Professional certification, trade certification, or professional designation, often called simply certification or qualification, is a designation earned by a person to assure qualification to perform a job or task. Not all certifications that use post-nominal letters are an acknowledgement of educational achievement, or an agency appointed to safeguard the public interest.
A certification is a third-party attestation of an individual's level of knowledge or proficiency in a certain industry or profession. They are granted by authorities in the field, such as professional societies and universities, or by private certificate-granting agencies. Most certifications are time-limited; some expire after a period of time (e.g., the lifetime of a product that required certification for use), while others can be renewed indefinitely as long as certain requirements are met. Renewal usually requires ongoing education to remain up-to-date on advancements in the field, evidenced by earning the specified number of continuing education credits (CECs), or continuing education units (CEUs), from approved professional development courses.
Many certification programs are affiliated with professional associations, trade organizations, or private vendors interested in raising industry standards. Certificate programs are often created or endorsed by professional associations, but are typically completely independent from membership organizations. Certifications are very common in fields such as aviation, construction, technology, environment, and other industrial sectors, as well as healthcare, business, real estate, and finance.
According to The Guide to National Professional Certification Programs (1997) by Phillip Barnhart, "certifications are portable, since they do not depend on one company's definition of a certain job" and they provide potential employers with "an impartial, third-party endorsement of an individual's professional knowledge and experience".
Certification is different from professional licensure. In the United States, licenses are typically issued by state agencies, whereas certifications are usually awarded by professional societies or educational institutes. Obtaining a certificate is voluntary in some fields, but in others, certification from a government-accredited agency may be legally required to perform certain jobs or tasks. In other countries, licenses are typically granted by professional societies or universities and require a certificate after about three to five years and so on thereafter. The assessment process for certification may be more comprehensive than that of licensure, though sometimes the assessment process is very similar or even the same, despite differing in terms of legal status.
The American National Standards Institute (ANSI) defines the standard for being a certifying agency as meeting the following two requirements:
The Institute for Credentialing Excellence (ICE) is a U.S.-based organization that sets standards for the accreditation of personnel certification and certificate programs based on the Standards for Educational and Psychological Testing, a joint publication of the American Educational Research Association (AERA), the American Psychological Association (APA), and the National Council on Measurement in Education (NCME). Many members of the Association of Test Publishers (ATP) are also certification organizations.
There are three general types of certification. Listed in order of development level and portability, they are: corporate (internal), product-specific, and profession-wide.
Corporate, or "internal" certifications, are made by a corporation or low-stakes organization for internal purposes. For example, a corporation might require a one-day training course for all sales personnel, after which they receive a certificate. While this certificate has limited portability – to other corporations, for example – it is the most simple to develop.
Product-specific certifications are more involved, and are intended to be referenced to a product across all applications. This approach is very prevalent in the information technology (IT) industry, where personnel are certified on a version of software or hardware. This type of certification is portable across locations (for example, different corporations that use that software), but not across other products. Another example could be the certifications issued for shipping personnel, which are under international standards even for the recognition of the certification body, under the International Maritime Organization (IMO).
The most general type of certification is profession-wide. Certification in the medical profession is often offered by particular specialties. In order to apply professional standards, increase the level of practice, and protect the public, a professional organization might establish a certification. This is intended to be portable to all places a certified professional might work. Of course, this generalization increases the cost of such a program; the process to establish a legally defensible assessment of an entire profession is very extensive. An example of this is a Certified Public Accountant (CPA), which would not be certified for just one corporation or one piece of accountancy software but for general work in the profession. Another example is Exemplar Global which commenced quality certifications in the United States and Australia in 1989. Exemplar Global was created in 2004 from the merger of the personnel certification activities of the U.S Registrar Accreditation Board (RAB) with the Australia-based Quality Society of Australasia (QSA). iNARTE (International Association for Radio, Telecommunications, and Electromagnetics) merged with RABQSA International in June 2012. iNARTE certifications are for qualified engineers and technicians in the fields of telecommunications, electromagnetic compatibility/Interference (EMC/EMI), product safety (PS), electrostatic discharge control (ESD), and wireless systems installation.
Exemplar Global is part of the ASQ family. ASQ is a global community of people passionate about quality who use their tools, their ideas, and their expertise to make our world work better.
Exemplar Global issues competency certifications in Quality Management Systems, Environmental Management Systems, and Occupational Health and Safety Systems.
Many universities grant professional certificates as an award for the completion of an educational program. The curriculum of a professional certificate is most often in a focused subject matter. Many professional certificates have the same curriculum as master's degrees in the same subject. Many other professional certificates offer the same courses as master's degrees in the same subject, but require the student to take fewer total courses to complete the program. Some professional certificates have a curriculum that more closely resembles a baccalaureate major in the same field. The typical professional certificate program is between 200–300 class-hours in size. It is uncommon for a program to be larger or smaller than that. Most professional certificate programs are open enrollment, but some have admissions processes. A few universities put some of their professional certificates into a subclass they refer to as advanced professional certificates.
Some of the more commonly offered professional certificates include:
Advanced professional certificates are professional credentials designed to help professionals enhance their job performance and marketability in their respective fields. In many other countries, certificates are qualifications in higher education. In the United States, a certificate may be offered by an institute of higher education. These certificates usually signify that a student has reached a standard of knowledge of a certain vocational subject. Certificate programs can be completed more quickly than associate degrees and often do not have general education requirements.
An advanced professional certificate is a result of an educational process designed for individuals. Certificates are designed for both newcomers to the industry as well as seasoned professionals. Certificates are awarded by an educational program or academic institution. Completion of a certificate program indicates completion of a course or series of courses with a specific concentration that is different from an educational degree program. Course content for an advanced certificate is set forth through a variety of sources i.e. faculty, committee, instructors, and other subject matter experts in a related field. The end goal of an advanced professional certificate is so that professionals may demonstrate knowledge of course content at the end of a set period in time.
Institutions that offer advance professional certificates in various fields and industries include:
There are many professional bodies for accountants and auditors throughout the world; some of them are legally recognized in their jurisdictions. Public accountants are the accountancy and control experts that are legally certified in different jurisdictions to work in public practices, certifying accounts as statutory auditors, eventually selling advice and services to other individuals and businesses. Today, however, many work within private corporations, financial industry, and government bodies.
Aviators are certified through theoretical and in-flight examinations. Requirements for certifications are quite equal in most countries and are regulated by each National Aviation Authority. The existing certificates or pilot licenses are:
Licensing in these categories require not only examinations but also a minimum number of flight hours. All categories are available for Fixed-Wing Aircraft (airplanes) and Rotatory-Wing Aircraft (helicopters). Within each category, aviators may also obtain certifications in:
Usually, aviators must be certified also in their log books for the type and model of aircraft they are allowed to fly. Currency checks as well as regular medical check-ups with a frequency of 6 months, 12 months, or 36 months, depending on the type of flying permitted, are obligatory. An aviator can fly only if holding:
In the United States, several communications certifications are conferred by the Electronics Technicians Association.
CPCM (Certified Professional Contract Manager) conferred by the National Contract Management Association.
Conferred by the International Dance Council CID at UNESCO, the International Certification of Dance Studies is awarded to students who have completed 150 hours of classes in a specific form of dance for Level 1. Another 150 hours are required for Level 2 and so on till Level 10. This is the only international certification for dance since the International Dance Council CID is the official body for all forms of dance; it is usually given in addition to local or national certificates, that is why it is colloquially called "the dancer's passport". Students cannot apply for this certification directly – they have to ask their school to apply on their behalf. This certification is awarded free of charge, there is no cost other than membership fees.
International Dance Council CID at UNESCO administers the International Certification of Dance Studies.
In the United States, several electronics certifications are provided by the Electronics Technicians Association.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency's EMI offers credentials and training opportunities for United States citizens. Students do not have to be employed by FEMA or be federal employees for some of the programs.
Professional engineering is any act of planning, designing, composing, measuring, evaluating, inspecting, advising, reporting, directing or supervising, or managing any of the foregoing, that requires the application of engineering principles and that concerns the safeguarding of life, health, property, economic interests, the public interest or the environment.
Event planning includes budgeting, scheduling, site selection, acquiring necessary permits, coordinating transportation and parking, arranging for speakers or entertainers, arranging decor, event security, catering, coordinating with third party vendors, and emergency plans.
Common event planning certifications include:
Facility management can be defined as an aspect of engineering management science that deals with the planning, designing, coordination of space and maintenance of a built environment to enhance quality service management system. Service Quality System includes activities like security, maintenance, catering, and external as well as internal cleaning. In general, it is also the coordination and harmonization of various specialist disciplines to create the best possible working environment for staff.
Facility management is an interdisciplinary field devoted to the coordination of space, infrastructure, people and organization, often associated with the administration of office blocks, arenas, schools, convention centers, shopping complexes, hospitals, hotels, etc. However, FM facilitates on a wider range of activities than just business services and these are referred to as non-core functions.
A warehouse management system (WMS) is a part of the supply chain and primarily aims to control the movement and storage of materials within a warehouse and process the associated transactions, including shipping, receiving, putaway and picking. The systems also direct and optimize stock putaway based on real-time information about the status of bin utilization. A WMS monitors the progress of products through the warehouse. It involves the physical warehouse infrastructure, tracking systems, and communication between product stations.
More precisely, warehouse management involves the receipt, storage and movement of goods, (normally finished goods), to intermediate storage locations or to a final customer. In the multi-echelon model for distribution, there may be multiple levels of warehouses. This includes a central warehouse, a regional warehouses (serviced by the central warehouse) and potentially retail warehouses (serviced by the regional warehouses).
IECEx covers the highly specialized field of explosion protection associated with the use of equipment in areas where flammable gases, liquids and combustible dusts may be present. This system provides the assurance that equipment is manufactured to meet safety standards, and that services such as installation, repair and overhaul also comply with IEC International Standards on safety. The United Nations, via UNECE (United Nations Economic Commission for Europe), recommends the IEC and IECEx as the world's best practice model for the verification of conformity to International Standards. It published a "Common Regulatory Framework" encompassing the use of IEC International Standards developed by IEC TC (Technical Committee) 31: Equipment for explosive atmospheres, with proof of compliance demonstrated by IECEx.
In the United States, insurance professionals are licensed separately by each state. Many individuals seek one or more certifications to distinguish themselves from their peers.
TESOL is a large field of employment with widely varying degrees of regulation. Most provision worldwide is through the state school system of each individual country, and as such, the instructors tend to be trained primary- or secondary school teachers who are native speakers of the language of their pupils, and not of English. Though native speakers of English have been working in non-English speaking countries in this capacity for years, it was not until the last twenty-five years or so that there was any widespread focus on training particularly for this field. Previously, workers in this sort of job were people engaging in backpacker tourism hoping to earn some extra travel money or well-educated professionals in other fields volunteering, or retired people. These sort of people are certainly still to be found, but there are many who consider TESOL their main profession.
One of the problems[according to whom?] facing these full-time teachers is the absence of an international governing body for the certification or licensure of English language teachers. However, Cambridge University and its subsidiary body UCLES are pioneers in trying to get some degree of accountability and quality control to consumers of English courses, through their CELTA and DELTA programs. Trinity College London has equivalent programs, the CertTESOL and the LTCL DipTESOL. They offer initial certificates in teaching, in which candidates are trained in language awareness and classroom techniques, and given a chance to practice teaching, after which feedback is reported. Both institutions have as a follow-up a professional diploma, usually taken after a year or two in the field. Although the initial certificate is available to anyone with a high school education, the diploma is meant to be a post-graduate qualification and can in fact be incorporated into a master's degree program.
An increasing number of attorneys are choosing to be recognized as having special expertise in certain fields of law. According to the American Bar Association, a lawyer who is a certified specialist has been recognized by an independent professional certifying organization as having an enhanced level of skill and expertise, as well as substantial involvement in an established legal specialty. These organizations require a lawyer to demonstrate special training, experience and knowledge to ensure that the lawyer's recognition is meaningful and reliable. Lawyer conduct with regard to specialty certification is regulated by the states.
Logistician is the profession in the logistics and transport sectors, including sea, air, land and rail modes. Professional qualification for logisticians usually carries post-nominal letters.
Certification granting bodies include, but are not limited to, Association for Operations Management (APICS), Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport (CILT), International Society of Logistics (SOLE), Canadian Institute of Traffic and Transportation (CITT), and Allied Council for Commerce and Logistics (ACCL).
Churches have their own process of who may use various religious titles. Protestant churches typically require a Masters of Divinity, accreditation by the denomination and ordination by the local church in order for a minister to become a "Reverend". Those qualifications may or may not also give government authorization to solemnize marriages.
Board certification is the process by which a physician in the United States documents by written, practical or computer based testing, illustrating a mastery of knowledge and skills that define a particular area of medical specialization. The American Board of Medical Specialties, a not-for-profit organization, assists 24 approved medical specialty boards in the development and use of standards in the ongoing evaluation and certification of physicians.
Medical specialty certification in the United States is a voluntary process. While medical licensure sets the minimum competency requirements to diagnose and treat patients, it is not specialty specific. Board certification demonstrates a physician's exceptional expertise in a particular specialty or sub-specialty of medical practice.
Patients, physicians, health care providers, insurers and quality organizations regard certification as an important measure of a physician's knowledge, experience and skills to provide quality health care within a given specialty.
Other professional certifications include certifications such as medical licenses, Membership of the Royal College of Physicians, Fellowship of the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada, nursing board certification, diplomas in social work. The Commission for Certification in Geriatric Pharmacy certifies pharmacists that are knowledgeable about principles of geriatric pharmacotherapy and the provision of pharmaceutical care to the elderly. Additional certifying bodies relating to the medical field include:
NCPRP stands for "National Certified Peer Recovery Professional", and the NCPRP credential and exam were developed in collaboration with the International Certification Board of Recovery Professionals (ICBRP) and is currently being administered by PARfessionals.
PARfessionals is a professional organization and all of the available courses are professional development and pre-certification courses.
The NCPRP credential and exam focus primarily on the concept of peer recovery through mental health and addiction recovery. It has the main purpose of training student-candidates on how to become peer recovery professionals who can provide guidance, knowledge or assistance for individuals who have had similar experiences.
Each student-candidate must complete several key steps which include initial registration; the pre-certification review course; and all applicable sections of the official application in order to become eligible to complete the final step, which is the NCPRP certification exam.
The NCPRP credential is obtained once a participant successfully passes the NCPRP certification exam by the second attempt and is valid for five years.
Organizations which offer various certifications include:
In the US, the Universal Accreditation Board, an organization composed of the Public Relations Society of America, the Agricultural Relations Council, the National School Public Relations Association, the Religious Communicators Council and other public relations professional societies, administers the Accreditation in Public Relations (APR), a voluntary certification program for public relations practitioners.
The Certified Public Participation Professional (CP3) and Master Certified Public Participation Professional (MCP3) are awarded by two regions of the International Association for Public Participation (IAP2): IAP2 Canada and IAP2 USA. As of 2019, only 25 individuals had achieved either of these distinctions. The CP3 designation is awarded upon successfully completing a three-step process that includes a written application documenting the individual's experience in the profession, a written response to a case study, and an in-person oral assessment.
Individuals seeking certification are assessed against 5 Core Competencies, which are the essential capabilities for a professional in this field to effectively design, implement, and evaluate public participation programs. The competencies emerged from qualitative analysis of a comprehensive list of knowledge, attitudes, beliefs, skills, behaviors, and capabilities identified in June 2014 by more than 100 P2 professionals from around the world. The descriptions and quality standards for each competency were developed, tested, and refined through an iterative process involving IAP2 members. Each competency is further divided into individual criteria. An individual must meet or exceed every criterion to achieve the CP3 designation. IAP2 USA's program includes 29 criteria. IAP2 Canada's program includes 31 criteria; the two additional criteria in Canada address federal requirements for indigenous engagement. The MCP3 designation recognizes additional specialization and expertise and is assessed through a written application available only to individuals who have already achieved the CP3 designation.
To maintain professional certification, individuals must maintain active membership in IAP2, provide a minimum of 20 hours (annually) of volunteer (unpaid) service to IAP2, and participate in a minimum of 12 hours (annually) of continued professional development.
Organizations offering certification include:
Conferred by the National Speakers Association, the Certified Speaking Professional (CSP) is the speaking profession's international measure of professional platform competence. This certification is awarded by the National Speakers Association. Only about 10% of the speakers who belong to the Global Speakers Federation (GSF) hold this designation. Those who have earned their certification have done so by demonstrating a track record of experience and expertise.
Political commentators have criticized professional or occupational licensing, especially medical and legal licensing, for restricting the supply of services and therefore making them more expensive, often putting them out of reach of the poor.
The proliferation of IT certifications (both offered and attained) has led some technologists to question their value. Proprietary content that has been distributed on the Internet allows some to gain credentials without the implied depth or breadth of expertise.