Certification is Protectionism. Now we really are a Banana Republic?

It’s interesting that, as a society, we have moved through education to certification as the measure of an individual’s ability to contribute to said society. 

I had always thought that society’s primary objective was ‘progress’ – with all the beneficial change that implies, realised.

Certification, I would suggest, works to prevent such progress.

Certification promotes consistent compliance with someone’s proven way of doing stuff. The problem with this is that the ‘proven way’ may not be the best way – maybe it never was. Probably things have changed.

The true answer is more likely to be ‘it’s the way we’ve always done it’. Hardly progress?

Historically (i.e since the 1990’s) technology companies sought to recruit the often creative, technically oriented/proficient self-trained individual ‘PC enthusiast’ to their particular product offering – in the hope of them becoming unwitting (and typically unpaid) promoters. This was a remarkably effective strategy that made the likes of Microsoft and Cisco into household names (and gave them multi billion $ turnovers). To achieve this Microsoft ran their MCSE (Microsoft Certified Software Engineer)  whilst Cisco had their even more powerful CCIE (Cisco Certified Internetworking Expert) programs. In some ways this was great – those ‘PC enthusiasts’ could now be ‘professionals’ – and well paid ones at that!

These programs effectively crushed innovative competition from companies such as Lotus, Novell, Cabletron, Bay Networks and Case Communications – even Apple had a struggle to survive against Microsoft’s WinTel platform (and were saved only by innovating via the iPod and other consumer devices).

Now, I don’t want to turn this into an argument about the relative merits of various technologies but merely to point out how, when faced with a plethora of choice, we tend to listen to those we consider ‘expert’ – i.e. those who know stuff (very often the very self-trained ‘enthusiasts’ mentioned above) who nevertheless appear to enjoy acquiring swathes of vendor certifications – perhaps as a way of showing just how smart they really are. Microsoft and Cisco were particularly adroit at exploiting this basic human need for recognition.

It appears that many other industries and governments saw this as a model they too would like to adopt. And they, apparently without further consideration, launched on a certification binge – to the extent that without ‘required’ certifications one is considered ‘unemployable’.  Go back to my initial point: i.e. that certification = compliance = end of progress; and you might be able to see how this may end up.

Will Australia’s current fixation with certification turn out as the ‘tariff-protectionism’ of the 21st Century? 

Do you recall Paul Keating’s reference to Australia becoming a “Banana Republic”?