June 12, 2023—Depending on the role of an individual, they may be required by OSHA to be certified by a third-party, accredited body. However, in many instances, OSHA or standards such as ASME require an individual to be qualified. But what does that mean, how is qualification documented, and what’s the difference between “qualification” and “certification”?
What Is Qualification?
Typically, an individual is deemed qualified by having the knowledge, skill, and ability to perform a task.
As we know, knowledge and skill can be obtained in several ways including experience, training, testing, or a combination of the three. There are some instances where the qualification requirements are more clear -- such as OSHA requiring signalpersons to take written and practical exams; or ASME B30.5 indicating the Riggers must do the same – but qualification can still be a gray area for employers.
Ambiguity surrounds how qualification is assessed when testing is not required. Years in the field, alone, are not a good gauge of qualification. Nor is simply attending a training course without validation that training has been effective.
When testing is required, questions often develop in relation to how exams should be created, who creates them, what employees should be tested on, how tests are maintained/updated, how frequently qualification needs to occur, how all of this is documented and, when the unfortunate need arises, how are they defended. All of this puts the undue burden and liability on employers.
What Is Certification?
Certification requires testing and determines a minimum baseline level of knowledge and skill, somewhat akin to a driver’s license. It shows that individuals understand the basics and can perform fundamental tasks.
Certification exams are designed and built after a lengthy job task analysis process. During this process, those in the industry are surveyed to determine what the person performing the job needs to know. That data is used by subject matter experts, who are guided by psychometricians, to construct exams.
Certification is issued for a set period of time and requires retesting to ensure that an individual stays current on standards, regulations, and technological advances in the industry.
Why Certify Rather Than Qualify?
The process to qualify employees can typically be done with less preparation and upfront cost than is required for certification. However, because there are no training or testing standards established, qualification does not provide the means to fully evaluate if an individual truly has the technical knowledge and hands-on skills to perform their duties competently and safely.
Third-party, accredited certification ensures that employees have been administered a fair, valid, defensible, and reliable assessment of knowledge and skill.