Defining and Defending Certification

By Denise Roosendaal, CAE

In the past few years I have engaged in hundreds of conversations about certification: how it is different than certificate programs, how both are important but different models, how certification can help elevate a profession and empower an individual. I have encouraged organizations to see certification as a long-term promise to those individuals and to employers. I have had mini-versions of these conversations with members of my family as I explain what I do. (My mother-in-law has decided it’s easier to tell people I work for the CIA!)

I suspect you have also had these conversations with stakeholders, certificants and applicants as you explain the importance of your certification and why it’s important to follow best practices, because high quality certifications are worth it. 

ICE staff and members have had these conversations over the decades with members, webinar students, and conference participants. These conversations between colleagues have built this community and resulted in exchanges of information that have improved practices and enhanced understanding plus paved the way for new practices. But these conversations have largely been internal.

We are now engaged in these conversations on a wider scale and externally. Explaining certification in layman’s terms to public stakeholders is not easy. But what’s at stake has never been higher.

Explaining certification in layman’s terms to public stakeholders is not easy. But what’s at stake has never been higher.


Many of you are aware of, and have joined (thank you!), the Professional Certification Coalition (PCC). Along with the American Society of Association Executives, ICE is a founding member. The Pillsbury Law Firm is offering their knowledge and expertise. The purpose of this coalition is to fight state-by-state legislative attempts that may pop-up in the future. With the legislative activities we witnessed in Louisiana, Missouri, and now in Ohio, we expect the 2019 state legislative season to be quite active. We will know more as pre-filing deadlines emerge this fall as states prepare for their legislative sessions (typically January-April each year).

Based on the model legislation created by a variety of groups wanting to reform occupational licensing, voluntary certification is being incorrectly defined and even prohibited (as in the attempted case in the Louisiana legislation). These bills have included provisions that would:

  • bar many professionals holding certifications from private organizations from using the titles “certified” or “registered”;
  • create evidentiary presumptions and barriers to state professional licensure laws recognizing or requiring certifications from private organizations; and/or
  • establish governmental certification programs that would supplant private certification programs, in some circumstances.

Certification is being swept up in federal incentives from the Department of Labor (through state grants) to reform licensure. The PCC is not engaging in debates about licensure reform or about the merits of a particular profession needing to be monitored through licensure. The PCC does intend to protect certification from the confusion created when incorrectly included in these model bills. So far, the arguments for protecting and clarifying voluntary certification have largely prevailed when caught in time.  (See the FAQs posted on the PCC website.)

With 100 members (again, thank you!), we are preparing to converse with many of the organizations sponsoring the model legislation in an attempt to clarify the confusion or at least agree on an accurate definition of voluntary certification. We are then preparing for conversations with sponsors of the bills to make sure voluntary certification is correctly defined and protected. Even with over 95 organizations, we still need you and your organization’s support.  Dues linked to PCC membership are at a variety of levels to reflect the various sizes of organizations that could join and are designed to accommodate credentialing organizations, consulting and testing companies, and professional associations.

Join the effort so we can be heard and protected. The stakes have never been higher.

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