Megan Vander Plaats. Kristen Van Veldhuizen. Stephanie Winkel. The list of Northwest Iowa Community College (NCC) administrative graduates in the workplace is outstanding. But companies in the Midwest retain them because they have achieved more than diplomas or associate's degrees. Following their instructor's example, they have earned Microsoft® Office Specialist certification, the official worldwide certification for the Microsoft Office system of business-productivity programs. With portable, globally recognized credentials in hand, these young women prove, every day, that they are capable of productively and efficiently using Microsoft Office to advance their careers.
Janet Boone first read about Office Specialist certification when she was the assistant to the president of NCC. She quickly realized it would help her uniquely identify herself within NCC and set a personal goal to become an Office Specialist. “From what I read, I was convinced this was a valuable and global certification,” Boone said. “I knew it would be a great way to demonstrate my abilities and proficiency with Microsoft Office products.”
NCC’s president was both aware and supportive of Boone’s goal. “He always encouraged and supported me, and I appreciate it so much,” Boone said. “It speaks volumes-NCC is an employer that believes in the value of professional development.”
Boone’s goal resulted in quite a lengthy transcript of certifications. “After my first taste, I wanted to take all of the exams available,” Boone said. So after that first exam in Microsoft PowerPoint® 2000, Boone earned Microsoft Office Specialist Master certification in three successive versions of Office. “Nobody said I had to do it. It was a personal goal.”
After more than 12 years as assistant to the president of the college, Boone came across an opportunity to advance to a full-time instructional position within NCC’s administrative-secretarial program. “I had an excellent perspective because I had 20 years of work experience in the trenches,” Boone said. “Now, as an instructor, I articulate to students what I went through myself. My Office Specialist credentials have paid dividends for me, both personally and professionally, and I approach every day as an opportunity to teach my students to think critically and to learn workforce-preparation skills.”
NCC’s one-year administrative-secretarial diploma program has an optional second-year focus on administrative office management, which results in an associate of applied-science degree. All students take Word and Information Processing, which includes study in Microsoft Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and Access, as well as machine transcription/dictation and computer concepts. They study computer basics and learn the specifics of the programs they will use in the workplace. The target, or capstone, achievement planned for students is Microsoft Word certification.
“With their textbooks, students are purchasing their exam vouchers right up front,” Boone said. “And, it includes a retake voucher, should they need it. We train them from the first day that they are expected to take the Office Specialist exam. They have everything to gain and nothing to lose by taking it.”
Class time is set aside for student Office Specialist exams. Although exam results are not part of a student’s final grade, the exam is a required part of the course. Boone said she doesn’t have any difficulty convincing students that the certification is a worthwhile use of their time and efforts. “Students can see the value,” she said. “They achieve a portable, global credential. It will look impressive on cover letters and résumés.”
“Preparing for my Office Specialist certification was definitely worth my time,” said Winkel, one of Boone’s former students. “The exam proves I’m capable, and I’ve done more than just take a computer class.”
Boone knows firsthand the value of certification for an individual’s employment prospects. “You never know what doors will open,” she said. “Had I not taken the initiative to get certified, I might not have been eligible for my current position. My certifications contributed to the college’s decision to offer me this instructional position. Certification, plus my experience, plus my commitment to continued education made me the ideal candidate.”
Boone’s students are ideal job candidates, too. After working as a travel agent at Siouxland Travel, Winkel was recently hired to run the business side of a new restaurant franchise in Sheldon, IA. Certified in Microsoft Word, she was asked about her certification when she interviewed for the position. “They wanted to know what it meant, what I went through to get it, and how it will help their business,” she said. “I’ve used my certification to keep organized, set up tables of flight information for clients, and produce flyers and advertisements at Siouxland Travel. I will certainly use it in my next job.”
“Microsoft is everywhere,” Boone said. “Virtually all help-wanted advertisements specify knowledge of Microsoft software programs as a requirement for workers. Office Specialist certification validates this knowledge and is undisputable. Our students are motivated by the power the exams will have on their résumés. Certification gives them edges over other candidates with similar work experience.”
NCC graduate and Microsoft Word Office Specialist Vander Plaats has been an administrative assistant at Sioux Valley Luverne Hospital in Luverne, MN, for 18 months. “Mine was the only application with Office Specialist certification on it when I applied for this job,” she said. “My employers were really impressed with it, and I know it played a part in [my] getting hired.”
Boone agreed that Office Specialist certification contributes to a productive and efficient workplace. “I know how much these skills are used on the job,” she said. “Software is highly underused because most people are self-taught and don’t have sufficient formal training. Microsoft Office programs are only as good as the level at which they are used.”
Van Veldhuizen, who recently graduated from NCC, works in the accounting department of A&I Products, a Rock Valley, IA, manufacturer and wholesale distributor of replacement parts for agriculture, landscaping, and industry. She runs two computers to produce company invoices, manage back orders, run open-order reports, and handle credit and collections. Certified in Microsoft Word, Van Veldhuizen uses Microsoft Word and Excel programs every day. “My certification shows I have an open mind and am teachable,” she said. “I don’t have to ask questions about everything. It has given me confidence and a certificate on my desk that shows my employer I am productive and capable of figuring things out quickly.”
“Office Specialist includes the only comprehensive performance-based exams approved by Microsoft,” Boone said. “We would be remiss if this component was not part of our curriculum. The Office Specialist exam is definitely not easy. Attaining this certification requires a great deal of preparation-even for experienced computer users. From an instructional standpoint, the Office Specialist certification provides students with the skills, confidence, and credentials needed to excel both academically and professionally."
Certiport prepares individuals and communities with current and relevant digital skills and credentials for the competitive global workforce. These solutions include Certiport Internet and Computing Core certification (IC³®) and the Microsoft® Office Specialist certification programs delivered by more than 12,000 Certiport Centers worldwide. For more information, visit www.certiport.com.
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