I have served as a Scouts BSA (Boy Scouts of America) leader off and on for more than 25 years. Ironically, I wasn’t in scouting as a youth. But through the many scouting experiences I’ve had over the years as a troop leader, I’ve learned as much—often more—than the scouts themselves.
I’ve also found many similarities between striving to become an Eagle Scout and striving to become a CMA® (Certified Management Accountant) or CSCA® (Certified in Strategy and Competitive Analysis), or to be certified in another professional field.
There are more than 135 different merit badges that scouts can choose to pursue. Thirteen of those are specifically required to become an Eagle Scout, the highest rank that scouts can attain, but beyond those, they can choose from a huge assortment of badges, with a specific skill set required for each. The subject matter ranges from knot tying to archery, American business to wood carving, architecture to veterinary medicine, canoeing to soil and water conservation.
Similarly, there are dozens, if not hundreds, of professional certifications available to working adults. Just as in accounting and finance, there are at least 50 certifications available in the United States alone, including the CMA, CSCA, Certified Public Accountant (CPA), Chartered Financial Analyst (CFA), and Certified Treasury Professional (CTP).
Just like earning professional certifications is typically challenging yet rewarding, earning a merit badge is no easy hike! For example, the kayaking badge requires scouts to be able to:
- Explain the hazards kayakers are most likely to face and how to help prevent and respond to those hazards;
- Select the right life jacket;
- Know the different parts of a kayak and the different kinds of kayaks;
- Know how to use a paddle and demonstrate several types of paddle strokes;
- Safely capsize the kayak and perform a wet exit (a key skill for me!);
- Demonstrate a kayak-over-kayak rescue; and
- Spin or pivot from an obstacle and move the boat in several directions and patterns.
If this sounds hard, it is, but so is earning professional certifications. If meeting the requirements to get them were easy, then everyone would do it.
In addition, scouts learn skills from troop leaders and merit-badge counselors using Scouts BSA’s EDGE method of teaching:
1. Explain. Talk about what you’ll be doing and why it’s important.
2. Demonstrate. Next, show pupils what the skill looks like when it’s done correctly; you can talk about what you’re doing step by step as you go so they understand your actions.
3. Guide. Now it’s the pupils’ turn to practice the skill as the leader coaches them.
4. Enable. In the final step, pupils get to do it on their own.
I’ve found the EDGE method to be a valuable guide in many different situations, including learning what you need to know to become a CMA, trying to teach the first-in, first-out method of process costing to a bunch of students, training someone at work, and as a parent hoping to prepare kids for life.
The connection between merit badges, the EDGE method, and professional certification seems clear to me. It takes instruction (teachers), demonstration (mentors), practice (quizzes), and finally showing what you can do (the examination). Note that the steps aren’t necessarily in order or limited to one iteration. Sometimes life gives the test first, then the lesson.
I’ve learned that teaching a skill is often the best way to learn it. I wasn’t in scouting as a boy. The only knots I could tie were my shoelaces. But advancement up the scouting ranks, including the requirements to earn several merit badges, requires the ability to tie all kinds of knots, such as the square knot, half hitch (both single and double), taut-line hitch, bowline, timber hitch, clove hitch, sheet bend, and various lashings.
Many a night, I practiced the knots I had just learned up until the scout meeting so that I could explain, demonstrate, guide, and then enable the scouts to tie those knots on their own. Further, it takes many tries and experience in various situations to be able to tie the right knot at the right time. But it’s always worthwhile to learn new skills. Even the very basic knots have helped me personally in many different situations—like securing a large load of stuff in a moving van.
So it is with professional certifications. Passing the test is only one step in a successful career that requires instruction, demonstration, practice, and applying the tools over and over again. When counseling young people trying to make decisions relating to education and certification, who often question whether they’re necessary, I’ve often said, “You don’t know what you don’t know, and you won’t know it until you learn it.”
In a recent Inside IMA post, Mark E. Becker lauded the benefits he has realized by being an Eagle Scout and a CMA. When asked about experiences and accomplishments he’s particularly proud of, he replied, “earning my Eagle Scout, which definitely taught me the value of perseverance. It’s a hard thing to accomplish when you’re that age—15, 16—with many other conflicting priorities in your life. It taught me how to stick with something, which is a skill I’ve found to be useful in many other aspects of my life.” He added, “The CMA is, and has always been, critical to my thinking.… I’m glad it’s a recognized certification, as it gives me the ability to speak with a certain level of authority.”
Further, both scouts and CMAs have codes of conduct. For management accountants, it’s the IMA Statement of Ethical Professional Practice. For Scouts BSA, it’s known as the Scout Oath: On my honor I will do my best to do my duty to God and my country and to obey the Scout Law; to help other people at all times; to keep myself physically strong, mentally awake, and morally straight.
There was no more poignant learning experience in scouting about doing your duty than when we visited Arlington National Cemetery as part of a Washington, D.C., “urban hike.” There are hundreds of stories of valor behind the many grave markers. But one story that especially affected us all as we stood by his grave was this one about Robert R. Scott:
Machinist’s Mate First Class Robert R. Scott, United States Navy, was awarded the Medal of Honor for actions on December 7, 1941, during the attack on Pearl Harbor. during the attack by Japanese forces, Scott’s battle station, the compartment aboard the USS California where the air compressor was located, was flooded as a result of a Japanese torpedo hit. While the compartment was evacuated, Scott refused to leave, saying words to the effect of, “This is my station and I will stay and give them air as long as the guns are going.”
The trails of our lives and career paths have many twists, turns, scenic vistas, and tough river rapids. By preparing ourselves through learning and earning certifications, we can do our duty better, help other people at all times, and keep ourselves strong—and our career on the right track. No one ever said certifications are easy, but they’re worth it!