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Core Considerations for a Successful Corporate Certification Program

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With the evolution of certification over the last 25 years, it seems every major company has developed a certification program. Have you ever wondered what it takes to develop one? In this brief review of key literature, Warren Wyrostek explains what experts in certification say are key considerations for a successful program.
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Certification has grown in popularity recently because of its applicability to a wide scope of business and professional needs (Barksdale & Lund 1998). Because of this wide acceptance and varying organizational needs, certification is defined and interpreted in many different ways.

According to Barksdale and Lund (1998), certification in its most basic form is simply a test employees take to confirm a body of knowledge in a defined field. They go on to say that when viewed from a more rigorous standpoint, certification is a highly structured process that rewards, encourages, instructs, and confirms employees. They also note that customers are able to perform to a set of performance standards.

In Schule's (2009) analysis of healthcare certifications, he claims certification is a signal to the public that a person has attained a body of expert knowledge or a way to promote the knowledge, skills, and abilities revered by a specialty. He goes on to share that for a business, such as a hospital, certification programs are metrics used to improve employees' expertise and competency, and in turn elevate the organization.

According to Schule, when an organization first meets to explore the prospect of creating a certification program, an initial strategic decision is to agree upon an accepted definition of certification for the organization. He goes on to list several other strategic decisions that are needed when designing a successful corporate certification initiative.

The purpose of this review is to explore a limited scope of contemporary literature in order to identify some of the key core considerations that corporations and their experts have identified in the design of successful corporate certification programs.

This review will focus on decisions concerning certification assessment type and development (Coscarelli, Robins, Shrock, & Herbst 1998; Flynn 2002; "Interview: Tracey Flynn" n.d.), legal defensibility (Coscarelli et al. 1998; Mulkey & Naughton 2005; Schule 2009), and decision points that move a corporation to strategically invest in a certification and an assessment program (Barksdale & Lund 1998; Mulkey & Naughton 2005; "Interview: Tracey Flynn" n.d.).

Assessment Type and Development

According to Coscarelli, Robins, Shrock, and Herbst (1998), certification tests are the historical way for identifying and verifying competence. According to this group of experts, not only is a clear definition of certification needed but defined procedures for the application and deployment of criterion-referenced tests are also necessary.

According to Coscarelli et al., one of the major problems companies face when scoping certification efforts is the limited knowledge leaders have regarding methods of assessment development and those addressing different certification needs.

Their solution was the Certification Suite, a taxonomy based on Bloom's Taxonomy, which has four hierarchical certification levels and two quasi-certification levels. Each level of the suite addresses a type of assessment:

  • Level A, the highest certification level, uses Real World certification assessments using Real World performance-based instruments and observations.
  • Level B assessments for certification are high-fidelity simulations using instruments such as high–end flight simulators.
  • Level C assessments are scenario-based cognitive certification assessments.
  • Level D assessments, which are the lowest level certification assessments, are memorization tests.
  • Level E is the highest quasi-level certification and is based on attendance.
  • Level F is the lowest quasi-level certification and is based on organizational affiliation.

According to Coscarelli et al., Levels A and B are used to prove competency on new equipment or software; Level D is for end-of training evaluation. This categorization frames the look and feel of the certification program.

Flynn (2002) takes this a step further and states that good certification programs develop assessments based on standards, provide well-thought-out and approved exam objectives, and are optimally performance-based. In her experience, certification programs that do not provide a test taker with exam objectives will fail.

Flynn has found that objectives provide a test taker with the study path for success. A sound certification assessment goes through a twelve-step development process. The first three steps are crucial to certification program success. They are identifying key work behaviors, defining exam objectives based on those work behaviors, and creating a test blueprint.

In an interview with GoCertify, Flynn ("Interview: Tracey Flynn" n.d.) says, "Everything boils down to the integrity of the exam." She goes on to say leaders must agree on the exam development model and agree that all steps are required for a legally defensible assessment.

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