by Christine Murphy Peck | June 01, 2014

Everyone enjoys the revitalization that comes with spring cleaning. As association leaders, this is a good time to start your own cleanup by reviewing your certification programs and keeping in mind the following points.

Gauge the level of interest. When is the last time you gauged the level of interest within your industry for your certification program? Are there fewer new applications or are fewer people recertifying? If so, what might be causing this? If you’re seeing a decline in new applications or recertification, it’s time to test whether or not the original criteria or requirements still match the competencies needed to be successful in your industry. While a job-task analysis will test functions that are required to pass the exam and maintain the credential, they may not move quickly enough to keep up with industry changes. Instead, you may need to test the criteria for the credential against current practices in the industry.

My team recently conducted a competency assessment for a healthcare organization that has two successful certification programs. However, the group had started to see a drop in applications. Given the changing healthcare-industry landscape, we identified a series of new competencies that certificants need to demonstrate in their daily work that were not covered in the most recent job task analyses for both certifications. The organization is now considering the option of developing a program to complement the current certification program. This could serve as an additional source of revenue as well as a way to help the certificants enhance their skills as it would provide added value in the workplace and help them continue to grow professionally.

Revisit your objectives. Does your certification program have clearly stated objectives? When is the last time you reviewed objectives to see how well the current program is mapping to them? A certification program’s objectives can include increasing visibility, enhancing the profession, establishing an industry standard by denoting levels of competence and ensuring safe practices for the public, among others.

Update the exam and assist writers. Is it time to refresh your pool of exam questions to match current and emerging competencies in the industry? When updating items, remember to develop enough to supplement any practice tests you are offering. Also, you might consider developing a process in which item writers can submit new questions on an ongoing basis to help you stay ahead of the game when reaccreditation deadlines are approaching or when the test needs to reflect sudden changes in the field. Many testing vendors offer the opportunity to do this via an online submission process so item writers can work at their own pace to place items into the system.

Examine your recertification program. Are the recertification requirements easy to understand and achievable by your certificants within the given time frame? Giving a range of options and price points for continuing education units (CEUs) that map back to competencies is a winning strategy for keeping your certificants engaged and getting them to recertify. Several organizations institute a clause whereby a certain percentage of CEUs must be earned through programming provided by them or an organization approved by them. This affords organizations a revenue stream as well as a process for ensuring that the educational content maps back to the certification competencies and overall program objectives.

Review accreditation options. Explore whether your credential will carry more weight upon recognition from an external accrediting body. If so, the next step is to examine which accreditation standards align most closely with the needs of your members. Then determine the gap between your current processes and those required by the external accrediting body, and put a plan in place for achieving accreditation.

Certification programs serve the public interest by ensuring a set of quality standards against which to measure the knowledge base or competency of an individual in a given industry. When structured correctly, they provide credibility and visibility to the person with the credential and the organization who awards it. That’s why it’s worthwhile to set time aside each year to review, refresh and revitalize your certification programs.