Tomayto, Tomahto, Certification, Certificate

Certification and certificate are often used interchangeably as forms of alternative credentials. However, they are distinct and represent two different pathways and outcomes to professional development and training. Let’s discuss the difference between these alternative credentials and what factors to consider when choosing a course to advance your career or change fields.

What is an alternative credential?

Alternative credentials validate that a learner has acquired skills after completion of a course, program, or non-credit study. Credentials include digital badges, certification, certificates, and other forms.

Who needs alternative credentials?

Professionals who may or may not have completed a degree program and gained work experience regularly need to acquire more skills. They want to achieve a goal, whether it is to perform better in their current job, advance via promotion, or transition careers. Earning credentials through a course or career program is a focused, cost-effective way to upskill or reskill in a short time.

What is a certification? 

“Alternative credentials play an important role in the professional development of employees,” says Jake Akehurst, executive director of UMKC TalentLink. “The challenge is to be a savvy consumer and understand the difference between certificates and certifications.”

The American National Standards Institute distinguishes a certification as “more comprehensive and necessarily includes an assessment of an individual’s knowledge, skills, and abilities based on a body of knowledge pertaining to a profession or occupation.

Similarly, the Institute for Credentialing Excellence considers certification as indication of a particular individual’s professional competence. For example, doctors, mechanics, accountants, and people in other professions are required to go through a certification process of some kind. In other words, certification is often a requirement for employment or practice, depending on the field.

Some courses and programs prepare participants for certification exams, such as Project Management Professional PMP Prep. Completion of the instructor-led online course does not result in certification, but it helps the participant to get ready for the exam. Successfully passing the exam leads to industry recognized PMP certification.

“Another example is a chief information officer (CIO) who chooses to take a Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP) course. The CIO takes a course to prepare for a rigorous exam,” says Akehurst. “After successfully completing the course, the CIO earns a certification granted by the International Information System Security Certification Consortium (ISC)2.”

What is a certificate?

Certificate programs emphasize learning events and coursework completion.

For example, Akehurst says, “An entry-level information technology employee takes an eight-hour Introduction to Cybersecurity course to increase their knowledge and skills. They earn a certificate of completion. The certificate distinguishes the employee’s skills and knowledge compared to peers, opening a path to additional skills learning or perhaps promotion on a career track. Whether you take a course or program to earn a certificate or certification, the good news is both options are valuable to professionals seeking to grow and advance their career.”

Why do certificates and certifications matter to employers?

The job market remains competitive. Workforce shifts during the pandemic and concerns about economic headwinds on the horizon impact how companies hire new personnel and retain existing employees.

A certificate or certification may give a job seeker an edge over another applicants. Akehurst says. “Look for these listed in job postings. Highlight credentials on your resume. You want the Human Resources professional to know you possess a specialized skill, have demonstrated the willingness and aptitude to continuously learn, and perform effectively in your field.”

Companies facing competition for skilled, qualified workers invest in professional development to retain talented employees and provide growth opportunities. This investment strategy makes sense.

The cost of replacing an individual employee runs into thousands of dollars, and includes expenses to search, recruit, and train a new employee. Lost productivity, depleted employee morale, and project delays also contribute to the ability of a business to keep its workforce engaged and achieve goals.

Akehurst says, “Professional development and training is a powerful retention tool that can take the form of courses and other learning. Employees earn certificates, gain skills, and feel valued as they perform their roles effectively and prepare for career advancement.”

Explore professional development courses offering certificates.

Learn more about career development programs in preparation for certification.

Business owners and Human Resource professionals, contact us about professional development and training for your employees.