by Dr. George J. Anastasopoulos
Personnel certification has been and will continue to remain a desirable asset for any modern professional. Achieving certification often represents a significant investment in time, effort and expense. Frequently, candidates have to choose between a “competence-based” or a “qualification-based” type of certification program. In most cases, qualification-based personnel certification is easier and less expensive to achieve. But is it actually worth it? What is the difference between a competence-based versus a qualification-based personnel certification program?
In ISO 19011:2011, Guidelines for auditing management systems, competence is defined as “the ability to apply knowledge and skills to achieve intended results.” Competence-based certification means that the personnel certification body (PCB) is expected to examine a candidate’s knowledge, skills, personal attributes, and qualifications specific to the program and/or scope of certification. On the other hand, qualification-based certification relies on an applicant’s education and qualifications, rather than on the basis of measurable competence. The following short dialog is catalytic to understanding, in a few words, the difference between “competence” and “qualification.”
- “Do you know how to drive a car?”
- “I was trained and acquired a driving license but I am still not confident to drive a car.”
- “That means you have the qualifications but not the competence.”
There are college drop-outs who are CEOs of Fortune 500 companies because they have competencies, not qualifications. Therefore, having both qualifications and competencies helps immensely but people can still excel through competencies rather than qualifications.
Recognizing this fact, the International Organization for Standardization (ISO), through ISO/IEC Standard 17024 Conformity Assessment – General requirements for bodies operating certification of persons, mandates that the certification of persons should be based on the demonstration of competencies and not the demonstration of qualifications. ISO/IEC 17024 sets the requirements and the framework at a global level for the operation of personnel certification bodies. By using ISO/IEC 17024, business, industry, and other key stakeholders have recognized that competency-based certification is the optimum way of achieving confidence in persons certified by PCBs. ISO/IEC 17024 does allow some variation in how competence is demonstrated; consequently, different PCBs may interpret and apply the means for competency assessment in different but technically valid ways.
Still, there are PCBs that insist in offering, non-accredited, qualification-based programs on the assumption that qualification equals competence. While that assumption may be correct in some cases and may continue to be acceptable to a range of users, it is less acceptable for those who operate in contexts that require a more rigorous demonstration of competence based on a valid examination. This creates considerable confusion to the market and to certification candidates. And, of course, as qualification programs don’t satisfy all competence requirements they are non-accreditable.
Another key difference among the competence and qualification-based programs is the change of emphasis from training to examination. Qualification-based programs emphasize training while competence-based programs emphasize the results of training by assessing competence through one or more methods of examination that must be valid, reliable, and independent. Competency-based certification programs define first the competencies required so that they can be properly examined.
So, is it possible to distinguish a competency-based from a qualification-based program? The answer is simple: Check for the accreditation of the PCB that provides the certification program to see if it is based on ISO/IEC 17024 requirements. Then, check to see if the PCB’s scope of accreditation includes that program. Finally, check to see if the PCB’s accreditation is provided by an accreditation body that is a Multilateral Recognition Arrangement (MRA) signatory member of the International Accreditation Forum (www.iaf.nu) or that the PCB is a signatory under the MLA of the International Personnel Certification Association (www.ipcaweb.org).
Example of Competence for Quality Management System Auditors (ISO 19011)
About the author
Dr. George Anastasopoulos (firstname.lastname@example.org), is the director of Conformity Assessment Accreditation Services, for International Accreditation Service (IAS). He is also the general secretary of the International Personnel Certification Association IPC. He has also been member of the Bonn-Germany based, Accreditation Panel of the United Nations Kyoto Protocol system UNFCCC/CDM.
He is a mechanical engineer with a MSc and a PhD in applied mechanics from Northwestern University. He is also member of ISO/TC 176 and ISO/CASCO technical committees, which developed the new ISO 9001:2015 and new ISO 17025 (under development) standards.
Copyright 2016 George Anastasopoulos.