Certification as Culture

By Sara Baldwin | Posted on June 9, 2014

In your park and recreation department, is certification becoming the norm? For the Fairfax County Park Authority (FCPA) in Fairfax County, Virginia, certification of staff through the NRPA Certified Park and Recreation Professional (CPRP)  program has really taken a foothold within the agency.  
In early 2014, FCPA invited employees to get on board with the benefits of NRPA's Premier membership including the opportunity to become CPRP certified. The Park Authority reports that almost immediately, two dozen employees stepped forward. We checked in with the Park Authority to find out why certification is so valued and found that it has essentially become part of the culture for their staff. 
Barbara Nugent, Park Services Division director describes a dedicated group that understands that certification makes them more valuable in the workplace, adding, “We give them the time to prepare for the exam and provide support, but the bottom line is they need to do this for themselves because it’s important to them.” FCPA believes that their employees truly value certification as evident through their willingness to shoulder the cost of the classes and materials. FCPA is able to pass along discounts to their staff on the cost of certification as part of their NRPA Premier membership package.  
Fairfax County Park Authority  Director Kirk W. Kincannon CPRP, believes it’s vital to support the profession by building a credentialed staff and more importantly, certification in the profession helps demonstrate an employee’s desire to move forward and be the best they can be. Even in daunting fiscal times when training budgets are tight, he believes there are multiple tangible benefits for the agency and the individual. “We believe that properly trained and certified employees lead to direct, measurable benefits,” Kincannon noted.  “The CPRP certification provides a recognized benchmark of skills than can be aligned to an organization’s mission to provide high quality public service.”



For the Fairfax County Park Authority in Virginia, being a certified park and recreation professional is part of the culture. Can your agency say the same? 


Brian Laws, branch manager for lakefront and RECenter operations for FCPA says, “Ultimately, certification lets everyone know that you meet certain criteria, that you have a certain level of knowledge that is standard throughout the industry.” 
Even Park Authority staff that take their time working toward certification have a desire to emerge with the valued title. Todd Johnson, director of the Park Operations Division, has always understood and respected the value of the CPRP designation, but family and workplace obligations often got in the way. “Back in the day, Brian (Laws) and I got certified together. Back then (2000) it was called CLP – Certified Leisure Professional,” Johnson explained. CLP eventually became CPRP – Certified Park and Recreation Professional.  “Brian maintained his certification over the years and I did not. In the summer of 2012, I became a CPRP and just last month renewed the certification with the required twenty hours of Continuing Education Units (CEU’s) I needed.  The requirement to remain up to date on related professional education and certified has to be met every two years,” Johnson added.
Park Authority COO/Deputy Director Sara Baldwin hopes that the Park Authority has found that equilibrium which encourages employees to earn their certification but is not too cumbersome in the big picture of life and work balance. “Our staff is motivated toward excellence as evidenced by our agency’s two-time national accreditation by the Commission on Accreditation for Park and Recreation Agencies (CAPRA)  and receipt of numerous local and national awards over the years,” Baldwin said. “We hope to help employees take a “next” personal step toward professional excellence. It’s good for them and holds countless benefits for the community we serve.” 
To date, the initial 24 that jumped on the chance to get certified are engaged and moving forward. 


How has professional certification become the norm for your park and recreation department? Are you and your colleagues motivating each other to earn and/or maintain certification? Tell us what you think in the comments below or tweet us @NRPA_News


Post developed in partnership with Sara Baldwin, FCPA COO and Deputy Director