This week’s question covers topics that comes up regularly to my in box. Learning and getting certified in Six Sigma can be an expensive process, both in terms of time and treasure. People want to know if their circumstance makes them a good fit. In other words, they are asking ‘Can I get certified in Six sigma’ despite X.
A few themes in Tim’s email that I’ll address here:
- I’m not an engineer/doctor/manufacturer/student/etc, can I still achieve a Six Sigma certification?
- Is it too early/late in my career? (aka ‘This is a LOT of work, will it be worth it?’)
- I have no practical experience with Six Sigma, do I need experience to get a Six Sigma certification?
Let’s Dive in!
Can I Get Certified In Six Sigma?
(Note: edited for brevity)
I noticed that many of my customers have Six Sigma experience, which peaked my interest. I always really enjoyed the quality/operations aspect of my business and wanted to learn more about it.
I wanted to reach out to you to see if you think I would be a good fit to possibly obtain the Six Sigma Green/Black belt. My experience is really limited to work experience with my customers, I really do not have any “hands-on” experience in utilizing Six Sigma practices. I also never really took any classes in regards to this in college. I see that many Six Sigma Black belts have engineering backgrounds, of which I do not.
I am a hard worker and would be dedicating my nights to the certificate course with Villanova. Do you believe that I would be able to begin taking these courses with almost no educational experience and be successful? I was a very good student, but almost feel like I am “too late to the game” for this.
Thanks again for your insight,
And many thanks to Tim for asking for my thoughts.
Can I Get a Six Sigma Certificate with my Background & Education?
I get a variation of this question several times a week:
- My sister Sally is in Health Care and she has a Six Sigma certification, can I get one even if I’m not in Health Care?
- I do not have project management / statistics / experiment design / etc training, can I get Six Sigma Certified?
- I did not study Six Sigma in college, can I still get a Six Sigma certification?
Let’s rewrite this question generically as:
Can I Get a Six Sigma Certification with my Background?
Six Sigma Certification Required Educational Experience
I have heard that some certifying bodies require a college degree or a certain amount of work experience. I am not aware of any major certifying body that lists a preference of a type of degree at all. Certainly ASQ, IASSC, and other trainer/certifying companies do not require education beyond what is listed in the subjects they will test you on commonly referred to as a Body of Knowledge (BOK) and suggested additional reference material.
Six Sigma Certification Without Strong Statistics/ Math Background
Yes, having some exposure to some subjects will make learning easier. Most of the math is at a middle to high school level. The statistics that many people worry about can be mastered easily using math no more sophisticated than multiplication and division, looking up values in tables, completing a basic algebraic equation, or just following a series of steps to fill in a grid.
Yes, the math part is really that easy. Yes, you can learn it all Good Will Hunting style by searching through YouTube. Alternately,
Six Sigma Certification and Project Management Background
One curious footnote is for Project Managers. Some experienced project managers note that some six sigma organizations use a different vocabulary set for their Black Belt topics than some contemporary project management certifying bodies (like the PMP.) Easy to overcome by only studying for one certification at a time and doing a lot of practice questions.
Prior knowledge of a topic by no means assures you of success either. I know a lot of talented professionals who skipped studying sections of the Six Sigma Body of Knowledge because they thought their prior education would be enough.
In the end, everybody is going to have to learn new tools. Everybody is going to have to study. Everybody is going to have to take a lot of practice exams to prepare.
List of Pre-Requisites for Six Sigma Belts
Can I get Certified in Six Sigma in my Current Career?
First, there are no pre-requiste careers to studying or applying Six Sigma techniques. Some certification organizations require formal application of techniques on real-world projects, but no certification that I am aware of requires a practitioner to be in a certain field.
Now, some careers or companies or roles within a company make it easier to practice Six Sigma concepts than others. But there are no careers or roles that are locked out of gaining some kind of Six Sigma certification.
Six Sigma Certification and Required Work Experience
Here’s where things get tricky.
Some certifications require work experience applying Six Sigma principles and some require that you have responsibility for managing a portfolio of continuous improvement programs and instructing others while still others do not require any kind of work experience.
For example, the ASQ Green Belt requires the following:
The Six Sigma Green Belt certification requires three years of work experience in one or more areas of the Six Sigma Green Belt Body of Knowledge.
Candidates must have worked in a full-time, paid role. Paid intern, co-op or any other course work cannot be applied toward the work experience requirement.
Where the ASQ Black Belt requires either two completed projects or one project and work experience:
Six Sigma Black Belt requires two completed projects with signed affidavits or one completed project with signed affidavit and three years of work experience in one or more areas of the Six Sigma Body of Knowledge. For more information, please see the list of Six Sigma Project Affidavit FAQs.
You do not need to be a Certified Six Sigma Green Belt.
Work experience must be in a full time, paid role. Paid intern, co-op or any other course work cannot be applied towards the work experience requirement.
How do I get a Six Sigma Certification Without Work Experience
Some online educators (e.g. Villanova) and colleges offer Six Sigma certification without practical experience. The IASSC does not have any pre-requisite training, work experience, or education for either their green belt or black belt certifications.
That helps the ‘chicken and egg’ problem many candidates have; Need a certification to get a job, but need a job to get the certification!
Of course this avenue can be very expensive and many savvy employers prefer certifications that are more stringent in the work experience category- thus obligating the reason many people want the certification in the first place.
Don’t let this discourage you. If you see value in getting your certification, look at the different types of certification as a journey. Perhaps when you are starting out you will want to get a Green Belt from an organization that has no experiential requirement in order to get a foot in the door even if your ultimate goal is that of an ASQ Master Black Belt.
Is a Six Sigma Certification ‘Worth It’ Later in Your Career
Is it too late to get a six sigma certification? Perhaps, but probably not. Sometimes you need a change in your career. Could achieving a Six Sigma certification help to facilitate a career change? Absolutely! What if it’s late in my career? Still, probably so.
I think the concepts in Lean and Six Sigma are generally useful with or without a certification – but of course, getting certified helps the resume and provides a direction for study. Tim’s example, he was certainly not too late in his career and bet that anyone reading this article is not either.
Most people’s current fields would be a fine fit for the application of Lean & Six Sigma. Six Sigma is not only fit for engineering/manufacturing. Any career where you can see that there are processes and a need for improvement will do. So, whatever you do, learning continuous improvement frameworks, tools, and techniques will serve you well.
There is a cost to Six Sigma, though. And everyone should be conscious of ROI before investing in training. Learning Six Sigma through a reputable firm will cost thousands of dollars and months of work. Taking a certification exam will be a few hundred dollars. And preparing for the exam can be a few hundred more and a few more weeks of preparation.
But here the obstacle is the way.
Because there is a bar to achieving certification, fewer people complete it. This will differentiate you from the tens of thousands of people that never earn their certification.
If a certification will earn you the ability to post for a new position, or keep the position you have, I would imagine the ROI is there.
What to Do Next
I believe that curiosity, discipline and dedication would eventually trump any headwind. I would encourage candidates with those qualities to pursue their career goals whatever they are. But I would also advise evaluating all of your possibilities. For instance if, you picked an online educator like Villanova – why did you make that choice? (Nothing against Villanova, just be clear in why you are selecting the path you are on.)
If you want to pursue both a Green Belt & Black Belt. Which is your primary goal? I’d suggest working with your clients and seeing where they studied and which organizations they recommend getting certified with. If nothing else, it’s good networking. But it may inform you of a choice.
Consider using my Six Sigma Belt road map to help you determine which belt is best for you.
Each Journey is Different
Your journey will not necessarily be unique, but it will be your own and governed by your own set of particular circumstances and goal.
For example, I paid my own way for a Green Belt certification very early in my career at a local community college. Fortunately that program accepted a project that I did on my own time outside of my primary job because my employer would neither pay for my training nor permit me to do a project. I still remember how torn I was to pay for that semester’s class with my first bonus or to pay down my college loan. I’m glad I took the path I did.
Later on I practiced what I learned in my green belt wherever I could. I was never able to formally participate with a project despite having the only training at my site. But I did get a reputation for having diverse skill sets and delivering excellent quality. After several years I was promoted to a role that allowed me to formally undertake such projects- ironically on the strength of me showing the initiative to achieve the green belt on my own!
Practicing my greenbelt skills in that role and running a large portfolio of improvement projects put me in a position to take a role where my job required that I receive a Black Belt. Fortunately I had already completed several Six Sigma projects and had years of applying the principles. That position paid for me to take training and get certified by Villanova, which I did. But since there was an unspoken rule that the ASQ certification was seen as more rigorous , and thus more desirable, I did that as well. However, I needed to do significant additional work to obtain my ASQ Black Belt.
The lesson that I have learned is that you may have to spend years performing at one skill level before you are recognized for that effort and earn the right for more. Speaking to hundreds of other practitioners over the years, my experience certainly isn’t unique.
Other people in other industries/environments find different answers, so I encourage you to ask the questions before committing to a certain path.
There’s a robust conversation on this both in the article and comments here. Attaching in case you haven’t seen it:
Let me know what’s next and how I can help!