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Thread: GIS certificate programs and job opportunities

  1. #1
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    GIS certificate programs and job opportunities

    Just wondering if anyone has any thoughts on completing a GIS Certificate Program. I received a Master of Urban Planning several years ago and had terrible luck landing a full-time position. I've decided to renew my search and feel that bolstering my GIS skills would be a great way to get my foot in the door. My graduate program recognized the value of GIS experience but warned against getting pigeon-holed in that career path. At this point, I feel like having GIS expertise could be invaluable, especially given the fact that I haven't had a job in a planning-related field in several years. I've looked into local and regional community colleges and universities and the program I like the most (so far) is offered by the University of Denver both online and on campus. Does anyone have any knowledge or insight to offer? I'd greatly appreciate it.

  2. #2
    Cyburbian
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    That's a tough one. In all honestly, I'm not sure how many doors a certificate will open. A planning degree already implies you have some competency with GIS for analysis. Depending on the certificate, it would likely amount to about the same. What sets you apart with GIS is knowing how to deal with scripting and database related tasks. So if you pursue any sort of certificate, make sure that's part of the curriculum. It's a far cry from planning though.

    As for pigeon-holing, it can definitely happen if you're not careful. I'm honestly experiencing this myself and I haven't quite figured how easy this is to change. I'm not sure whether I should embrace it or fight it yet. I enjoy planning much more but I keep getting pushed more toward GIS.

  3. #3
    It may be worth reviewing these two sites below for entry-level job announcements. Will a MUP and GIS certificate get you in the door?

    http://www.gisjobs.com/
    http://www.gjc.org/

  4. #4
    Cyburbian
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    That really is a tough call. I donít think having better gis skills is ever going to hurt, I guess it depends on what kind of job opportunities youíre looking for. Would you be comfortable in a job that is mostly gis work? How about one that is 100% gis? For what itís worth, I started off in planning and moved into fulltime gis.

    Blide wrote: I'm not sure how many doors a certificate will open. A planning degree already implies you have some competency with GIS for analysis. Depending on the certificate, it would likely amount to about the same.
    Depending on your masters program, this could be true. Youíd need to be careful with your class selection.

    What sets you apart with GIS is knowing how to deal with scripting and database related tasks.
    Iíll add web mapping to that list. I really like this blog post for a slightly broader perspective: http://www.gisdoctor.com/site/2011/07/05/death-gis-guy/

    OfficialPlanner wrote: It may be worth reviewing these two sites below for entry-level job announcements. Will a MUP and GIS certificate get you in the door?
    Itís hard to argue with that.

    As long as youíre looking at additional training or course work, another option might be to check out ESRIís technical certifications.

  5. #5
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    Thanks for sharing, everybody. =)

    At this point, I'm mainly interested in improving my own earning potential from its current state. I lost my full-time internship/entry level position after the mortgage market tanked, and from my fruitless job searching (as well as my former classmates), entry-level planning jobs seem few and highly sought after by planners with more experience than I. Even the internships are much harder to come by these days. (and necessary for me given the length of time I've been out of the field) I'm not interested in going back to school and pursuing a completely different career in order to attain the level of employment I desire, thus the GIS certificate idea.

    My MUP gave me basic ESRI experience. I can create nice maps and manipulate shapefiles, but don't possess enough experience to contend for an entry-level GIS Specialist job. Naturally, I'd like to try and stay more to the planning-based and "creative" side of GIS if possible, but more than anything I feel like I need to go where the jobs are at. If that means building a more technical skill-set, then so be it. Maybe even a GIS Master's is the way to go... I still have my MUP and if the job market improves, it doesn't seem like any planning firm or city would be too disappointed in a candidate with a more current GIS background.

    It's been a somewhat discouraging road the past few years and this plan has restored a little bit of hope for resurrecting what I though would be a promising professional career. If anyone else has any thoughts on the subject, please share. I feel that feedback from people with more experience than I is invaluable and i thank everyone for their opinions and insight.

  6. #6
    Cyburbian
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    This is just anecdotal but I'm inclined to say a degree holds more clout than a certificate with GIS even if what you learn is the same. I happen to have an undergrad degree in geography but I am finding that it's more marketable than my planning masters despite the GIS skills taught between the two programs being comparable. Neither program completely equipped me for an entry level GIS position but for whatever reason many employers seem willing to overlook that with a geography degree. I didn't even bother to get the GIS certificate with my degree but that doesn't seem to have mattered.

    Now as for what you should do, I'm not really sure. Personally if I wanted to focus my career on GIS, I would pursue a second masters at some point. I know enough about GIS to know where the gaps in my knowledge lie but I'm not sure I could fill all those up to my satisfaction in an analyst or tech position. If I stayed in the field, I would certainly want to move beyond those types of positions.

    The advantage of a GIS masters is many of them can be done online and can be completed quicker than a regular masters.

  7. #7
    Cyburbian ColoGI's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Blide View post
    This is just anecdotal but I'm inclined to say a degree holds more clout than a certificate with GIS even if what you learn is the same. I happen to have an undergrad degree in geography but I am finding that it's more marketable than my planning masters despite the GIS skills taught between the two programs being comparable. Neither program completely equipped me for an entry level GIS position but for whatever reason many employers seem willing to overlook that with a geography degree. I didn't even bother to get the GIS certificate with my degree but that doesn't seem to have mattered.

    Now as for what you should do, I'm not really sure. Personally if I wanted to focus my career on GIS, I would pursue a second masters at some point. I know enough about GIS to know where the gaps in my knowledge lie but I'm not sure I could fill all those up to my satisfaction in an analyst or tech position. If I stayed in the field, I would certainly want to move beyond those types of positions.

    The advantage of a GIS masters is many of them can be done online and can be completed quicker than a regular masters.
    . +1 .
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  8. #8
    Cyburbian
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    I'll say this: Most of the older people I've worked with have absolutely no GIS experience, and they don't seem to want it. I've been attempting to get my organization to go away from hiring GIS specialists and just hire planners who don't treat computers like magic boxes. If you have the skills, most people won't care how you got them. Unless of course you are going for a GIS position, then they'll certainly care if it's a certificate vs degree.

  9. #9
    Cyburbian
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    One other piece of information I've learned. No matter what additional GIS education you get, your planning degree will make you less suitable for some GIS positions. Like I was exploring moving into a GIS Analyst position here at work. I came to find out that that specific position's funding required for it to deal exclusively with 911 related tasks. The director of that department felt it would be a waste to have me be in a position with such a narrow scope when I was capable of doing so much more.

  10. #10
    Cyburbian ssc's avatar
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    I got a GIS certificate from Penn State eons ago. I can't say that it opened any doors for me, but I was glad to have to opportunity to update my GIS knowledge - which prior to then had been limited to the UNIX-based GIS that was around when I got my masters. That being said, if you have relatively recent GIS experience, I would not think that a certificate would make much of a difference for a typical planning position. I interview and hire planners, and I generally look for GIS knowledge that would be typical of a recent graduate of a planning program - I do not look for expertise.

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