By Vijay Krishna
While technology is disrupting the personnel certification ecosystem, its transformative powers will be realized only if these innovations are grounded in quality standards.
A standard provides a framework for ensuring quality, transparency, and interoperability. ISO/IEC 17024, “Conformity assessment—General requirements for bodies operating certification of persons,” provides a global benchmark for quality certification.
ISO/IEC 17024 and its impact
The ISO/IEC 17024 standard was developed by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO), which represents members from 162 countries. During recent years, the standard has fundamentally altered the delivery of certifications. It has also created a strong drive to globalize personnel certification. ISO developed the standard based on the need for public protection by establishing that individuals have the required competency to perform their jobs.
Several government agencies worldwide have recognized the standard as a critical requirement for personnel certification bodies offering certification in areas related to public health, the environment, and national security. More than 40 agencies worldwide accredit personnel certification bodies based on ISO/IEC 17024. Most of them are government or government approved.
Use of a common international standard recognized by government agencies, trade associations, industry partners, and professional associations provides a unique opportunity to globalize the certification of persons. The manufacturing and technology innovations in the 1950s were based on the quality movement. The globalization of persons in the 21st century must be similarly grounded in a quality certification standard.
Core elements of a standards-based quality certification program
The following figure provides a simple yet powerful visual of the core elements of a standards-based quality certification program (Krishna, 2014):
Competencies are the foundational building blocks in creating a certification program. They need to be developed in a systematic manner using an empirically derived process such as job/practice analysis. The process should involve the key stakeholders and subject matter experts. Competencies denote the knowledge, skills, and abilities that an individual needs to perform the tasks.
To be market relevant, the certification should be developed with the involvement of all key stakeholder groups. High-quality certification requires inputs from business, industry, employers, educators, students, regulators, and consumers.
Evaluation is the process of measuring and documenting an individual’s competence to perform required job functions. The certification examination must be fair, valid, and reliable. A valid test correctly measures whether an individual has the necessary competencies for the job. Validity is an indicator to establish that the process measures what it is intended to measure. Reliability shows that the test consistently measures a person’s abilities. The standard requires assessment for not only initial certification but also an assessment of continued competence through a recertification process.
The required competencies and skill standards need systematic review to ensure they remain updated and relevant to the needs of the changing market. The standard requires certification bodies to have an ongoing systematic process to ensure that the certification is updated and remains market relevant as skill sets change. Quality improvement processes should be embedded throughout the certification program.
Despite the increased number of certifications available in the marketplace, the certification world is largely opaque. This leaves users unsure of the quality and reliability of organizations offering certifications, as well as of the competencies (if any) being communicated through their credentials. Many certifications are self-declared and do not provide the skills and competencies needed by employers. A recent U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau study found that consumers find it almost impossible to distinguish designations concerning quality or legitimacy. The report recommended using quality standards and strengthening “accountability mechanisms” to foster trust and confidence in certification.
In an interconnected world, personnel certification is quickly becoming the new currency for acceptance of qualified persons. Just as the adoption of a single currency offers several advantages over each country having its own currency, so too certifications based on international standards help to foster closer economic cooperation and provide more opportunities for businesses to hire competent persons.
About the author
Vijay Krishna, Ed.D., is senior director of credentialing programs at the American National Standards Institute (ANSI).