Accreditation and Why It’s Important
It’s getting difficult to tell the quality IT certification programs from the others. Most programs create good tests, manage their programs well, maintain high security and provide value. But some do not. And they still call themselves certification programs. How can candidates, employers and other organizations tell the difference?
Other industries, such as transportation, medical and finance, have dealt with this problem before and have used a process called “accreditation” to help solve it. These industries use accrediting organizations that evaluate certification programs according to national or international standards. For example, the International Standards Organization has created a set of standards for certification programs. ISO 17024 looks at test quality, certification management, communication with candidates, privacy and security and many other areas. A program with an accreditation based on these standards can be trusted and used by certification candidates, certificants, employers and any other stakeholder in today’s IT certifications.
In fact, recently I’ve been a part of discussions involving the interests of a large federal government agency. The logic is this: The agency would love to endorse or approve existing IT certifications as long as those certifications come from accredited programs. According to its needs, the agency would then hire directly those people with qualified certifications or recommend them to contractors or other hiring companies. What’s in it for the government? Obviously, like everyone else, they can be sure of hiring competent, certified professionals and also be sure that those professionals achieved the certification under strict testing and security procedures. Who can blame them for wanting such confidence in hiring decisions?
But let’s back up a bit and be clear on the definitions. “Accreditation” is a word that is often mistaken with “certification.” Let me explain how they are different.
Certification is the act of providing a credential to verify competence at a set of job skills or on a body of knowledge. Examples of certifications are the ones you know well in the IT industry. Other certifications are those obtained by mechanics, financial planners, pipe fitters, medical technologists and hundreds of other professions. (In some professions, individuals actually obtain licenses instead of certifications, meaning that a state or federal government agency approves the credential and provides a license to work.)
Accreditation is the act of providing a credential to an organization or program, not to an individual. Colleges and universities are accredited, for example. It is correct to say that people receive IT certifications, and IT certification programs receive accreditation. Accreditation means that the program adheres to specific standards.
Today, few IT certification programs have been accredited by independent industry accreditation organizations that look specifically at certification standards. Coincidentally, IT certification is experiencing a “crisis of confidence.” People within and without the IT industry are questioning the value of the certifications.
The time has come for the IT industry to solve this growing problem, before it gets out of hand, and each of you can help. So what is it you can do?
First, look for accredited programs if you are just beginning to look at becoming certified. Second, if you are already along the way, contact your certification program manager and request that the program obtain a national or international accreditation. And third, don’t whine if it ends up costing the program or you a little more money. The additional amount won’t be much, but it will definitely be worth it. The program itself will improve in many ways to meet the standards. Programs that are unwilling to step up will be left behind. And you will find that your credential is viewed with renewed respect by a much larger number of companies and perhaps a government agency or two.
Request that your certification program achieve accreditation. Refer them to any of these accrediting bodies:
- The American National Standards Institute (www.ansi.org).
- The National Organization for Competency Assurance (www.noca.org/ncca/accreditation.htm).
- The Buros Institue for Assessment Consultation and Outreach (www.unl.edu/BIACO).
While each has different strengths, obtaining one or more of these accreditations would certainly strengthen any program, increase confidence in the certifications awarded and grab the attention of employers. With more and more IT programs joining in, we can raise the value of IT certifications in general.
David Foster, Ph.D., is president of Caveon (www.caveon.com) and is a member of the International Test Commission, as well as several measurement industry boards.