Interview | A Certifiable Success with Ray Kelly

Some people exude a palpable positive energy, and Ray Kelly is one of those folks. At the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) conference in San Diego this past year, his upbeat demeanor was enough to invoke anyone’s curiosity. Turns out, he has a lot to celebrate. As the president and CEO of Certiport, a world leader in performance-based certification exams and practice test solutions for academic institutions and beyond, he had some amazing numbers to share, numbers with stories behind them of even more amazing people. Certiport was established in 1997 to provide complete career-oriented certification solutions to academic institutions and professionals. They are dedicated to helping people succeed through certification, preparing individuals with current and relevant digital skills and credentials for the competitive global workforce. “There is an increasing skills gap between those who have a firm grasp on technology and those who are struggling to keep up in today’s workforce,” says Ray. He has seen that foundational certification programs from Certiport can fill this skills gap to help students and workers master basic computing and key application technologies. “When individuals earn an industry-recognized credential, they become college and workforce ready, arming themselves with the skills necessary to succeed in today’s economy,” he explains. There’s a lot to say for what gaining competence can do for a student, and even more for what certifying that competence can do. In this interview, Ray addresses the power of certification, an interesting anecdote about competence and speed — and how easy it is not to get left behind.

Victor: How is Certiport unique from other similar products and services? What companies do you see as in the same market?  

Ray: Certiport is unique because our exams are mostly performance-based and involve cutting-edge simulation development and/or live-application testing. We design our certifications to test an individual’s ability to use technology to accomplish real-world tasks, not their ability to memorize the answers to multiple-choice questions.

Certiport is the sole provider of three of the largest certification programs in the world. In addition to providing certification solutions for leading IT brands such as Microsoft, Adobe and HP, we also develop and deliver the global standard assessment for digital literacy; the Internet and Computing Core Certification (IC³®).

There are several other certification companies in the market, including Pearson VUE, our new owners. VUE is particularly well known in the professional certification world for delivering the majority of the world’s professional level certification exams. Our primary differentiator is that we fully outsource the certifications solutions for our client partners, including the development of the exams and their sale, marketing and delivery.

Victor: Could you tell us a little about the certification exams offered by Certiport?

Ray: Certiport manages a sophisticated portfolio of leading certification programs including: the official Microsoft® Office Specialist (MOS), the Microsoft Technology Associate (MTA), the Adobe® Certified Associate (ACA), the HP Accredited Technical Associate (ATA), the CompTIA Strata™ IT Fundamentals, the Autodesk® Certified User, the Intuit® QuickBooks Certified User, and the Internet and Computing Core Certification (IC³®).

Victor: Where does Certiport do business? Where can you take Certiport exams?

Ray: Certiport currently delivers well over 2 million certification exams each year in 153 countries and 27 languages through an expansive network of over 12,000 Certiport Authorized Testing Centers worldwide.

Testing centers are found at K-12 schools, institutions of higher learning, commercial training centers and corporate locations. To find a testing center you can visit our locator service.

Victor: How much does it cost? What are the options?

Ray: All Certiport learning solutions and exams are very affordable as we offer institutions a variety of low cost classroom licenses. Licensing is a unique pricing model for certification solutions designed to allow schools to certify as many students as possible for the lowest possible price per student. As a result some institutions offer their students at no charge, while others charge a nominal fee.

Victor: For whom are Certiport solutions particularly tailored for? Who are they not for?

Ray: Certiport’s foundational certifications are beneficial for any individual looking to progress through their academic or working career. Certiport customers range in age and experience. For example, we have customers as young as twelve years old that have an Adobe Photoshop certification and are already doing design projects at home and school. Contrast that with my experience: I have been working for thirty years but was delighted to earn my Microsoft Office 2010 PowerPoint and Word certifications last year, and am now far more productive with these essential business applications.

Which certification programs an individual takes depends on the career path they pursue. Anyone that is likely to use computers in their career or that is seeking higher education should start by validating their digital literacy skills with the Internet and Computing Core (IC³®)and the Microsoft® Office Specialist certifications.

Individuals looking to pursue a career using modern technologies such as Cloud computing should work on getting an HP ATA certification.  Any individual looking to enter an IT career should choose from a variety of the Microsoft MTA certifications. If you aspire to become a bookkeeper or accountant, then start with the Quickbooks Certified User certification. And if you’re planning to enter a design career,  then you should obtain an Autodesk® Certified User certification.

Victor: What are some examples of certification in action?

Ray: One of my favorite examples of the practical value and success of our certification programs is found in Florida’s career cluster program: Career and Professional Education (CAPE). According to the Florida Department of Education 2010 study, CAPE students with certifications graduate at a significantly higher rate (23%) than their peers outside of the career academies. These same students have a higher GPA (17%), and typically enroll in college level courses (61%) because it gives them a tangible, real-world skill to showcase on their resumes and college applications. With just a few certifications under their belts, high school students gain much needed confidence and self-esteem as they go on to pursue various fields of study.

Lee County School District in Florida is one of the most successful in the country implementing technology certification into school curriculum. Jana Hambruch, Lee County’s Coordinator for Industry Certifications, says that “with technical certification programs, we are building more than just technology acumen. We have watched standardized test scores among students who participate in certification programs soar above the state and district average,” she says. “We’ve shown that the rigorous technology education programs motivate students to excel in other core academic areas like reading, math, and science. It’s something the student’s desire; you can see their excitement the minute they start participating in the industry certification programs. When students get out in the real world, they attack life differently after receiving industry certifications.”

Victor: Very interesting! Now, what are a few of the trends you see in the certification market?

Ray: Most areas of IT certification for in-demand skills are growing, but the strongest growth is coming from both ends of the spectrum—from foundational or basic IT skills, to high-end architecture skills.  With the tremendous number of youth entering the job markets around the world, basic IT skills are a necessity for almost all workers in the digital age. The growth rate in basic IT skill certifications is especially growing strong internationally, in countries that are striving to bolster their economies with a capable workforce.

Victor: What’s your outlook on the future of education?

Ray: In the modern world, earning a degree to demonstrate competence isn’t enough anymore – workers have to prove they have the required skills to fill job openings. Certification is arguably the single best solution for verifying skills attainment and mastery, and for gaining a competitive advantage.

Victor: How does Certiport address some of your concerns about education?

Ray: We live in an increasingly complex and competitive world in which there are high expectations for our educated workforce.  The high unemployment rate has not created the talent surplus that many expected, and many jobs go unfilled due to a lack of qualified candidates. Certification fills an important gap by both preparing individuals for college and the workforce and by validating their skills. The value of certification is not just in a piece of paper, it is in the way it changes lives.

For educators, providing their students with proof of knowledge establishes real value and gives the institution a reputation for preparing students to be college and career-ready.

Victor: Could you share something about your business that our readers may find interesting?

Ray: Here’s something interesting: Each year Certiport hosts a worldwide competition on Microsoft Office. This year, over 500,000 students from around the world entered the competition to compete for the title of Worldwide Champion in Microsoft Word, Excel and PowerPoint. That pool of students is narrowed down to just over 100 finalists from around the globe that assemble for the competition finals.

These students literally complete an exam designed to take an hour in under ten minutes, and often do so with a perfect score. Several past champions have gone on to land rewarding, high-paying jobs after being recognized as a Microsoft® Office Specialist Champion.

Victor: What else can you tell educators and other leaders in and around education about the value of Certiport?

Ray: Certification validates computing excellence, in-depth knowledge, and real-world skills. It differentiates and elevates the individual from the crowd. Foundation level industry certifications are valuable to individuals, educators, organizations, and governments. Certiport is the world leader in this area and our company and solutions are easy to work with.

The pace of business is accelerating to staggering levels. The increase in information, and rate of transactions and interactions is exponential. These drivers are causing business leaders to reevaluate their business models and look to technology to give them a strategic advantage, but they need professionals with the foundational computing skills and abilities to keep pace.  Certification programs help educators effectively teach and validate IT skills while providing students with credentials that demonstrate real-world prowess to prospective employers.

No longer can a student or an entry level worker rely on saying that they are “proficient” in a technology to get a job. They must validate these skills by obtaining an industry certification.

Victor: Wow, I’ve really learned a lot! Thank you, Ray!

Ray: You’re very welcome, Victor!


Victor Rivero tells the story of 21st-century education transformation. He is the editor-in-chief of EdTech Digest, a magazine about education transformed through technology. To enter the EdTech Digest Awards Recognition Program, write to:

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