy to put too much stock in cer­ti­fi­ca­tions and cer­ti­fy­ing agencies—especially as orga­ni­za­tions devel­op their own courses.

It’s one thing to pass an exam and receive a cov­et­ed piece of paper declar­ing your skill lev­el; it’s anoth­er to actu­al pos­sess and devel­op your abil­i­ty. Just because you passed a test one day does­n’t mean your skill will always be at that lev­el. This is why it’s impor­tant to con­sid­er why you’re tak­ing a spe­cial­ized course and what you plan on using your cer­ti­fi­ca­tion to accomplish.

Here’s a run­down of some pop­u­lar cer­ti­fi­ca­tions and cours­es and the rea­sons you might opt for one over the other.

Ski­ing & Snow­board­ing
PSIA or AASI: Get­ting a Lev­el 1 cer­ti­fi­ca­tion with the Pro­fes­sion­al Ski Instruc­tors of Amer­i­ca or with the Amer­i­can Asso­ci­a­tion of Snow­board Instruc­tors is a great option if you’re work­ing (or inter­est­ed in work­ing) at a resort. In this case, the cert is what you’re after; instruc­tors cer­ti­fied with either orga­ni­za­tion gen­er­al­ly make more mon­ey than non-cer­ti­fied instruc­tors and have an eas­i­er time get­ting hired by elite resorts. The test is very spe­cif­ic to the orga­ni­za­tion and its teach­ing con­cepts, which means the scope of the test­ed skills is limited.

AMGA Ski Guide Course: This course is the first step in the AMGA’s sequence for becom­ing a Ski Moun­taineer­ing Guide. There’s no exam and there’s no cer­tifi­cate, but it’s a great way to fur­ther your devel­op back­coun­try ski­ing and res­cue abil­i­ties. As with many AMGA cours­es, this isn’t a begin­ner-lev­el course.

AMGA: If you want or need to cer­ti­fied in climb­ing, the AMGA is the best option because their name is well-rec­og­nized, they offer great instruc­tion, and their cours­es fit into a pro­gres­sion that can lead to oth­er guid­ing oppor­tu­ni­ties. You may need a cer­ti­fi­ca­tion (like the Sin­gle Pitch Instruc­tor) for guide work, but some employ­ers will accept demon­strat­ed expe­ri­ence in place of the cert. If you don’t need the cer­ti­fi­ca­tion for employ­ment, con­sid­er tak­ing the course with­out the exam and work­ing on mas­ter­ing the tech­ni­cal skills.

Rig­ging for Res­cue: If you’re inter­est­ed in learn­ing the sci­ence behind res­cue and prac­tic­ing tech­niques for impro­vis­ing in the field, con­sid­er tak­ing the Self-Res­cue and Small Team Response Sem­i­nar. This is a great way to not only hone your tech­ni­cal skills, but to also devel­op an under­stand­ing for why things are done cer­tain ways and where you have some flex­i­bil­i­ty with gear use. It’s a step away from the dog­mat­ic teach­ing style pre­ferred by oth­er orga­ni­za­tions in the industry.

First Aid
WFR: There is no ques­tion that this cer­ti­fi­ca­tion is worth get­ting, espe­cial­ly if you work in the out­door indus­try. Addi­tion­al­ly, the skills you learn on the course will pre­pare you for han­dling med­ical emer­gen­cies in the wilder­ness, which makes this both a course worth tak­ing for both the cer­ti­fi­ca­tion and the skills you’ll develop.

W‑EMT: The price dif­fer­ence between the WFR and W‑EMT is sub­stan­tial, as is the time com­mit­ment: 10 days ver­sus a month, plus con­tin­u­ing edu­ca­tion and a tough test at the end of the course. One rea­son peo­ple take the W‑EMT course is to get involved with ski patrol. While many resorts require patrollers to be reg­is­tered EMTs, some will accept a WFR in place of a tra­di­tion­al EMT. Unless you’re using your EMT cer­ti­fi­ca­tion to work on a med­ical crew, like run­ning on an ambu­lance, chances are good that you’ll for­get a lot of the skills. In the end, it might be bet­ter to go for the WFR, see how often you use your med­ical skills, and then upgrade if the W‑EMT looks like a bet­ter fit. If you’re inter­est­ed in teach­ing wilder­ness med­i­cine, this cer­ti­fi­ca­tion is required for most high­er lev­el courses.

Sea Kayak­ing & Canoe­ing
ACA: If you want to devel­op your pad­dling skills, cours­es through the Amer­i­can Canoe Asso­ci­a­tion are a great option. Whether you’re a new pad­dler or have a few sea­sons under your belt, the ACA offers a course type that will help you advance your abil­i­ty: whether it’s an intro to the sport, or the Lev­el 5 course on Advanced Surf Zones. While these cer­ti­fi­ca­tions (doc­u­men­ta­tion of skill) are not required by many employ­ers, putting them on your resume won’t hurt and the chance to prac­tice pad­dling in tougher con­di­tions will make you a stronger instructor/guide and will increase your options for per­son­al trips.