[an error occurred while processing this directive]

GISP and Esri Technical Certification Programs Are Complementary

By Sheila Wilson, PhD, Executive Director, GISCI

In January 2004, the GIS Certification Institute (GISCI) introduced GIS Professional (GISP) certification as a way to promote competent and ethical professional practices. Since then, nearly 5,000 practitioners from across the United States and around the world have earned GISP certification. This year, Esri announced its Technical Certification Program by which GISPs and others can demonstrate proficiency with Esri technologies. By comparing the features of the two programs, this article shows how the GISP Professional and Esri Technical Certification programs complement each other and advance the GIS profession (see table 1).

table 1, see enlargement

Table 1: Comparison of GISP and Esri Technical Certifications.

Comparing Certification Criteria

GIS professionals earn GISP certification by documenting relevant educational achievements, professional experience, and contributions to the profession and by affirming their commitment to ethical practices. Esri Technical Certification requires a passing score on an examination that demonstrates expertise in desktop, developer, or enterprise software.

Comparing Evaluation Procedures

Applicants for GISP certification submit to GISCI detailed portfolios containing official transcripts, employer letters, and other original evidence to confirm that applicants have fulfilled the requirements outlined in table 2. Both GISCI staff and volunteer GISPs review applicants' portfolios to determine eligibility for certification.

Portfolio-based certification made sense when GISCI was established, since no authoritative specification of geospatial competencies existed at that time. In July 2010, GISCI announced a GISP Certification Update Initiative that could add an examination to GISP certification requirements. The US Department of Labor's new Geospatial Technology Competency Model, also released in 2010, provides an unprecedented foundation for professional certification based on competency. Meanwhile, however, GISP certification remains a portfolio-based process.

To achieve Esri Technical Certification, candidates must pass a rigorous, computer-based, multiple-choice-format examination. Esri worked with a leading testing industry consulting group to develop the examinations. Content was developed in partnership with subject matter experts from Esri and input from Esri Partners, distributors, and select users. Currently, Esri has five certification examinations, with the remaining eight rolling out later in 2011 and 2012. Exams are offered only in English at more than 5,000 testing locations worldwide. Esri recommends workplace experience combined with GIS education and Esri training courses as the best preparation for its exams (see table 3). Esri training classes count toward education points for the GISP certification, and work experience falls in the professional experience category.

table 2, see enlargement

Table 2: GISP Certification requirements.

Comparing Certification Levels

Esri Technical Certification exams are offered at two levels: Associate and Professional. Each level reflects a recommended set of skills, knowledge, and experience using Esri technology. GISP certification is offered at one level only—the GIS Professional—although an internal committee has proposed that GISCI add an Associate level as part of its GISP Certification Update Initiative.

Comparing Costs

The initial application fee for GISP certification is US$250. GISPs must renew their certification every five years by documenting continuing professional development. The renewal fee is currently $115. No renewals are required for Esri Technical Certification. Candidates pay a $225 one-time fee for each exam. As the program and software evolve, exams will be evaluated at each version release to determine a need for updates. Having the most current version of a certification will be a personal decision for each candidate.

Comparing Benefits

GISP certification and Esri Technical Certification benefit individual practitioners, their employers, and the GIS profession in complementary ways. While GISP certification ensures breadth of education and experience related to GIS practices, Esri Technical Certification denotes technical expertise with ArcGIS tools and techniques and use of Esri technology.

table 3, see enlargement

Table 3: Esri Technical Certifications. Certifications in bold are available now.
* Denotes certifications available later in 2011 and 2012.

Bottom Line

In 2010, Money magazine ( included geographic information systems analyst in the list of the 100 best careers. Also in the past year, the Department of Labor estimated that the geospatial industry will need nearly 150,000 additional GIS professionals by 2018. GISP and Esri Technical Certifications together provide a sound professional development strategy for current practitioners, as well as those who aspire to challenging, rewarding, and meaningful careers in the GIS field.

For more information about GISP certification, visit GISCI is a 501(c)(6) nonprofit organization dedicated to the advancement of the GIS profession. GISCI is governed by a board of directors that includes representatives from five member organizations: the Association of American Geographers (AAG), the Geospatial Information & Technology Association (GITA), the National States Geographic Information Council (NSGIC), the University Consortium for Geographic Information Science (UCGIS), and the Urban and Regional Information Systems Association (URISA). See for more information about the GISP Certification Update Initiative.

For more information about Esri Technical Certification, visit or e-mail questions to

Related Podcast

Benchmarking Your Skills: The Esri Technical Certification Program
Esri's Patricia McGray and Jamie Rosa discuss the new Esri Technical Certification Program, including what distinguishes it from other GIS certification programs, what the training entails, and how to enroll. Listen to the podcast. [08:00 | 8 MB]

Contact Us | Privacy | Legal | Site Map