Standards – A Foundational Component of Quality Credentials

Competent female worker reviewing the standard document needed to achieve certification.

In today’s competitive job market, people from all areas of the workforce are familiar with certificates, certifications, and workplace learning—from students and employees who wish to further their careers, to employers seeking workers with specific skills. Critically, however, they often lack information on how to distinguish quality programs from those of lesser value.

The good news: Standards support many programs that the workforce utilizes as tools to address employment, re-employment, upskilling, and advancement challenges that millions of workers face on a regular basis—and Workcred educates employers and workers on how to use these standards to advance their workforce goals.

“Standards are the backbone of effective credential programs, with three key areas forming a ‘quality triangle’ to enhance learning outcomes,” said Dr. Roy Swift, Workcred executive director. “Comprehensive, balanced, and effective standards guiding personnel certifications, assessment-based certificate programs, and workplace learning make up a tripod of guidance that can meaningfully elevate a skilled workforce in the U.S.”

Personnel Certifications

Adherence to the quality measures of standards for personnel certifications is the first aspect in the quality triangle and is vital for certification bodies to distinguish their programs. One such standard is ANSI/ISO/IEC 17024, Conformity assessment – General requirements for bodies operating certification of person, an American National Standard (ANS) that supports quality in personnel certification by: assuring fairness and equity for the applicants; assuring that the examination reflects valid standards of practice and that those standards are measured by a fair, valid, and reliable examination and are continually assessed through a re-certification process; taking away certification from individuals who are found to be unethical and/or incompetent; and assuring a process that facilitates continued competence.

There are more than 200 certifications accredited by ANSI-affiliate the ANSI National Accreditation Board (ANAB) under this standard, all of which recognize competence of professionals across different sectors.

The National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCCA) also accredits personnel certifications. They utilize the 2021 NCCA Standards for the Accreditation of Certification Programs to help ensure the health, welfare, and safety of the public.

Assessment-Based Certificate Programs

The second part of the triangle relates to assessment-based certificates. Standards are important for the foundation for the recognition or accreditation, or both, of a specific entity to issue certificates to individuals.

ANSI/ASTM E2659, Standard Practice for Certificate Programs, is a globally recognized ANS that provides guidance to certificate issuers for developing and administering quality assessment-based certificate programs and to stakeholders for determining the quality of certificate programs. ANAB’s accreditation portfolio includes ASTM 2659 certificate accreditation programs.

NCCA also accredits assessment-based certificate programs, through the ICE 1100 Standard for Assessment-Based Certificate Programs (2009), an ANS that specifies essential requirements for certificate programs and provides guidance to program providers, consumers, and others on what defines a high-quality program.

Workplace Learning

A newly published standard can serve to fill a gap in workplace learning, the third piece of the triangle. While workplace learning—the processes of learning through and for engaging in paid employment— is extensively used by many corporations, there is a lack of standardization among these programs, which can affect the quality of the learning outcomes. The newly released standard, ASTM E3416-23, Standard Practice for Competency-based Workplace Learning Programs, provides instruction to entities for developing and administering competency-based workplace learning programs. Ultimately, this standard provides guidance to issuers/creators for developing and administering quality work-based learning programs, and guidance for stakeholders for determining the quality of a program.

“Standards play a major role in credentialing in this country, and it is the adherence of these standards that means that one has a quality credential,” noted Swift.

Workcred frequently shares information about how credentials are supported by standards, with posts on Workcred’s blog. Workcred also produced a series of educational videos to help everyone understand the importance of voluntary standards for personnel certifications accessible on Workcred’s website.

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