Should contracting professionals go back to school?

In today’s government market, current and potential contracting professionals should consider earning professional certifications rather than seeking the almighty MBA.

Everyone agrees that the government contracting market is getting more competitive and that key employees in marketing, sales, business development, capture and other disciplines will have to raise their skills to a new level.

As a result, companies and individual professionals in the government contracting community need to assess their skills and resources and determine where and how to invest in professional development.

One way to hone your skills is to find venues where you can continue to learn from professionals in your discipline. These venues can take many forms, including seminars, industry briefings, webinars and others.

Recent articles in the Washington Post magazine have highlighted the level of education in the national capitol area. The articles include statistics on the high concentration of MBAs in the D.C. metro area compared to the rest of the country. Underscored was the high cost of earning an MBA and how MBAs are becoming less of a differentiator in some disciplines.

My problem with MBAs is that I have never heard of an MBA program that deals directly with government contracting, so while the degree may represent a broad grasp of business issues, these issues may not have a bearing on winning or maximizing the value of a contract.

Too often I see job requirements that call for advanced degrees, especially MBAs, and I wonder why? In today’s government market, I would rather see potential and current employees with professional certifications or classes from organizations like the Association for Proposal Management Professionals ( , the National Contract Management Association (, or the National Procurement Institute ( for example, showing me they are studying all facets of government contracting.

There are many professional associations that offer certification-based training for professionals. Organizations like Society of American Military Engineers (, the Society of Government Meeting Professionals (, the International Facilities Management Association ( and others offer ongoing professional education. If your company targets military engineers, or sells products or services related to federal facilities, or sells services or products related to successful meetings, wouldn’t it help your sales, marketing and business development staff to go through all or part of the same certification process?

There are other sources of professional education available as well that can address sales, marketing business development, proposals and more. However, when seeking training it’s critical to make certain the provider has a legitimate pedigree. There has always been a hierarchy of a top, middle and bottom tier institutions that offer such courses and programs. Some continuing professional education programs are simply much better than others.

So caveat emptor!

What should be the criteria for selecting ongoing professional education? Here is a short list:

  • Will the program help me/my employee to be more effective?
  • Is the provider of the training legitimate?
  • Is the program offering current information and taking into consideration the changing landscape?
  • If you attend sessions in person, will the networking be an added value?
  • Are the course taught by industry professionals?
  • Does the cost justify participation?

I have been offering courses to the government contracting community since 1991 and have produced over 150 events in the past 20 years. Recently I have partnered with Capitol College in Laurel, Md., to produce certificate-based programs for government contracting in the areas of sales, marketing, business development, social media and managing a government business. Government Market Master courses will start in June and be available in class in Laurel, and via webinar (

Regardless of where you are in the government contracting community, from the top tier of the Washington Technology Top 100 or a small business winning your first contract, your ability to stay competitive will be predicated on how knowledgeable your front line employees are.