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by Michael dark, CLP

What did you see at your very first glance at the title to this article? Depending on whether opportunity is nowhere to be found or opportunity is now here may illustrate your inner feelings towards continuing your education and your choice regarding professional certification.


Opportunities arise every day of one's life and many go unnoticed or passed by because one senses he or she cannot attain a goal. In addition, time constraints make the pursuit difficult to achieve or it involves too much work. Lastly, the cost may be too expensive or not proportionate to the benefits gained by attaining the opportunity at hand. However, can anyone not afford to better themselves and seize the opportunity placed before them?

Professional certification is a personal choice and an intrinsic motivation. It is this type of motivation that determines whether one places a value on continuing education, increasing their level of professional knowledge, and making the commitment to remain current among the many diversified and rapidly changing trends that impact both our professional and personal lives every day. No matter whether professional certification is a commitment for you, the important choice that each individual must make is one that ensures that he or she is continuing their education in a way that is suitable to them. As a result, each professional must sense with confidence that he or she is the best leisure provider they can be to themselves as well as their constituents in the community they serve.


One must always hope that the freedom of choice regarding professional certification status will remain intact at all times.

However, several driving forces are surfacing that may make the choice for you. Is there a trend favoring the choice of attaining and maintaining a certified professional status? The following factors illustrated in the remaining sections of the article may answer this question.

First, while completing my MBA program I had to complete a research project utilizing survey research methods. Since I have been involved with the Illinois Park and Recreation Certification Board (IPRCB) for several years, and always pondered the choice of opportunity that colleagues make regarding professional certification, I then set my survey project theme directly on this issue. Using all techniques for sampling, question format and open-ended questioning techniques, I revealed startling figures. The sample I surveyed consisted of professionals from all sections, randomly selected from the membership directory. A dominant 72% of those surveyed, who hired full-time personnel, prefer or mandate some level of professional certification when seeking to employ a new staff member. This is further illustrated by the increasing number of job positions in the state job bulletin publication that list a preference or requirement for professional certification as a viable qualification for employment.

A second force is the competitive environment in the job market. Even in the leisure industry jobs are becoming difficult to win. Regardless whether professional certification is a necessary qualification for a position, it may well be the only competitive advantage one might have against other equally qualified and competent applicants. Obviously, when it is a mandated qualification it will be the only way to get your foot in the door (and by the looks of the survey more and more doors are being closed to those who do not choose to take the opportunity to become a certified professional). At any rate,

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illustrating to the hiring agency that you have made the choice and commitment to being the best you can be with respect to meeting the needs of the community, may mean the difference between a rejection letter and a finalist interview. Professional certification has not only hit the job market at the upper levels of management either.

Speaking to the student section at the 1995 IAPD/IPRA Annual Conference I was amazed at the number of students soon entering the competitive job market without a clue about professional certification. Even a student with a bachelor's degree in a leisure related field of study from an accredited college or university can enter the state certification plan as a provisional professional. One can automatically see the importance of having an edge over other applicants in a competitive job market where graduates with little or no work experience are competing for the same jobs. The IPRCB has set goals to educate students on this important issue and choice to consider.

As with any issue the financial forces do come into play here as well. It does cost to become and maintain a certified professional status. Unfortunately, more and more professionals or professionals to be are finding that funds that used to assist with continuing their education are disappearing. Again the choice you make will affect whether you feel that the benefits from professional certification are proportionate to the costs. Again, some of the previous points regarding the competitive job market and the survey results may influence this decision. In addition to personal finances being restricted, there is a public who is also a player in this equation.

Two factors become apparent when dealing with the public. First, the public in general scrutinizes tax dollar usage more closely nowadays. They want to make sure they are getting the most bang for their buck. In respect to overall public relations, communicating to the community that all staff are professionally certified may go a long way to alleviate some degree of scrutiny. Second, and more importantly, certification is an avenue for staff members to commit to themselves and to the agency that they will continually seek creative resource development and allocation. A college course, professional school, workshop or roundtable discussion may provide this opportunity and benefits will greatly outweigh the costs. Committed staff working towards professional certification will make these types of opportunities possible for their communities. Being part of the certification plan will set priorities for the staff in an already busy and hectic schedule. Lastly, creative resource development and allocation will also go a long way towards alleviating tax dollar scrutiny.

There are many other factors such as trends relating to crime, gangs and latchkey children that directly impact our goal as a profession. Not staying current with these types of trends means that we as a profession and you as a part of the profession may not be reaching the constituents we most likely need to reach. Professional certification again becomes another avenue for staying current regarding these issues. Moreover, continuing education does not stop with your constituents either. It also deals with agency staff. For example, trends dealing with employment laws affect an agency directly and necessitate an informative staff to deal with personnel issues. All of these factors play an important role towards the commitment to stay current and continue to learn and grow as a professional and a person. All of these reasons may make the choice of professional certification a bit more clear.


Over the past three years the Illinois Park and Recreation Certification Board has been committed to effectively serving the professionals in the certification state plan. In addition, being the leading state in the nation regarding the actual number of certified professionals, the IPRCB has also taken a leadership role on the national level through lobbying efforts in many pertinent areas. These efforts have been mainly concentrated on educating and serving the certified professional as best as we can with maximum accessibility to the plan itself. Although this must be accomplished by maintaining the integrity of the certification plan.

Several bylaw changes and other offerings at the state level have been initiated by the IPRCB in order to make the plan more accessible to the membership at large. One initiative has been providing more services to assist each professional in maintaining their certified status. First, the IPRCB now accepts college credit in lieu of continuing education unit (CEU) credit during a renewal period. One cannot mix college credit and CEU credit to meet the 2.0 CEU requirement every two years. However, most if not all college courses would automatically meet the 2.0 CEU requirement upon completion of the course. Second, the IPRCB approved CEU credit for tracking workshops. Tracking is when a series of several related topics are discussed at different times, dates or locations. Individually the topics do not meet the three contact hour requirement in order to provide a workshop with CEU status. However, together the topics do meet the minimum requirement and thus can be a worthwhile opportunity for professionals to gain CEU credit towards their renewal. Each individual must attend all the tracks in the sequence provided in order to be awarded any credit. No partial tracking credit is permitted.

Another offering for certification membership is the two- hour workshops at the state conference. This again is another service to make the plan more accessible to the certified professional. These workshops did not meet the three-hour minimum as stated before. However, in coordination with the conference committee there was a need for more CEU credit offerings at conference other than the pre-conference workshops. Also, these two-hour workshops are part of the conference fee and no other additional costs except the $5 CEU fee are charged. So take advantage of this offering at the 1996 conference. Lastly, a newsletter will begin publication soon and be sent to all professionals in the state certification plan. This publication is intended to keep members informed about current issues and information concerning professional certification. In addition, it will attempt to help educate members and alleviate all the misconceptions and invalid assumptions by the membership that have haunted the IPRCB for years.

The IPRCB not only targets professionals already certified, but also for those desiring to seize the opportunity and become certified. The following three initiatives have been conducted by the IPRCB: 1) featured speakers at student con-

36 * Illinois Parks & Recreation * September/October 1995

ference functions to educate and stress the importance of professional certification; 2) formation of the Education Exam Committee within the IPRCB to assist examinees with the exam process, and 3) a campaign towards attaining copies of recommended textbooks that will assist examinees towards their study preparation for the national exam.

The importance of educating the professionals of tomorrow about the trends that will affect their career choice is important to the industry and to the integrity of the profession. Professional certification is no doubt one of these trends that will have an impact and should be provided to these individuals in order for them to make their own choice. Speaking at state conference, the student conference, visiting campuses and infiltrating the curriculum with this information will be an ongoing commitment of the IPRCB. Next, the exam preparation

process has also been closely scrutinized by the IPRCB. Several issues at the national level regarding exam logistics, the preparation handbook and proctoring the exam are all currently being reviewed by the IPRCB through lobbying efforts with the national Certification Board (NCB) and other states with certification plans. The Education Exam Committee (EEC) is organizing an annual exam preparation workshop to assist examinees with study preparation for the National exam. This workshop is scheduled to be offered every September. Lastly, if you have any old textbooks still in your attic give the IPRA offices or myself a call to see if they are part of the list of recommended texts for the exam. A donation of these would be greatly appreciated and would assist the IPRCB in providing a small library of resources for examinees to utilize during their preparation process.


The choice of professional certification is up to each individual. Several trends and driving forces will influence each of these decisions. The future job market, restricting budgets, the need for more creative development, and an increasingly demanding public will all influence the decision towards professional certification as an individual or hiring agency. Regardless, continue your education and learn everyday how you can more effectively and efficiently serve the community with the trends involved in the area.

The opportunity is now here! Consider making the choice towards becoming a certified professional.

Michael dark, CLP, is chairman of the Illinois Park and Recreation Certification Board and manager of golf operations for the River Trails Park District. He is a recent graduate with a master's in business administration from the Lake Forest Graduate School of Management.

If you do have any questions regarding professional certification, contact dark at the River Trails Park District, 708-848-9661. or the Illinois Park and Recreation Association, 708-752-0141.

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