Increasing Our Value to the Professions We Serve
Credentialing agencies hold unique places in the professions we serve. We provide excellent certification programs that follow accreditation standards to validate certificants are qualified for the targeted job roles. However, while we rightfully emphasize the role our programs play in protecting the public or enabling entrance to professions, we often struggle to understand and portray the value of our role and certifications in terms employers value — such as certificants being more efficient, an increase in retention, corresponding service enhancement or creating competitive success.
Because of this, traditional “moment-in-time” certification programs face a variety of threats when aiming to stay relevant. Other contributors to this threat include: rapidly changing workforce needs; a candidate population which is increasingly seeking ongoing professional development and showing impatience with long credentialing processes; and greater industry pushback requesting return on investment (ROI) information to justify certification’s time and expense.
Although challenges exist, our industry has an unprecedented opportunity to increase our value to the professions we serve. Through use of models such as assessment-based certificates, micro-credentials, longitudinal assessments and learning and assessment workforce skills programs, we have the opportunity to develop new and more diverse paths to professional designations, enable a greater degree of specialization for professionals and provide ongoing professional development. We can provide this while still maintaining our professional, accredited certification as a cornerstone offering.
Through this expansion, we can build relationships for life and play a key role in building resilient workforces. This article provides a brief overview of one approach to understand and define value — a necessary first step toward increasing our value. In addition, we highlight a case study of a credentialing organization that successfully transformed its program as a direct result of understanding the needs of its profession and the stakeholders within it.
Defining and Optimizing the Value of Certification
Defining and optimizing value in the certification industry is complex because of the variety of certification models (skill focused, foundational, role based, etc.) and that each stakeholder defines value from their own perspective. The assumption is that each type of certification was developed for a different purpose. The value is then determined by how well this purpose is achieved and how the stakeholder experiences this outcome. The continued success of certifications as the instrument of choice for demonstrating work competence will ultimately hinge on whether employers sustain their interest in valuing certifications to fulfill these purposes as part of their employment decision-making, workforce management and workforce development processes.
A quality product used ineffectively or inappropriately limits value and undermines the definition of quality. It is of vital interest to a certifying body that the end user experiences optimum value for long term sustainability and engagement. A case can be made that the certification community should consider an end-to-end quality assurance system including specific attention to how certifications are being used in the employer systems to ensure certification employer interest is sustained, and certification value is optimized.
The continued success of certifications needs to address factors end user employer stakeholders consider, summarized as reducing risk, helping build a resilient workforce, ensuring public safety and equitable access to job roles and support the continuing changes in workforce needs.
One way credentialing organizations can increase value is meeting the specialized and ever-changing needs of employers — such as the rapid introduction of skills based hiring practices, rapid enterprise digitization, and artificial intelligence (AI) practices. One model that would be attractive for the use of role based or foundational certifications can be defined as “mass customized” certification offerings. This model allows for the benefits of higher level certification development and management as well as benefits of customized applications for the employer.
Mass customization allows a stakeholder (i.e. private or public employers) to benefit from customized features of a product while still maintaining standards and keeping the costs, integrity and efficiency of the mass-produced product intact.
So how do we do this in a sustainable manner? Two primary enterprise considerations are risk mitigation and enterprise performance.
End user organizations value risk mitigation, the core of which is ensuring reliable and valid skill standards — along with high-quality test development and deployment — are at the heart of an end-to-end value proposition.
At the employer level, multiple misjudgments can occur that introduce risk. For example, a business may require capability in skills standard domains A-F. However, what if the chosen certification program omits one or more domains from its offerings? Does the use of this certification program remain valuable? Is it legally defensible? Does it make good business sense? Does it provide value to the stakeholders?
To add value in this situation, it is in the certification body’s best interest — and would allow it to serve both its marketplace, community and its reputation — to provide technical services that would reduce these risks. A stackable certification, in which a stakeholder can pick and choose the applicable domains, could provide flexibility and build capacity.
An individual’s performance is not only based on their knowledge and skills, but the ability to apply the elements of knowledge and skills in a specific context. Certification typically validates knowledge and skills (often across multiple contexts), but does it ensure application in a specific context? Expecting a standardized certification to address the nuances of each employer’s evolving world and diverse performance definitions — based on their business models, products, services and practices — is not sustainable and reduces the value of certification for the many employers.
Here are some typical comments received from employers over the years:
- These blueprint skills standards are too general — I need skills for our unique operations.
- I like the certification, but our industry/sector/processes are different, and we need to focus on our specifics.
- Certified persons often command higher wages, and we don’t have evidence of the ROI that would justify the cost.
By providing additional value-added services — which could guide clients in contextualizing certification blueprint skills standards within their sectoral, enterprise or business processes — credentialing bodies can retain employer interest in the core certification and all its benefits. This process can also lead to additional services such as sector, enterprise-specific or process-focused supplemental micro-credentials and assessment-based certificate programs. As an example, a new certification was introduced that is highly important across all sectors, but each sector experiences the application of the knowledge in very different ways and uses the technical language differently. Though a common knowledge and skills framework across all the sectors has many benefits in this situation, the sectoral employers can miss those benefits because it can be seen as not relevant to them.
The Point-of-Care Ultrasound (POCUS) Certification Academy is a great example of an agency that performed extensive analysis of its stakeholder community. They used the resulting data to better understand their community and respond with flexible, resilient credentialing solutions valued by the profession it serves.
Case Study: POCUS Certification Academy
POCUS Certification Academy is a council under the non-profit credentialing organization, Inteleos, that is focused on ensuring quality patient care through the proficient use of POCUS by validating clinicians’ knowledge, skills and abilities with independently validated certifications.
To create a non-cumbersome pathway for the global clinicians to independently demonstrate proficiency in point-of-care ultrasound.
At initial launch in 2017, the POCUS team developed a certification program that employed innovative item types (simulated cases), delivery methods (online/on demand) and methodologies (stackable micro-credentials). However, after reflection, a year into the program, they realized they were still employing traditional certification methodologies and not addressing the value their target audience was seeking, which resulted in low adoption rates.
They paused, looked holistically at what the community needed and asked the following questions:
- Who are the POCUS users; who is the target audience?
- What is our target audience asking for; what is the shared value?
- Who are the stakeholders in the ultrasound ecosystem; who are the other organizations or individuals who have a vested interest in the community you serve?
- How can we evolve from transactional encounters with our audience and create an interactive relationship?
These questions were answered with focus groups, online listening tools, surveys, research and open dialogue with stakeholders in the ultrasound space.
With the gained insight, the program relaunched with an updated strategy to address the holistic needs of the target audience. This updated strategy also included:
- Expanding the target audience;
- Creating a learning resource library (which included podcasts, webinars, infographics, etc.) to close the learning gap;
- Developing collaborations with stakeholders to support the needs along the clinical consumers’ journey;
- And building a community with volunteer opportunities and philanthropic initiatives that leveraged social media.
The revised strategy of the POCUS Certification Academy has achieved increased success, resulting in:
- The top digital presence for the industry they serve;
- Over 16,000 website visitors monthly;
- Expanded global audience, with consumers of the POCUS Learning Resource Library in over 200 countries;
- And over 50% increase in certified POCUS users.
By prioritizing building value for consumers and stakeholders throughout their career, instead of focusing on the end result of obtaining certification, the POCUS Certification Academy has been able to expand their reach, increasing the number of users engaging with their content. Ultimately, this work is advancing the mission and growing the number of proficient POCUS users globally.
Becoming Valued, Not Just Recognized
Certification bodies, either directly or through qualified partners, can transform into a value-added addition for a profession’s marketplace by providing additional services and mass-customization to support stakeholders along the certification continuum and through the ongoing change in the marketplace. Doing so will enable your credentialing body to truly integrate certification within the professional and enterprise ecosystem, helping you to become value enhancing. As a result, the term Industry Recognized Certification (IRC) may soon be replaced by the term Industry Valued Certification (IVC) — speaking to what stakeholders are genuinely seeking from credentialing agencies: value.