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Population Characteristics and Economic Outcomes

Nondegree Work Credentials and Work Experience Programs

(Last Updated: July 2018)

In addition to earning educational credentials, preparation for the workforce can include the earning of "nondegree" work credentials, such as certifications and licenses, as well as the completion of work experience programs, such as internships and apprenticeships. In 2016, some 6 percent of 16- to 65-year-olds reported having a currently active certification, 18 percent reported having a currently active license, and 21 percent reported having completed a work experience program. The percentages of adults with a certification, with a license, and who had completed a work experience program were higher for college graduates than for non-college graduates.

This indicator presents 2016 data on U.S. adults’ preparation for the workforce, focusing on nondegree work credentials and work experience programs. Nondegree work credentials include occupational certifications and licenses.1 A certification is an occupational credential awarded by a certification body—such as a professional association or certifying board—based on an individual demonstrating through an examination process that he or she has acquired the designated knowledge, skills, and abilities to perform a specific job. A license is an occupational credential awarded by a government agency that constitutes legal authority to do a specific job. Work experience programs include internships, co-ops, practicums, clerkships, externships, residencies, clinical experiences, apprenticeships, and similar programs. In 2016, some 6 percent of noninstitutionalized 16- to 65-year-olds who were not enrolled in high school (referred to as adults in this indicator) reported having a certification, 18 percent reported having a license, and 21 percent reported having completed a work experience program.

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Figure 1. Percentage of 16- to 65-year-olds who have work credentials or have completed a work experience program, by highest level of education: 2016
Figure 1. Percentage of 16- to 65-year-olds who have work credentials or have completed a work experience program, by highest level of education: 2016

A certification is an occupational credential awarded by a certification body—such as a professional association or certifying board—based on an individual demonstrating through an examination process that he or she has acquired the designated knowledge, skills, and abilities to perform a specific job; examples include Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA) certification and medical technician certification.

A license is an occupational credential awarded by a government agency that constitutes legal authority to do a specific job; examples include a medical license and an electrician’s license.

A work experience program is defined in the survey as an internship, co-op, practicum, clerkship, externship, residency, clinical experience, apprenticeship, or similar program.

NOTE: Survey respondents were noninstitutionalized 16- to 65-year-olds who were not enrolled in high school at the time of sampling (although they could be enrolled in college). “Work credentials” include only certifications and licenses. They do not include postsecondary degrees and certificates. Although rounded numbers are displayed, the figures are based on unrounded estimates.

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Adult Training and Education Survey of the National Household Education Surveys Program (ATES-NHES:2016). See Digest of Education Statistics 2017, table 507.50a.

Figure 2. Percentage of 16- to 65-year-olds who have work credentials or have completed a work experience program, by selected occupational field: 2016
Figure 2. Percentage of 16- to 65-year-olds who have work credentials or have completed a work experience program, by selected occupational field: 2016

A certification is an occupational credential awarded by a certification body—such as a professional association or certifying board—based on an individual demonstrating through an examination process that he or she has acquired the designated knowledge, skills, and abilities to perform a specific job; examples include Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA) certification and medical technician certification.

A license is an occupational credential awarded by a government agency that constitutes legal authority to do a specific job; examples include a medical license and an electrician’s license.

A work experience program is defined in the survey as an internship, co-op, practicum, clerkship, externship, residency, clinical experience, apprenticeship, or similar program.

NOTE: Survey respondents were noninstitutionalized 16- to 65-year-olds who were not enrolled in high school at the time of sampling (although they could be enrolled in college). “Work credentials” include only occupational certifications and licenses. They do not include postsecondary degrees and certificates. The nine largest occupational fields are those in which 10 million or more 16- to 65-year-olds were employed. Although rounded numbers are displayed, the figures are based on unrounded estimates.

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Adult Training and Education Survey of the National Household Education Surveys Program (ATES-NHES:2016). See Digest of Education Statistics 2017, table 507.50a.

Figure 3. Percentage distribution of 16- to 65-year-olds’ labor force and employment status, by college degree attainment status, work credential status, and completion of work experience program: 2016
Figure 3. Percentage distribution of 16- to 65-year-olds’ labor force and employment status, by college degree attainment status, work credential status, and completion of work experience program: 2016

A certification is an occupational credential awarded by a certification body—such as a professional association or certifying board—based on an individual demonstrating through an examination process that he or she has acquired the designated knowledge, skills, and abilities to perform a specific job; examples include Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA) certification and medical technician certification.

A license is an occupational credential awarded by a government agency that constitutes legal authority to do a specific job; examples include a medical license and an electrician’s license.

A work experience program is defined in the survey as an internship, co-op, practicum, clerkship, externship, residency, clinical experience, apprenticeship, or similar program.

NOTE: Survey respondents were noninstitutionalized 16- to 65-year-olds who were not enrolled in high school at the time of sampling (although they could be enrolled in college). “Work credentials” include only occupational certifications and licenses. They do not include postsecondary degrees and certificates. The denominators for all percentages shown are the civilian 16- to 65-year-olds in the relevant group, including those not in the labor force. The unemployment percentages presented here are not comparable to unemployment rates produced by Bureau of Labor Statistics, which exclude individuals not in the labor force. Detail may not sum to 100 due to rounding. Although rounded numbers are displayed, the figures are based on unrounded estimates.

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Adult Training and Education Survey of the National Household Education Surveys Program (ATES-NHES:2016). See Digest of Education Statistics 2017, table 507.50c.

Figure 4. Percentage distribution of 16- to 65-year-olds’ earnings, by college degree attainment status, work credential status, and completion of work experience program: 2016
Figure 4. Percentage distribution of 16- to 65-year-olds’ earnings, by college degree attainment status, work credential status, and completion of work experience program: 2016

A certification is an occupational credential awarded by a certification body—such as a professional association or certifying board—based on an individual demonstrating through an examination process that he or she has acquired the designated knowledge, skills, and abilities to perform a specific job; examples include Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA) certification and medical technician certification.

A license is an occupational credential awarded by a government agency that constitutes legal authority to do a specific job; examples include a medical license and an electrician’s license.

A work experience program is defined in the survey as an internship, co-op, practicum, clerkship, externship, residency, clinical experience, apprenticeship, or similar program.

NOTE: Survey respondents were noninstitutionalized 16- to 65-year-olds who were not enrolled in high school at the time of sampling (although they could be enrolled in college). “Work credentials” include only occupational certifications and licenses. They do not include postsecondary degrees and certificates. Detail may not sum to 100 due to rounding. Although rounded numbers are displayed, the figures are based on unrounded estimates.

SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, National Center for Education Statistics, Adult Training and Education Survey of the National Household Education Surveys Program (ATES-NHES:2016). See Digest of Education Statistics 2017, table 507.50c.


1 “Work credentials” refer to certifications or licenses that document adults’ skill attainment. They do not include postsecondary degrees and certificates. Examples of certifications include Cisco Certified Network Associate (CCNA) certification and medical technician certification. Examples of licenses include a medical license and an electrician’s license. Detailed definitions for each type of nondegree credential are available at https://nces.ed.gov/surveys/gemena/definitions.asp.

2 Large occupational fields are defined as those in which 10 million or more 16- to 65-year-olds were employed. In 2016, the large occupational fields consisted of administrative support; business management and operations (except financial); sales; personal, building, and grounds services; healthcare; education and library occupations; manufacturing and farming; transportation; and food preparation and serving.

3 The unemployment percentage presented here is not comparable to unemployment rates produced by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which exclude individuals not in the labor force.

Supplemental Information

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Table 507.50a (Digest 2017): Number, percentage, and percentage distribution of persons 16 to 65 years old who have work credentials or have completed a work experience program, by selected characteristics: 2016;
Table 507.50b (Digest 2017): Percentage and percentage distribution of those 16- to 65-year-olds who have work credentials or have completed a work experience program, by college degree attainment status and selected characteristics: 2016;
Table 507.50c (Digest 2017): Percentage distribution of persons 16 to 65 years old, by labor force and employment status and earnings, college degree attainment status, and work credential and work experience program status: 2016
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