Workcred’s issue briefs on certification pathways, quality assurance, recertification, and policy/operational recommendations focused on different aspects of certifications. One commonality among the publications was that they all highlighted the need for additional data to better understand certifications. Recommendations for data in these briefs were wide-ranging: from data to better support recertification activities to employment outcomes data. While there are multiple challenges to collecting and sharing data on certifications, one of the biggest is gaining the cooperation and trust of certification bodies to collect and share data.
Challenges for Certification Bodies Collecting and Sharing Data
There are three significant challenges certification bodies face to collect and share data. First, certification bodies typically collect minimal individual level data for their certified persons. This data always includes first and last name, but consistent collection of any additional information varies significantly from certification body to certification body, with many selecting to collect only enough data to identify an individual for credential verification. Asking certification bodies to collect additional data—such as demographic data to include age, race, ethnicity, gender, or geography—will require many to change existing databases and processes. These changes will require resource investments from certification bodies that will likely need to be approved by their senior leadership.
Second, certification bodies collect minimal data on certified persons’ demographics as a good business practice, with a focus on security. As national or global organizations, they are subject to multiple privacy laws and regulations. To consider collecting additional information, or to share that information, will likely also require changes to their privacy policies. Again, this will require leadership support and some resources. Furthermore, sharing data will also require certification bodies to have trust with any organization with which they are sharing their data, a process which takes time.
Finally, collecting outcomes data is a high-cost effort with uncertain value for the certification bodies. Certification bodies certainly would like to know the impact of their certifications on individuals. Unfortunately, collecting quality outcomes data on employment, wages, or satisfaction (with the certification) after earning a certification is an expensive and burdensome process. Few certification bodies, many of whom are small organizations, have the resources to undertake these kinds of studies. The few, typically larger, certification bodies which do collect/report outcomes data typically use surveys asking for self-reported data from a convenience group. While this data has value, it does not allow policymakers or individuals enough information to independently judge the value of a specific certification. Like higher education institutions, certification bodies are unlikely to collect and report outcomes data in the absence of a government mandate.
Gaining Certification Body Participation for Data Collection and Linking
Gaining the full and enthusiastic participation of certification bodies for data collection and linking will require incentives for their participation. Three elements should be met for certification bodies to participate in data collection and linking at scale:
- Provide incentives to collect and share data. Certification bodies need to understand the value they will gain for collecting and sharing data on certifications. These incentives can take multiple forms and may vary from one certification body to another. For example, some certification bodies may find value from wage or occupational data on their certified persons, while others may want to better understand the geographical regions in which their certified persons reside. Incentives for participation will need to meet an unmet need for each certification body.
- Provide a framework for collecting and sharing data. Certification bodies and policymakers need to come together to determine the data elements which need to be collected and a process for sharing the data. Without developing this type of framework and process, certification bodies cannot accurately judge the resources which are needed to participate or the value they might gain from participating. This uncertainly will reduce participation in data collection and sharing.
- Provide funding for collecting and sharing data. Certification bodies will have different capacities to collect and share data based on their size and staff. Since collecting and sharing data is not central to their organizational mission, certification bodies—particularly small organizations—are unlikely to have trained staff to participate. In order to educate certification bodies on the value of collecting and sharing data, as well as building their capacity to do so, funds will be needed. This will likely require support from a government agency or foundation.
Meeting these three needs will provide the certification community with the resources to begin to collect and share much-needed data on certifications. With certification bodies collecting and sharing data, new policies impacting certification attainment and use will be evidence-based.