Microsoft Certifications: Performance IT

Background
The Microsoft Office Specialist Certification program (or MOS for short) was introduced 2 years ago to give staff and students the opportunity to accredit their IT skills in using the Microsoft Office suite of programs. To gain a certification in a given Office program, the applicant must pass a task-based practical exam. The aim and objectives in developing this program were:

Aim: To give staff and students the opportunity to earn certification credentials to validate their desktop computer skills.
Objectives:

  • Improve the staff IT skills profile through accreditation
  • Improve staff and student IT usage and thus efficiency through engaging with the exam preparation and training resources
  • Enhance student employability through attaining a marketable credential
  • Increase staff motivation for career and personal development by offering the program at no cost to the participants

The Program
A MOS certification is obtainable in each of the MS Office applications at graduated levels, the culmination of which is the Master level certification which denotes fluency across a range of applications. Our statistics show not just a healthy uptake, but success rate as well:

  • Number currently registered: 170 (total registrations from the program launch 285)
  • Number of exams delivered : 330 (111 at Expert level)
  • Number of Master Certifications achieved: 30
  • Exam pass rate: 81% (compares very favourably with the national average of 65%)

The much vaunted benefits of MOS certification in relation to the workplace as promoted by the vendors are:

  • Increased productivity
  • Increased effectiveness and initiative
  • Increased employability

But how do these attributes playout in practise with our MOS program?

Evaluation & Results
As part of our evaluation process, we survey those who complete their Master level certification for feedback on the program and for an assessment of the impact it has had on their computer use. This survey is generated and submitted back as an online form, 3-6 weeks following their program completion.
In addition to questions relating to their personal objectives for participating in the program, they are asked to reflect on the extent to which their MOS certification skills have impacted both their confidence and competence in their role.
Response rate: 45%

  • 83% reported improved confidence in their role
  • 75% reported improved competence in their role

Discussion
The response from those that have completed the MOS program survey indicates the vast majority have experienced increased confidence and competence in using IT in their role and given the extent to which IT underpins work output, will feed through to increased productivity. These results compare favourably with the published results of findings from a MOS Productivity Study conducted by the University of Utah for Microsoft (David Eccles Business School – MBA Field Study- University of Utah, 2012) where they reported:

  • 82% of employees becoming MOS certified felt more confidence in their abilities as a worker
  • 88% of surveyed employees felt MOS made them more effective in their work

This correlation with productivity and effectiveness is further underscored by responses in the formative feedback sections of our MOS Master survey where they were asked to comment on the most significant impact. To give some examples:

  • “I am now able to […] report on data significantly quicker (and more stylishly).”
  • “Having the confidence to use packages at an advanced level.”
  • “Improved my understanding greatly in areas I don’t use every day.”

The alleged benefits do thus appear to be borne out in practise. However, the focus of the discussion up to this point has been on the benefits derived from the acquisition and transfer of skills as an individual phenomenon. Gallivan, et al (2005, p179) in their study on co-workers influence on IT usage in the workplace concluded “having co-workers who are knowledgeable and confident IT users (and who hold positive attitudes toward the training they received) does positively influence an employee’s IT usage”; a passive ‘leakage’ of benefit, as it were. They even go so far as to assert that, with regards to work-groups, this influence “shapes users’ beliefs, skill levels and motivation to use IT within an organisation more effectively than does user training.” Thus the positive experience and upskilling that has been documented in our MOS Masters can have a significant wider impact on their work environment.
This is supported both from our survey feedback (“Able to use some features of the training in everyday work and to train others”) and from other unsolicited reports received from those who had been sought out by co-workers as a direct result of their improved skills related to their Master certification. There is evidence in the literature that suggests benefits are derived not only from the direct intervention by these ‘resident experts’ but that the degree of a co-worker’s self-efficacy also creates an environment that encourages IT usage (Gallivan, et al., 2005, p. 163).
That’s productivity and effectiveness addressed; how does MOS relate to an increase in student employability? According to a study by the technology industry body, CompTIA, 86% of hiring managers indicated IT certifications are a high or medium priority during the candidate evaluation process (CompTIA, 2012). It’s not surprising then that most students seek the certifications to validate their IT skills and to differentiate themselves in the job market. Again, formative feedback gives some degree of corroboration: “Everyone assumes these days that our generation has advanced computer skills, being able to prove that easily is a huge asset.”
There is more to this statement than just affirmation of the value of MOS. It also acknowledges that there is a presumption that students, the ‘digital natives’, having grown up with ever more pervasive and sophisticated technology, should therefore somehow have some innate computer literacy and competency. This is certainly true when it comes to social media. However, studies indicate that this is not the case with business related software where there was a significant gap between their perceived ability and their actual efficacy (Grant, et al, 2009). MOS certifications are thus an opportunity not only for accreditation but are also a source whereby these shortfalls can be addressed on an individual basis.
Conclusion
MOS certifications do appear to deliver on all fronts: productivity, effectiveness, employability with potential broader implications for IT usage in workplace environments. It could be argued that this would be the likely outcome of the engagement with any concerted training program; the difference here is the increased motivation to engage through the achievement and recognition of the accreditation.

Like all technology, MOS certifications are evolving along with the software on which it is based. The new MOS program currently being developed will deliver an exam even better designed to gauge and assess the efficient use of technology and which we will continue to monitor.
To find out more information on the MOS program, visit the comprehensive MOS website.
References
CompTIA, 2012. State of the IT Skills Gap. [Online]
Available at: http://www.comptia.org/resources/state-of-the-it-skills-gap?cid=download
[Accessed 15 Oct 2014].
David Eccles Business School – MBA Field Study- University of Utah, 2012. MOS Productivity Study. [Online]
Available at: ftp://ftp.certiport.com/marketing/MOS/doc/MOS-Productivity-Study.pdf
[Accessed 15 Oct 2014].
Gallivan, M. J., Spitler, V. K. & Koufaris, M., 2005. Does information technology training really matter? A social information processing analysis of coworkers’ influence on IT usage in the workplace. Journal of Management Information Systems, 22(1), pp. 153-192.
Grant, D., Malloy, A. & Murphy, M., 2009. A comparison of student perceptions of their computer skills to their actual abilities. Journal of Information Technology Education, Volume 8, pp. 141-160.

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