By Denise Roosendaal, CAE, I.C.E. Executive Director
As we come to the end of this unprecedented year of 2020, I can’t decide if I want celebrate, let out a huge sigh relief or just quietly turn the page to welcome in 2021 — though it’s always beneficial to take time to reflect before moving (however quickly) into the new year.
Despite all of the despair and tumult and seismic shifts in our political, cultural and business environments, I believe there are some foundational concepts that have endured and were proven to be a source of survival this year. With one notable exception, we may have reason to be optimistic for the year ahead.
Demand for Credentialing
While some professions and industries have suffered in light of the pandemic, others have thrived. The difference seems to have largely depended on how the professionals within an industry or sector were impacted by the pandemic itself. Those organizations representing healthcare professions or first responders reported a drastic uptick in demand if the profession related to the needs of pandemic response. Other sectors reported challenges when a profession was dependent upon the financial health of medical facilities (i.e. hospitals, clinics, etc.). Some of that dependency was exacerbated by regional flares in the virus. Finally, other non-healthcare sectors (e.g. distribution management, financial services, food services) saw an immediate downturn with glimmers of possible hope in recent months, based on the financial economic recovery. Of course, much of this prognosis depends upon where we go with this third wave of infections.
After the 2008-2010 financial crisis, I heard it reported that credentialing could survive downturns in the economy because workers hoping to enhance their employability rely on their certification to differentiate themselves in the workforce. Economic downturn is one thing, but a pandemic may well be something else entirely. Nonetheless, I hear cautious optimism expressed throughout the I.C.E. membership about the prospects around financial recovery in 2021.
Early in the pandemic, the recognition of the structural demands of remote work became urgently apparent. Staffs shifted to remote work and systematic issues needed to be addressed: how to answer the phone, how to connect to a VPN, how to work Zoom, how balance work and new family or school demands.
As the weeks turned into months and the systems’ connections were resolved, the attention turned to relationships: how to resolve for issues of morale, how to maintain productivity on teams, how to onboard new employees remotely. What I heard from executive directors was a resounding “can-do” spirit. “We’ll figure out the technology solutions but I need to keep our people safe AND engaged,” said one CEO. This speaks to the power of structural adaptability without ever losing focus on the people involved.
As the realities of 2020 became apparent, the credentialing community showed its ability to come together in impactful ways. Colleagues reached out to the community with questions on specific topics related to process, technology, policies, approach to certificants, candidate needs and more. And I saw the abundance of support that came in. You were there for each other with answers or just an ear.
When the pandemic forced testing centers to close their doors, the NCCA recognized the need to respond with guidance that was mindful of long-held values, such as security and rigor. The NCCA introduced an Exception Program to permit accredited programs to utilize Live Remote Proctoring (LRP) on a time-limited basis. The results of a pre-COVID pilot study on remote proctoring were used to inform the development of a guidance paper. The leaders within NCCA came together quickly and with guidance the member organizations needed.
These powerful aspects of our community — adaptability, informed decision-making and much more —speak to the leadership ability of I.C.E. members who give of themselves so generously for the benefit of the entire community.
The ability of credentialing programs to adapt to a changing marketplace points to an inherent resilience and possibly an optimistic future. However, one outcome from this year is most disturbing and it may take time to understand its impact on credentialing: how the rejection of expertise has taken hold in our cultural and political life. The ASAE Foresight Works project defines the phenomenon in an action brief as:
“Public skepticism toward well-credentialed experts is growing, in part because of a perception that they have failed to recognize or address persistent sociopolitical problems. Expert pronouncements are having less impact on public perception, with the public turning instead to non-credentialed and ‘unofficial’ sources for guidance and information. At the same time, information is increasingly able to route around gatekeepers, diminishing their influence and ability to shape discussion and debate.”
Further, in his book “The Death of Expertise,” Tom Nichols defines the death of expertise this way:
“The death of expertise is not just a rejection of existing knowledge. It is fundamentally a rejection of science and dispassionate rationality, which are the foundations of modern civilization.” (Nichols, pg. 5)
However, Nichols also recognizes the important role of associations and certifications:
“Expert communities rely on these peer-run institutions to maintain standards and to enhance social trust. Mechanisms like peer review, board certification, professional associations, and other organizations and professions help to protect quality and to assure society…that they’re safe in accepting expert claims of competence.”
We all witnessed this phenomenon take hold this year in the apparent decrease in trust in institutions, processes and even health experts credentialed in the field of infectious diseases. In previous years, we saw the phenomenon impact higher education, to the point that the overall value of a traditional education came into question. We continue to see how changes in generational ideals and needs will drive how future generations learn and gain experience, and how they wish to be recognized within the marketplace.
I would like to hear from you. How is the phenomenon of “rejection of expertise” impacting you and your organization’s work?
- Has the acceptance of your certification’s value proposition changed in light of this questioning of expertise? Do you anticipate changes in the future? In what ways might the expertise represented by your certificants be questioned in the marketplace?
- Have stakeholders asked for more evidence of the impact of your certification?
- Are you conducting more research about your certification in order to speak more effectively about the effectiveness of your certification and the expertise of your certificants?
- Is your profession facing external resistance to your certification?
- What attributes or actions will be required to adequately respond to this phenomenon?
- Are these even the right questions to be asking ourselves?
Please send your thoughts or other thought-provoking questions to me via email at: firstname.lastname@example.org.