May 10, 2007


Why people certify?
Before answering the question, let’s define the term certification. Certification is the practice of qualifying an individual to perform in a job or occupation, based on a minimum set of standards. That means a professional body or organization has come together to set standards concerning what an individual should be able to know, do, and be in a given field. That organization has also created a measurement tool to sample that performance.

According to Jim Olsen, vice president and chief measurement scientist for Alpine Media, “Certification programs are a standard way of distinguishing between qualified and unqualified individuals, companies, and institutions.”

Certification is typically created for two reasons:
It protects the public from incompetent practitioners and promotes the professional competencies of an association’s membership.

When visiting the doctor, you want to make sure she is diagnosing your medical problem correctly and prescribing the right course of actions to treat the problem. No one wants a doctor who provides medical treatment unless it has been verified and documented that this individual has the skills and knowledge of a true medical professional. At the same time, to be recognized as part of the physician community is somewhat prestigious. It distinguishes an individual as someone who has been through a number of years of education, training, and rigor in order to serve the community.

In a way, a balancing act exists for those seeking certification. It’s the delicate balance between protecting the public and providing prestige for the profession.

What certification is not
Certificate and certification are two terms that are often used interchangeably, though they are separate and distinct. Certification programs typically have predetermined standardized
criteria on which participants are measured, usually through testing or assessment. The designation that results indicates the individual has met those standards or criteria.
Alternatively, certificate programs tend to focus on a narrower range of topics, typically resulting in a document signifying completion of a learning experience, such as a workshop or a course. To determine which is which, ask yourself, Is the focus on job competency or the completion of learning experience?

Certification: a delicate balance
Certification provides the right balance of prestige and protection. Individuals become certified because it adds to their credibility as a professional. It provides greater opportunities for employment, promotion, and increased earning potential. In addition, certification may be required for them to perform in a given job.

Organizations request certification from employees for a number of reasons. Primarily, organizations want to validate that their workforce is qualified. A rigorous testing process, such as professional certification, helps to accomplish that. Let’s look at an example:

A customer calls the ABC Intelligent Network Company with a system network problem. A trained individual, with two to three years of experience, is sent to the customer site to solve the problem. Eight hours later, the problem still isn’t fixed. Network cards, controllers, and disk drives have all been replaced at considerable expense; still, no solution. The customer is irate. He’s loosing tens of thousands of dollars for each hour the network is down. How could the organization have been assured it was sending a competent individual to solve this problem?

Certification has become the mantra for many organizations that want to ensure that the individuals in their organization are competent to perform in a given job role.
Source: Jamie Mulkey and Jennifer Naughton in T+D Magazine

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