In the auditing community, the terms “certificate” and “certification” are unfortunately often used interchangeably. There is a big difference between the two designations. One recognizes that you have completed a training course. The other recognizes you as a professional who has completed a series of knowledge, experience, and competence activities and has ongoing requirements to maintain certification.
Let’s look at more formal definitions. The ANSI National Accreditation Body (ANAB) defines the two terms as follows:
- A certificate reflects completion of a training and/or education program and accomplishment of intended learning outcomes. Certificates are issued for life or for a specific time period, and cannot be revoked, which means they do not require ongoing maintenance or renewal.
- A certification reflects attainment of established criteria for proficiency or competency in a profession or occupation and is granted upon an assessment of an individual’s knowledge, skills, and abilities. Certification is valid for a specific time period. A certification program has ongoing requirements for maintaining proficiency or competency and can be revoked if ongoing requirements are not met.
Let’s look at another distinction from the Institute for Credentialing Excellence:
- Certificate Purpose: Build capacity and recognition of a specialty area of practice or set of skills
- Certification Purpose: Recognize professionals who meet established knowledge, skills, or competencies
But, in reality, does the distinction between certificate and certification really matter?” You might well ask, “Does the distinction between ‘shall’ and ‘should’ matter when auditing to an ISO standard?”
There are a multitude of auditors globally who claim to be certified merely by holding a certificate that essentially means nothing more than they have attended a training course. This is made worse by a leading personnel certification body (PCB) who is now issuing “certifications” to auditors who have done nothing more than submit a training certificate and paid a fee. The same PCB also requires nothing to maintain their certifications other than the payment of an annual fee. Essentially, they are issuing a certificate against nothing more than a certificate and calling it certification.
Let’s contrast this with the requirements for professional certification as outlined in ISO 17024, Conformity assessment—General requirements for bodies operating certification of persons, which states that: “A certification scheme shall contain the following elements:
a) scope of certification;
b) job and task description;
c) required competence;
d) abilities (when applicable);
e) prerequisites (when applicable);
f) code of conduct (when applicable)”
ISO 17024 further requires a detailed assessment process that determines the applicant’s competence. It also requires a recertification process that, “The certification body shall ensure during the recertification process that it confirms continued competence of the certified person and ongoing compliance with current scheme requirements by the certified person.”
So, when given a choice between an auditor who has a certificate and one who holds certification, who would you rather have conduct your audit?
Let’s say two candidates present themselves for an interview for a QMS lead auditor job. Both proclaim to be certified auditors. When asked for evidence of their certification, candidate one presents a training certificate; candidate two presents evidence of certification from a third-party personnel certification body. Which would you choose? Candidate two? Not so fast…
Unfortunately, as mentioned previously, there is a difference between PCBs.
Let’s compare the certification requirements for Quality Management System Lead Auditor at two PCBs: Certus Professional Certification and another PCB that I’ll call “PCB X.”
QMS Lead Auditor Requirements
|Training||Training Certificate||Training Certificate|
|Audit Experience||Audit Log||None|
|Professional Experience||Resume or CV||None|
So, if candidate two from the scenario above holds a certificate from PCB X, is he or she really any better than candidate one? If candidate two holds a Certus certificate, you at least have the knowledge that he or she has attended an auditor training course, has evidence of audit experience, has professional experience commensurate with the field of his or her certification, and that he or she has passed a comprehensive knowledge exam based on ISO 19011 and ISO 9001.
So, again, which candidate would you want to hire? More important, perhaps, is which candidate would you rather be?
If you are professional auditor who has completed all the requirements to hold true certification, do you really want to be lumped in with those who just completed a training certificate? Stand out from the crowd and transfer your auditor certification to Certus at no cost for up to 12 months. Learn how here: https://certuspro.com/how-to-transition-to-certus/
About the Author
Scott Paton is president and CEO of Certus Professional Certification Inc. He has more than 35 years of experience in the standards and certification profession. He was editor and publisher of Quality Digest for more than 20 years; founded Paton Professional, a leading publisher of quality and standards-related books; he launched The Auditor newsletter, served as global certification manager for Exemplar Global; and has just launched InsideStandards, an online magazine for the standards and certification community.