Should Training Certifications Be Mandatory, Discretionary, or Encouraged In Federal Workplaces

Mandatory Training Certifications

Making training certifications mandatory in a federal workplace can take multiple forms. You might make it compulsory for induction, ensuring that you have a select pool of candidates to choose from. It’s a good strategy when you have a large pool of candidates for a role but a poor one for roles that don’t attract too many applicants.

Another “version” would be making training certifications mandatory in a federal workplace without any reward or repercussion, both of which can be strong motivators. Or you can make training certifications compulsory for promotion in the workplace. The pros and cons of making training certifications mandatory in a federal workplace would be:


  • Making training certifications mandatory can help raise the workplace competency level, even if you assume minimal retention of the course/training material. If employees work just hard enough to attain the certification, they may still retain a decent amount of information communicated through the training.
  • Mandatory training certifications will be perceived as a basic performance marker/metric in the workplace. This will ensure that many employees, especially the ones motivated to move up the ladder, will exert more effort in training.
  • It has the potential to kickstart a culture that other workplaces and the entire federal workforce may adopt.
  • When certifications are compulsory and government-funded, it may become the reason many growth and learning-oriented candidates seek to join these federal workplaces.


  • The cost of certification would be a major con. When you are working with a limited budget, every new expense (like the cost of training certifications) takes something away from existing budgets. Even if a department or agency is able to secure additional funding for mandatory professional certifications, justifying it in the presence of other pressing monetary requirements may be difficult.
  • The cost of maintaining a certification/recertification will become an ongoing operational expense, and the more certified individuals in a team, the higher the cost will be.
  • Mandatory training certifications would require a department or agency to dedicate a lot of man-hours to the training sessions each year, and if the team members taking the training are not motivated enough, it may simply be a futile exercise.
  • Some federal employees may see it as an additional load they are not prepared to carry, and the workplace may see turnovers because of mandatory training certifications.

Discretionary Training Certifications

Apart from a few specialized roles, most federal workplaces do not require certifications, and employees have complete discretion regarding whether or not they should attain one (or more). This has its own pros and cons. Another scenario is that a federal workplace offers training and certification to its employees, but enrollment is completely voluntary, and it doesn’t affect career progression by a significant enough margin. Here, the primary motivation for employees would be to upskill or become better at their existing jobs.


  • No additional burden on the employees or on the workplace budget.
  • It’s easy to identify the most ambitious and motivated employees. You may even gauge the direction they wish to steer their career from the certifications they are completing.


  • When it’s completely discretionary and has no visible impact on their career progression, most people might choose not to achieve professional certifications.
  • A lack of professional certifications in federal workforces might keep top talent away from federal workplaces, especially if it’s currently working in highly competitive markets where these certifications are the norm.
  • Complex and comprehensive training programs without a certification (tangible proof of professional growth) might suffer from a lack of knowledge retention. The employees may not have much incentive to make an effort and retain more of what’s conveyed by the trainer, and the workplace will have to rely on self-motivation to meet the training goals.

Encouraged Training Certifications

There are multiple ways to encourage employees in a federal workplace to attain professional certifications. You can incentivize it by making it a strong element in career progression, even in workplaces where time-bound promotions are common. If a certification can help employees skip one or two years to a higher grade, many wouldn’t even mind paying for it themselves. They will see it as an investment in their career.

Another way to encourage training certifications is to pay for them, partially or fully. Financial constraints might prevent moderately ambitious federal employees from achieving costly certifications. You can make training programs more attractive by conveniently embedding them in the work routine. Many people avoid certifications if they require putting in more work hours than they usually do. There are many pros and a few cons to encouraging federal employees to achieve new certifications.


  • Encouraging employees to achieve and maintain professional certifications can induce a good culture and improve overall confidence. The process is slow compared to mandatory certifications, but it’s also more organic and driven by self-motivation.
  • Employees are likely to expend more energy and effort on a decision they have made themselves (even if they are encouraged towards it) than the one forced upon them (mandatory certifications).
  • The management can encourage the right employees to achieve desirable certifications instead of putting everyone on a certain level through a series of training programs. This will result in more efficient use of the budget available for professional certifications.
  • When it’s encouraged and appreciated by the management, more people will consider obtaining certifications compared to when management keeps it completely voluntary.
  • Federal workplaces where employees are encouraged and accommodated to achieve certifications may see the typical benefits associated with them, i.e., low turnover, higher retention, better workplace competency, etc.


  • Some employees might consider it a way to fast-track their growth and may focus more on the certifications rather than their actual performance.
  • Even though it may require less budget and time commitment from the employees, a federal workplace may still have to dedicate some money and time to the training programs leading to certifications.

What Do You Think?

Every federal department and agency and every workplace within those departments and agencies is different. They have different priorities, work cultures, ambitions, motivations, and resources that only the directly associated people truly understand. As a federal employee (no matter your position or role), what do you think your workplace’s approach to certification should be? Should these certifications be mandatory, encouraged, or completely discretionary? How beneficial do you think certifications can be for your own career? Would you be interested in pursuing a career-relevant certification if your department or agency is paying for it (and recertification)? Would you still pursue it if your department simply encouraged you to do it and made time in your daily schedule?

Let us know what you think. We would love to hear different views and department/agency-specific problems and attitudes associated with certifications and, hopefully, come up with relevant solutions.

Leadership & Management
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