Why Certification-Attainment Matters for the US Workforce

The above figure shows the certification attainment rate for workers in the United States and a selected state by degree status. Select your state to see how its certification attainment rate compares with the United States. Contact the LMI Institute to learn how you can embed this visualization on your site.

This article is part of a series of reports on new estimates from the Labor Market Information Institute State Certification and Licenses Data Tables. Find previous blog posts in this series here.

While 24% of US full-time workers have a certification or license, less than 2.5% of US full-time workers have only a certification. Non-licensed workers in the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia are more likely to have a certification than similar workers in the rest of the country. Across almost every state, non-licensed workers with a degree are more likely to attain certifications than non-licensed workers without a degree.

These certifications increase the median weekly earnings of non-licensed U.S. workers by $295 or 44% on average. Non-licensed workers without a degree earn $184 or 26% more with a certification.

The low attainment of certifications among various groups suggests that efforts to upskill or better recognize skills among these workers through certification could substantially increase their weekly earnings. Comparing non-licensed workers with and without a certification in the Information Technology and Financial Activities industries, we see a difference in median weekly earnings of more than $500. Shifting our view to look at occupations across all industries, we see that the differences in earnings for workers with and without a certification are greatest for workers in Management and Sales occupations—a difference of $410 and $403, respectively.

Non-licensed workers in non-White and Hispanic populations also greatly benefit from certification attainment in several states. In Illinois, non-licensed Black or African American and Hispanic/LatinX workers show an increase in median weekly earnings of more than $400 with a certification.

White and Asian non-licensed workers are slightly more likely to have a certification than Black or Hispanic workers, but those differences are small (within 0.5 percentage points).  Only 2% of Black or African American and 1.5% of Hispanic/LatinX non-licensed workers have a certification. Across states, certification-only attainment rates vary more for non-white racial or ethnic workers than for white workers. Nearly 5% of Black or African American non-licensed workers in Missouri have a certification, in contrast with Mississippi, where 1.5% of Black or African American non-licensed workers have a certification.

It is important to note that these are only estimates and we have not tested the degree of correlation or statistical significance of the differences in certification attainment and wages. We hope these initial estimates will encourage further research.

The LMI Institute recently presented a webinar on “How LMI Institute State Certifications and Licenses Data Informs State-Level Research” to its members as part of the LMI Workforce Roundtable Series. This data can drive research into sub-population attainment of certifications and licenses and high-value credentials required for occupations or that substantially increase earnings. Watch this presentation to learn more about how your state can benefit from increase understanding of certification and license attainment and their associated earnings! See the Webinar HERE.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics’ (BLS) Current Population Survey collects information on the prevalence of certifications and licenses in the United States, published annually. Using this data, the Labor Market Information (LMI) Institute produced state-level estimates on the prevalence of certifications and licenses, including tables comparing certification and licensure by educational attainment across occupations, age, race and ethnicity, and gender.