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Professional Psychology: Debating Chamber · Psychology Journals · Psychologists

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A professional certification, trade certification, or professional designation often called simply certification or qualification is a designation earned by a person to certify that he is qualified to perform a job. Certification indicates that the individual has a specific set of knowledge, skills, or abilities in the view of the certifying body. Professional certifications are awarded by professional bodies and corporations. The difference between professional licensure and certification is licensure is required by law, whereas certification is generally voluntary. Sometimes the word certification is used for licensure which can be confusing.

People become certified through training and/or passing an exam. Individuals often advertise their status by appending the certification abbreviation to their name (e.g. "Jane Doe, RHCE"). Strictly speaking, most certifications do not grant post-nominals and it is usually the professional certifications that do.

Certifications may be perpetual, may need to be renewed periodically, or may be valid for a specific period of time (e.g. the life-time of the product upon which the individual is certified). Although it is more common in regard to licensure, sometimes as part or whole of the renewal of an individual's certification, the individual must show evidence of continual learning — often termed continuing education — or earning continuing education units (CEU).

Certifications are offered through a certification body. This is usually a business organization, and sometimes a professional body. Sometimes, the organization's business is directly related to the certification, as in a software firm that certifies individuals as competent to use its products. In other cases, an organization (often a not-for-profit organization) exists wholly, or in large part, to offer a particular certification. Whatever its nature, the certifying body determines the policies of the certification program. Potential consumers of a certification wish to understand the nature of the certifying body and the certification process. An individual who bears a designation but appears unable to perform competently is said to be a paper tiger because their resume suggests that they are more effective than they actually are.

Certifications are very common in industry, and in particular the computer industry. The National Organization for Competency Assurance (NOCA) is a US-based organization which helps certification bodies by providing them with information on the latest trends and issues of concern to practitioners and organizations focused on certification, licensure, and human resource development. Many members of the Association of Test Publishers (ATP) are certification bodies.

Certification in Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages

TESOL is a large field of employment with widely varying degrees of regulation. Though native speakers of English have been working in non-English speaking countries in this capacity for years, it was not until the last twenty-five years or so that there was any wide-spread focus on training particularly for this field. Previously, workers in this sort of job were anyone from backpackers hoping to earn some extra travel money to well-educated professionals in other fields doing volunteer work, or retired professionals. Those sorts of people are certainly still to be found, but there are many who consider TESOL their main profession, and for most of their working lives. One of the problems they face is the fact that there is no international governing body for the certification or licenture of ESOL teachers. However, Cambridge University and UCLES are pioneers in trying to get some degree of accountability and quality control to consumers of English courses, through their CELTA and DELTA programs. Trinity College, London, as well, have equivalent programs; the certTESOL and the LTCL DipTESOL. They offer certificates in teaching, in which candidates are trained in certain techniques and given practice teaching as part of their training. Both institutions have a follow-up certification which is a professional diploma. Although the initial certificate is available to anyone with a high school education, the diploma is meant to be a post-graduate qualification and in fact can be incorporated into a Master's degree program. There are other, independent, providers of certification in this field, and many of them are equivalent to Cambridge/UCLES and Trinity. However, there are also many independent providers who do little more than provide a piece of paper with the qualification and candidate's name, in exchange for their fee. It is worth checking into the legitimacy of such providers, if only for the future's sake - there are efforts being made to have the CELTA/DELTA, and Trinity equivalents, recognized by governmental bodies. Because, in fact, qualification requirements of the schools and employers of teaching staves are not as much an issue as are issues regarding the issuance of working permits in the countries where these teachers wish to work. In many countries, there are no governmental requirements whatsoever, and in other places, teaching certification is considered irrelevant and the only requirement is a baccalaureate degree - in any subject. Therefor, it is perhaps wise to have a university degree, but also a TESOL certificate from a respected and verifiable provider.


  • Krutz, Ronald L. and Vines, Russell Dean, The CISSP Prep Guide; Gold Edition, Wiley Publishing, Inc., Indianapolis, Indiana, 2003.

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