Both types of programs are useful to employees and employers but only if they are used in the proper situations. Knowing the difference between certification and certificate programs will allow you to utilize these effective training tools to your maximum benefit.
The most important idea to understand with certification programs is that certifications certify the holder’s knowledge. According to Mickie S. Rops in “Credentialing, Licensure, Certification, Accreditation, Certificates: What’s the Difference?” (in E-Answers, see www.msrops.com/e-answers%201-3.htm), most certifications have a “determined and standardized criteria,” frequently referred to as a common body of knowledge, on which candidates are tested. Therefore, each certification holder is held to the same knowledge standards, providing consistency and quality across the board. A Certified Fraud Examiner (CFE) in California will possess the same standard knowledge as a CFE anywhere in the United States and abroad.
Below are some other key attributes of certification programs:
- Certifications are only active for a set period of time, with continuing education or retesting requirements in order to keep the certification active.
- Candidates usually have to meet eligibility requirements (such as obtaining a certain education level) and pass an evaluation of their skill set, typically through an exam, according to Rops.
- Certification is a voluntary process. An individual does not have to earn a certification in order to legally participate in an occupation. However, a certification could become highly regarded and thus become a hiring requirement for a specific job.
- Certifications mostly focus on hard skills rather than soft skills (i.e., time management).
- Certifications require holders to comply with a code of professional ethics.
There are approximately 75 certifications in business, most of them are related to a functional specialty, such as the Certified Management Accountant (CMA). Some encompass general management and can be earned by all types of professionals, an example of which is the Certified Business Manager (CBM).
Certification programs are ideal if one is looking for standardized practices within a particular job function, such as accounting, or a career level, like management. Furthermore, since certifications require continuing education, they are an excellent choice to keep individuals abreast of new developments in the subject matter of the certification.
Certificate programs concentrate on a focused topic, such as a specific computer application or a particular facet of a job (i.e., project management). Individuals earn a certificate by proving that they have met the course requirements and demonstrated they have successfully learned the skills presented.
Here are some additional features of certificate programs:
- Once the requirements have been completed, the certificate is awarded. There is no continuing education for certificate programs. Therefore most certificates may not be revoked and do not have an expiration date.
- According to California State University at Fullerton, certificate programs could also be “groups of classes designed to provide in-depth study in a particular subject area. Most certificate classes can be taken individually, or as part of a certificate program.” (See www.csufextension.org/CustomerCare/FAQ/FAQ.asp?Q=29.)
- Unlike certifications, certificates do not have a standardized common body of knowledge, which allows individuals to choose a program that best suits their personal needs.
- Certificates are focused on training individuals to learn a particular set of skills whereas certifications concentrate on assessing a person’s knowledge base, according to Rops.
- Certificates can focus on hard or soft skills.
Certificate programs are an excellent way to train individuals on a particular skill that they do not already possess. For example, certificates can be obtained in graphic design, supply chain management, project management or leadership.
If an employee requires additional training in a particular facet of business, such as management, but does not need continued education in the subject, a certificate program would be the best choice. However, if an employee needs continual development and would like to have his current skills assessed, an applicable certification program would be suitable.
Both certification and certificate programs can be optimal training tools, but as with any training program, one must look at the desired outcome to see which type of program best fits the situation.
Professor S. Rao Vallabhaneni is an educator, author, publisher and practitioner in the business field with more than 30 years of management experience in manufacturing, finance, auditing, accounting and information technology. He has written study guides and review material for the various professional certification exams. He holds 23 professional certifications in the business field in the areas of management, auditing, accounting, finance, human resources management, information technology, manufacturing, quality and purchasing.