Students of all ages and backgrounds are enrolling in project-management certificate programs at Puget Sound-area schools.

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A quick scan of job openings in the Puget Sound area shows that project managers are in high demand — so it’s no surprise that students of all ages and backgrounds are enrolling in project-management certificate programs at Puget Sound-area schools.

Project managers apply processes, methods, knowledge, skills and experience to achieve the objectives of a project (or workplace endeavor). You can bring project-management expertise to any job to plan, create schedules, allocate resources and build teams, according to Edmonds Community College’s course materials.

Many project-management certificate students are currently employed, so the classes provide practical knowledge that can be used on the job immediately. Michael Klinicke, an instructor at Bellevue College, describes his slogan as “Teach it today, use it tomorrow.”

Typical courses include strategic planning, project leadership and project execution. At Bellevue College, the program culminates in a practicum course in which 10 students complete a project for a local nonprofit. For example, a recent class successfully executed a proposal for Evergreen Mountain Bike Alliance that allowed the nonprofit to build mobile apps.

Christina May, assistant program manager of professional programs at Bellevue College, says many students realize that they’ve already been project managing in their current roles. “They just need to learn to streamline the skills, and that’s what we help them do,” she says.

Students come from a diverse array of backgrounds and industries. “We have people from all of the major industries and employers in the Puget Sound region — from tech to aerospace to apparel to government and nonprofit,” says Paul Del Piero, assistant director of academic programs at University of Washington Professional & Continuing Education program. “Some are looking to make a career change, others are looking to move up in their organization, others are just looking to add a skill set that will help them throughout their careers.”

Upward mobility

Melissa Slater, who is currently enrolled in City University of Seattle’s program, works full-time at Meier, a Kennewick-based architectural and engineering firm. She took classes at night to prepare for the Project Management Professional certification exam, administered by the Project Management Institute.

Slater is looking for upper mobility at Meier, where she has worked for more than 20 years. She says she’s already seen an uptick since entering City University’s program. She was promoted to assistant project manager after earning her B.A. from Columbia Basin College in 2015, and her goal is to become a full project manager once she has completed City’s program and passed the PMP exam.

Many students say the connections they make with their classmates and professors have been invaluable. Spencer Bowen, a 2014 graduate of UW’s program, was hired as a senior project manager at Starbucks by one of his professors upon completion of the program. In January, he switched roles within the company and became a strategy manager, which he says puts his certification to excellent use.

Making it official

PMP certification is a requirement for certain roles and organizations, but not every graduate takes the exam. Not all students need it to reach their professional goals, though PMP certification holders earn 20 percent more than their non-certified peers, according to the PMI.

The exam is a 200-question, multiple-choice test which focuses on five domains — initiating, planning, executing, monitoring and controlling, and closing. The PMI recommends that test-takers spend at least 35 hours preparing for the exam, regardless of how much education and experience they have.

Pavel Dolezel, an instructor at Bellevue College and a senior manager at T-Mobile, says the certification sticks out on job candidates’ résumés.

“As a hiring manager, I look for the PMP certification on their résumés because it means they have a certain baseline of knowledge that they can build upon after I hire them,” Dolezel says. “I know they speak the common language and it gives me a certain assurance.”

However, project-management certification programs are not a “prep course” for the PMP exam. Del Piero likens it to the way high school prepares students for the SAT — the education provides them with foundational knowledge, but studying specifically for the test is still a necessity in order to do well.