Certification! What’s All The Buzz?

The emergence of new players in the certification market has produced three phenomena.

More than 1 million people are awarded a certification annually, and professional certifications are the second most common post-secondary award in the U.S., according to Georgetown University. One-third of those getting certified already have an Associate’s, Bachelor’s, or graduate degree.

Historically, certifications were awarded by independent third parties to people in established professions. Certifying bodies were not engaged in education or training. Their only business was to conduct job task analyses to identify the body of knowledge required to do the work, convert that information into a test specification, and develop and administer tests that measure candidate knowledge.

Today, more organizations are getting into the certification business. For example, software vendors train and certify customers in the use of their products. Training companies certify attendees in their methods, tools, philosophy, etc. Corporations certify their after-market partners, such as dealers and distributors, in how to sell, install, and service their products. Corporations even certify third parties to train their customers in the use and maintenance of their products. Why? Organizations that market complex products depend on competent users to control service costs. When a product does not perform, customers blame the product—not the operator. Companies have learned that certifications build customer loyalty, shorten the sales cycle, and protect the brand image.

Certification Trends

The emergence of new players in the certification market has produced three phenomena:

1. Integrating training and testing. Traditional independent certification bodies separated training from testing because American National Standards Institute (ANSI) and the National Commission for Certification Agencies (NCCA)-accrediting bodies for certifiers — insist on this separation. The separation of training and testing made sense when the certification was awarded to mature professions with well-institutionalized and accessible career paths such as accredited schools.

This standard of separation makes less sense when applied to emerging fields and in jobs requiring proprietary knowledge. In these cases, the required skills and knowledge are only available through the organizations dependent on the work. These organizations need to create a pool of competent workers, suppliers, after-market partners, even customers. Achieving that pool requires organizations to provide training, guided practice and feedback, and testing. How else do people become capable?

2. The movement away from norm-referenced knowledge tests to criterion-based performance tests. What is the difference? Knowledge tests measure the retention of a codified body of knowledge (picture a test of multiple-choice questions). The pass score is determined in one of two ways: a) The conjecture of subject matters experts as to the probability a knowledgeable person will select the correct answer OR b) The normal curve (rememberhigh school).

However, employers want evidence proving people can apply that knowledge in ways that are acceptable on the job. They want confidence that someone who is certified can do a job safely, efficiently, and to standard. This interest in evidence of performance has resulted in the use of simulations, artificial intelligence, serious games, demonstrations, and portfolios to test competence. It also has led to embedding knowledge tests in the training to measure growth and determine if people are ready for the final performance-based test.

3. The creation of microcredentials, also called badges, to reward people for developing skills or acquiring specialized skills that go beyond an initial certification. For example, after schools stopped teaching shop classes, people lost access to training required for work in the trades. The National Roofing Contractors Association (NRCA), in cooperation with manufacturers of roofing materials, is offering low-cost live and online training that leads to microcredentials and hands-on performance tests that lead to one of a dozen certifications. Similarly, medical professions are offering badges to people in medical sub-specialties. In other institutions, badges are seen as a way to reward progress toward a credential. These “stackable” badges motivate learners who are seeking complex certifications while being acknowledged for gaining proficiencies.

New Facilitator of Training Certification

New developments in certification are illustrated by the range of topics at Training 2019 Conference & Expo to be held February 25-27 in Orlando, FL. You will find sessions offered by vendors that lead to a certification, sessions that earn credit toward an established recertification, sessions on using technology to test people’s skills, and sessions on how to develop microcredentials. There is even a brand new Certified Facilitator of Training (CFT) certification, a performance-based certification for people who facilitate live and online learning events!

Credentialing practices and standards will continue to adapt to this rapidly changing market. To learn more about the world of credentialing, register for Training 2019 today at www.trainingconference.com.

Judith Hale, Ph.D., CPT, CACP, CIDD, is the CEO of the Center for International Credentials, LLC. She has developed performancebased certifications for the public and private sectors across all industries for more than 30 years. To learn more about the new Certified Facilitator of Training certification, e-mail: Judy@HaleCenter.org.

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