Understanding Certifications

Help in navigating the complex and little understood “wild west” of certifications

Enormous economic shifts predating and accelerated by the current worldwide pandemic caused by COVID-19 — and the growing awakening to racial inequities in the U.S. — are creating a labor market in which the use of certifications has the potential to grow significantly. But what exactly is a certification? And how does it differ from other types of credentials?

Perhaps the least understood credential, certifications are awarded based on an individual demonstrating, through an examination process, that she or he has acquired the knowledge, skills, and abilities required to perform a specific occupation or job. High-quality certifications are based on a third-party oral, written, or performance-based assessment, require a process to re-certify and are therefore time-limited, and can be revoked for proven incompetence or violation of a code of ethics. Certifications are not tied to completion of a program of study as are certificates.

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Now, more than ever, is an important time to understand the value of and how certifications can play a vital role in addressing re-employment, re-deployment, and re-education challenges that workers face in the current labor market as workers, companies, and educators are all scrambling to make changes that help them adjust to rapidly changing labor markets during and post-pandemic.

To address this, Workcred collaborated with Corporation for a Skilled Workforce and George Washington Institute of Public Policy to offer a comprehensive overview of the diverse landscape of certifications through a new report, “Understanding Certifications.” The report discusses variations among certifications across numerous dimensions to make it easier to differentiate among the diversity of certifications in the marketplace. It covers their purpose, who awards them, what value they provide, how they align with educational pathways, and ways to assess quality.

Determining the quality of a certification is critical. Yet, it is often assessed subjectively because certification earners, issuers, consumers, and endorsers value characteristics of certifications differently and because these stakeholders look for different evidence of quality and use different methods for assuring quality.

Many people do not know that accreditation, the most prevalent quality assurance mechanism in education, is also used for certifications. We estimate that approximately 10 percent of the certification bodies in the United States are accredited by a third party such as the ANSI National Accreditation Board (ANAB) or National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCCA) to meet a nationally-recognized standard. The certification body accreditation process consists of a third-party review that assures the public, employers, and government that the competencies identified by the certification body have been appropriately evaluated using psychometrically-sound and legally-defensible assessment practices, and that certification holders demonstrate competencies as advertised.

Learn more about how Workcred connects and educates stakeholders to create a more integrated, effective, and quality-driven credentialing system, read the report and related project press release, follow Workcred’s progress, and engage with us on Workcred’s website.