Lisa Everts, Test Developer, Business Development
May 18, 2018
Can a certifying body offer training in addition to sponsoring a certification program? Armed with an understanding of accreditation requirements, certifying bodies can confront the dragon of offering training to benefit their members.
Does offering training or educational programs put an accredited certification program in jeopardy? Not if it’s done correctly!
Certifying bodies want to foster active relationships with their members. Groups promoting active relationships are more likely to thrive than those practicing the test-once-and-disappear mode: it increases the members’ confidence in their certifying body and enhances the value of the credential among the members, employers, and public.
The reality is that certifying bodies are businesses, and an active relationship provides opportunities for follow-on sales. Follow-on sales are highly desired because the customer acquisition cost disappears which results in higher margins. Think about the last time you purchased a car. The higher margin from follow-on sales is the reason a car dealer might try to sell you upgraded floor mats and shiny rims. Instead of a towing package, a certifying body can offer educational materials or learning experiences to go with that shiny new certification.
Active membership, follow-on sales opportunities, and a healthy financial position are good for all. With more funding available, a certifying body can offer more services to its membership. The members benefit not only from the increased services but also from increased visibility and improved prestige of the credential.
One way for a certifying body to promote and maintain an active relationship is to offer its members educational opportunities. Members benefit from the opportunity to increase their knowledge and possibly earn additional accreditations.
Many certifying bodies have a “there be dragons” view of training. The fear likely stems from standards in ISO 17024 and NCCA 2014. Violations of those standards could result in the loss of accreditation or create a block against acquiring it. Accreditations can be important to a certifying body, especially those who wish to test internationally. The international market is competitive, and failure to have accreditation can be a serious impediment to capturing market share. Armed with an understanding of the standards, a certifying body can fight the figurative dragon and provide training for its members.
Neither ISO 17024 or NCCA 2014 have outright prohibitions against certifying bodies offering training. Both permit it when appropriate firewalls are in place to safeguard the certification’s integrity. The threats to a certification’s integrity arise from mixing certification and training staff and procedures. NCCA 2014 Standard 3 makes the basic principle clear for itself and ISO 17024:
“Appropriate separation must exist between certification and any education or training functions to avoid conflicts of interest and to protect the integrity of the certification program.”
Both standards further define the basic principle in subsequent commentaries and examples. While similar, the two standards have different elements, and it’s possible (but not likely) that what is acceptable under ISO 17024 is not acceptable under NCCA 2014. The following summary combines the stipulations of the two standards using general language. Please refer to a specific standard before implementing training:
- A certifying body cannot require an applicant to take its exclusive training as a condition of certification when alternate sources with an equivalent outcome exist.
- A certifying body cannot give an applicant the impression that its training is the best or only means, nor that its training provides an advantage.
- Board members, staff members, and volunteers who have access to certification materials cannot also have access to training materials, nor can they participate in the creation and maintenance of training materials.
- Defined policies, procedures, roles and responsibilities must prevent mixing between certification and education.
- The decision to certify or rescind certification cannot consider the applicant’s participation in the certifying body’s training or education.
- The certifying body must monitor the policies and roles on a regular schedule to ensure that cross pollination does not occur over time.
Requiring certain educational attainment as proof of eligibility, the offering of sample items and practice tests, and providing a bibliography of textbooks are not seen as violations. Certifying bodies can offer a practice test or a review of sample items with confidence as long as they do not endorse a preferred method of preparation for the certification exam.
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