Understanding Your State’s Industry-Recognized Credentials (IRCs) in Engineering and Architectural Design


What are industry-recognized credentials (IRCs)?

CareerTech defines a credential as a “qualification of a specific set of competencies related to a particular industry or occupation.” Industry-recognized credentials (IRCs) go one step further because they must be

  • Recognized in the workforce
  • Applicable across state borders
  • An accurate assessment of specific skills

Gone are the days when a high school graduate could land a well-paying job with only a high school diploma. According to the Alliance for Excellent Education, about two-thirds of all new jobs require some education and training beyond high school.

But don’t hit the panic button!

IRCs were designed to give high school students the skills, experience, and recognition they need for 21st-century workplaces. For high school graduates looking to land jobs in engineering or architectural design, this means being qualified for the following job titles:

  • CAD drafter
  • CAD designer
  • Device designer
  • Mechanical designer
  • Design engineer
  • Architectural designer
  • BIM manager
  • And more!
READ MORE: Why All Schools Should Help Students Earn a CAD Software Certification — and How to Do It

Two of the software powerhouses in engineering and architectural design are SOLIDWORKS and Autodesk. Because of the widespread use in industry, many states have identified SOLIDWORKS certifications and Autodesk certifications as approved IRCs. Here are some of the most popular certifications students can earn.

SOLIDWORKS Certifications

  • Certified SOLIDWORKS Associate (CSWA)
  • Certified SOLIDWORKS Professional (CSWP)

Autodesk Certifications

  • AutoCAD Certified User
  • Inventor Certified User
  • Fusion 360 Certified User
  • Revit Certified User
GET STUDENTS CERTIFIED: Explore SolidProfessor’s Library of online tutorials and certification prep courses
Woman architecture student working on models

How IRCs support the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA)

The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) is all about career readiness and giving students valuable industry skills throughout their K-12 education. IRCs fit into this framework well because they ensure students have the knowledge and skills required across industries.

What’s the ESSA?

Signed into law Dec. 2015, ESSA was created to ensure U.S. students receive “a fair, equitable, and high-quality education, and to close educational achievement gaps.” The ESSA provides grants and funding opportunities to support innovative educational programs to help students succeed.

The ESSA gives states more power to determine how schools should account for student achievement. Therefore, each state has to create its own education plan within the framework provided by the federal government. This can be a double-edged sword: While the flexibility the ESSA provides states can be nice, it can also be difficult for instructors to keep track of standards since no two states are the same.

ESSA focuses on career and technical education (CTE) so students can be successful right out of high school

Following many of the recommendations put forth by leading Career and Technical Education (CTE) groups, ESSA places a strong emphasis on this type of education.

This increased focus on CTE shows exactly why IRCs are quickly gaining popularity in schools: they are a great way to improve career readiness and technical education in a meaningful way. Here are five ways CTE opportunities are embedded in ESSA:

  • Title I allows local funds to be used for supporting high-quality CTE programs. Coursework must align with state standards that result in students acquiring industry-recognized credentials. Schools can also use Title I funds for work-based learning programs in which students interact with industry professionals. Furthermore, Title I allows schools to provide joint professional development for academic and CTE teachers.
  • Title IV funds can be used to provide career guidance for postsecondary students; train counselors on using labor market data when crafting a personalized learning plan; and support career preparation activities like mentoring. Title IV also helps states deliver technology-based curricula so that schools can offer service-learning, CTE, internships, apprenticeships, and other connections with in-demand industries. All of these opportunities should be supplementary to regular academic programs. Additionally, Title IV stipulates that states should evaluate the effectiveness of any career or CTE program based on factors like completing internships and work-based learning opportunities.
  • Title VIII defines a “well-rounded education” as one that includes courses, activities, and programming in career and technical education. This is a new development from the previous definition of “well-rounded education,” which did not include CTE programming.

Throughout ESSA, there are multiple opportunities for states to really dig into the career skills the local workforce needs. Schools are encouraged to partner with local industries in order to reduce skill gaps and ensure students are ready for in-demand careers in their community and beyond.

How do I know what my state’s IRCs are?

Many states mention IRCs by name and prioritize students earning them. Other states don’t necessarily call out IRCs, but school districts and instructors still leverage them in the pursuit of providing a “well-rounded” education.

If your state specifically mentions IRCs, it will likely be in ESSA Title I, which outlines the state’s accountability measures.

Title I – Accountability Measure

The easiest way to embed IRCs into ESSA planning is by using them as a method to track accountability. Specifically, ESSA explains that states are responsible for creating their own measures to indicate “school quality or student success.” The thought process behind this is that educators and students respond to clear-cut goals and metrics and having transparent data makes it easier to identify underperformance.

Currently, 35 states have included a career-focused metric in their accountability rating systems, with 11 states specifically including the attainment of IRCs. The most commonly used accountability measures for career readiness are

  • Completing dual enrollment
  • Earning an industry-recognized credential (IRC)
  • Participating in work-based learning opportunities

Earning IRCs can be a great way to ensure schools are meeting career-related or CTE goals under ESSA. However, many states are slower to adopt the IRC accountability model.

Even if your state doesn’t specifically call IRCs out in Title I, there are plenty of ways IRCs help reach other career-readiness and CTE goals. For example, IRCs ensure students are earning a “well-rounded education” and connecting with in-demand industries.

FREE E-GUIDE: Find Your State’s IRCs in Engineering and Architectural Design
adopt irc programs

How states are meeting workforce demands by incentivizing schools to adopt IRC programs

Many states have gone a step further in supporting IRCs by providing financial incentives to schools and teachers for each student who earns an approved credential. While this can be included in a state’s ESSA plan, most states that offer IRC incentives have wrapped them up into other CTE-related legislation.

Florida, Kansas, and Louisiana have led other states in terms of their IRC incentive policies. CareerTech’s “Credentials of Value” report outlines the top four common trends that these states share in regard to their IRC incentive programs that have made them so successful:

  1. Involve businesses and industry professionals early in the process. When putting together state lists of industry-approved credentials, it’s important to make sure that the credentials are actually valued in their respective industries.
  2. In the credential review process, leverage the expertise of multiple agencies and institutions. The credential review process needs to be incredibly rigorous to ensure students are earning certifications that can really benefit them. This means working with institutions like a State Workforce Development Board, Department of Education, regional counsels, postsecondary representatives, and more.
  3. Look at rigor and industry demand when deciding what credentials to include. Not all credentials are created equal: some will be more difficult to attain, others will pack more of a punch in the industry. Successful states differentiate credentials based on difficulty – prioritizing earning lower-lever credentials and working up to higher-level ones – and quality.
  4. Build-in flexibility and adaptability – no state gets it right the first time around. Sometimes the reporting structure needs to be updated. Other times credentials need to be added or removed from the state-approved list.
LEARN MORE: Engineering & Architectural Design Certification Prep Guides By State

Madie Norris Forcier
About the Author

SolidProfessor content writer and self-appointed World’s Greatest Dog Mom