Certification vs. Certificate: What’s the Difference?

Smart businesswoman getting credentials in the different forms of certifications and certificates.

Many people use the terms certification and certificate interchangeably. While both recognitions fall under the category of a credential, they differ significantly. Therefore, individuals, particularly those in the conformity assessment world, must avoid confusing these terms.

Certificates and Certifications: Two Types of Credentials

Credentials indicate an individual possesses knowledge, qualifications, or competencies in a given subject. A personnel credentialing program creates processes that confirm an individual meets the requirements of specific standards. Certifications and certificates serve as two unique types of credentials. But some differences follow:

  • A certificate requires completion of a training or education program and achievement of associated learning outcomes. This process occurs under a certificate program, which awards a certificate when the individual completes learning objectives. Community colleges, universities, government agencies, employers, and trade organizations among others can offer certificates. However, the recipient need not demonstrate ongoing competence or renew the certificate.
  • A certification requires a standard-setting body assess an individual’s competence against profession-specific criteria. A certification program analyzes relevant job requirements, identifying knowledge and skills the individual requires. The program grants the certification when the individual demonstrates, through examination or personal evaluation, they meet competence criteria relevant to the position. Unlike an individual who attains a certificate, the certification recipient must renew the certification through continued assessment and competence demonstration.

ANAB’s credentialing web page contains additional differences between these two credentials.

Benefits of Certifications and Certificates

Both credentials benefit the personnel who attain them. For instance, recipients use credentials on resumes when looking for new career opportunities or to help them progress within their organization and/or industry. But the credentials have broader appeal, providing employers with confidence in their employees and boosting consumer confidence. Furthermore, credentials have grown increasingly important during the past year. As coronavirus has devastated employment prospects for millions, credentials have provided opportunity for those needing a quick alternative to time-intensive degrees.

Accreditation for Certificate and Certification Programs

ANAB plays an important role in buoying the credibility of credentialing programs. Through multiple credentialing accreditation programs, ANAB assesses the adequacy of certificate and certification programs. For example, ANAB accredits certificate programs that issue food handler certificates for individuals who handle, prepare, store, and/or serve food. Some states require such skilled personnel carry certificates from ANAB-accredited certificate programs. ANSI/ASTM E2659-18, Standard Practice for Certificate Programs serves as the base standard for this ANAB accreditation program by defining what constitutes a quality certificate program and addressing how to develop and administer a program.

ANAB also accredits certification programs that certify workers in fields such as construction, energy, engineering, and medicine. ISO/IEC 17024, General Requirements for Bodies Operating Certification of Persons provides the requirements for this accreditation program. ANAB also accredits organizations providing certification for food protection managers, using as its base the standards of the Conference for Food Protection. Overall, more than five-million people hold a certification from an ANAB-accredited certification body.

Training for Credentialing Accreditation

If you want to learn more about ANAB’s credentialing accreditation programs, ANAB provides multiple personnel credentialing training courses. You can register for both ISO/IEC 17024 training and ANSI/ASTM E2659 training, which ANAB offers as instructor-led, live online courses. The training courses walk participants through the standards’ requirements and ANAB accreditation expectations.

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