NFIB Research Study: Certification & Industry-Specific Learning for Small Business Owners

NFIB surveyed 750 small business owners about how they pursue certification and continuing education in their particular industries. Here are the results.


Executive Summary

  • Small business owners have notably more formal education than the adult population, particularly considering they are on average older. However, of the 46% of owners with at least a four-year college degree, less than one-quarter majored in engineering and the physical or life sciences.
  • 40% of small business owners now have 30+ years of experience in the industry of their current business and another 28% have between 20 and 29 years.
  • 49% of small employers report that they must possess some type of credential or skill certification to operate their businesses.
  • The place small business owners most frequently obtain the necessary knowledge and/or skill set to earn their credentials is an apprenticeship or on-the-job-training (27%), followed by formal education (24%). A trade or vocational school program yields credentials for another 11% of those needing them. Thirteen (13)% of owners simply study for initial credentials on their own. Seven (7)% take specific on-line or face-to-face courses.
  • 54% of small employers needing credentials must take periodic continuing education-type courses to retain certification. Still, 42% of those who are no longer required to take such courses do so anyway.
  • 68% of small employers are members of a business, trade or professional organization. The most important organization for 64% of them offers a business, technical or professional training/education program; 57% offer some type of credential.
  • Small business owners requiring certification are more likely to be a member of at least one trade/business/professional association and much more likely to belong to multiple such groups. They are also more likely to belong to groups where the educational component of the organization is valued.
  • In the last year, two of three small employers attended at least one convention or trade show.
  • 36% of all small employers took at least one course that lasted four hours or more on a business-related subject in the last year. The most frequent sponsor of such courses was a business or professional association (36%) followed in frequency by a supplier (26%).
  • The subject of these courses/seminars was most often technical or professional in nature. Topics that have general applicability with the exception of marketing were not of frequent interest.
  • The most common purpose of taking a course/seminar (66%) is to upgrade skills. Another 25% took one to get or stay certified while 3% did so to resolve a specific problem.
  • Though 30% of small employers spent less than an hour in the last 12 months attending or on-line in education and training sessions, the median time spent for the remainder was about 16 hours or two full days.
  • 43% of owners claim that once a week or more they now go to a Web site(s) to ask a question or have an e-mail conversation about some aspect of their business, excluding the purchase of products or services.
  • Use of the Internet and reading traditional periodicals are re-enforcing means to obtain industry-specific information. Small business owners who use one tend to use the other.


Small Business Certification & Training Infographic