The System of Voluntary Certification in The Field
Professional certification, trade certification, or professional designation, often called simply certification or qualification, is a designation earned by a person to assure qualification to perform a job or task. Not all certifications that use post-nominal letters are an acknowledgement of educational achievement, or an agency appointed to safeguard the public interest.
A certification is a third-party attestation of an individual's level of knowledge or proficiency in a certain industry or profession. They are granted by authorities in the field, such as professional societies and universities, or by private certificate-granting agencies. Most certifications are time-limited; some expire after a period of time (e.g., the lifetime of a product that required certification for use), while others can be renewed indefinitely as long as certain requirements are met. Renewal usually requires ongoing education to remain up-to-date on advancements in the field, evidenced by earning the specified number of continuing education credits (CECs), or continuing education units (CEUs), from approved professional development courses.
Many certification programs are affiliated with professional associations, trade organizations, or private vendors interested in raising industry standards. Certificate programs are often created or endorsed by professional associations, but are typically completely independent from membership organizations. Certifications are very common in fields such as aviation, construction, technology, environment, and other industrial sectors, as well as healthcare, business, real estate, and finance.
According to The Guide to National Professional Certification Programs (1997) by Phillip Barnhart, "certifications are portable, since they do not depend on one company's definition of a certain job" and they provide potential employers with "an impartial, third-party endorsement of an individual's professional knowledge and experience".
Certification is different from professional licensure. In the United States, licenses are typically issued by state agencies, whereas certifications are usually awarded by professional societies or educational institutes. Obtaining a certificate is voluntary in some fields, but in others, certification from a government-accredited agency may be legally required to perform certain jobs or tasks. In other countries, licenses are typically granted by professional societies or universities and require a certificate after about three to five years and so on thereafter. The assessment process for certification may be more comprehensive than that of licensure, though sometimes the assessment process is very similar or even the same, despite differing in terms of legal status.