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Bulldog image by Ron Chapple Studios on Thinkstock by Getty Images

Bulldog image by Ron Chapple Studios on Thinkstock by Getty Images

What's the True Value of Certification?

Velvet Chainsaw Consulting’s Jeff Hurt, always a thought-provoking guy, once again really got me thinking, this time about meeting industry certifications, with his post, Dangerous Assumptions About Your Conference Education Part I. Among those assumptions are that professional certifications (and there are a lot of them nowadays) are available to everyone who wants to keep current on what they need to know to excel at their jobs.

Au contraire, says Jeff:

"By default, we deny industry professionals access to certified-approved courses unless they are willing to pay. We then encourage the collection of continuing education units to meet standards, all for a fee of course. Next, we require payment for the attendees to take a stringent knowledge-based test, regardless if they pass it or not. Finally, we make them pay a fee every two to five years to keep that certification. We’ve created elitist customers, an exclusive clique instead of trying to help the entire industry progress."

OK, the first point isn't necessarily true (for example, you can earn clock hours toward the Certified Meeting Professional by viewing MeetingsNet webinars, which are free), but the general point that you have to pay to play is a good one. I understand why the system is the way it is—after all, it costs money to set up, maintain, and administrate these programs. And while they may be big money-makers for some organizations, many I’ve spoken with about it over the years say it’s break-even at best. So why do we do it?

Some positives:

• Certification provides an objective standard of competence, a kind of short-hand an employer/client/potential hirer can use to judge that a person has a certain baseline of knowledge about the profession.

• It can provide bright-line answers for some murky situations. If the answer to the test question is certifiably correct, then it gives the person a level of confidence over which shade of gray to choose.

• It provides a common language and knowledge base that, when used among those certified anyway, can simplify communication and reduce errors based on misunderstandings and different interpretations of a situation.

• It provides proof of professionalism, especially in fields that traditionally have not gotten a lot of respect for being a “real” profession in the past.

On the other hand:

• As Jeff points out, it does limit that knowledge to those who can afford to garner the CEUs and take the exams.

• Just because someone can pass the test, it doesn’t necessarily mean they can do the job—book knowledge is one thing; on-the-ground savvy is quite another. Plus, there are those of us, present company included, who do not do well on standardized tests, which are integral components of many of these certifications.

• It may cause someone to fall back on that bright-line answer in that murky situation, when perhaps there’s a better off-the-books solution to be found for that particular case.

Allow me to let my medical education geek peer out for a moment: Maintenance of certification for physicians through one of the 24 approved medical specialty boards of the American Board of Medical Specialties (as well as some of the medical specialty boards of the American Osteopathic Association) has been pretty controversial for a while. In addition to a periodic exam, docs who want to maintain their board certifications have to do a whole lot more to continually measure where they are with six competencies—practice-based learning and improvement; patient care and procedural skills; systems-based practice; medical knowledge; interpersonal and communication skills; and professionalism—within a four-component framework (Part I: Professionalism and Professional Standing; Part II: Lifelong Learning and Self-Assessment; Part III: Assessment of Knowledge, Judgment, and Skills; Part IV: Improvement in Medical Practice).

While it entails a lot of work and expense, I like that the focus is on improving competence and providing better patient care outcomes, not just passing a test and collecting credit hours, and it includes the need to reflect and assess (albeit self-assess) current competence, knowledge, and behavior. (More here, if you're interested in learning more about MOC.) Can you even imagine trying to put a similar system in place for meetings industry professionals?

Tweet: What are your thoughts on certifications for the meetings and events industry? http://ctt.ec/ZbldO+

What are your thoughts on certifications for the meetings and events industry? Are they meaningful proof of competency, creators of elitist cliques, useful ways to increase knowledge and improve the practice of meeting planning? All or none of the above? Do they improve the stature of meeting planning as a profession? Do they encourage “teaching to the test” rather than more abstract skills-development? I’d love to hear your thoughts.

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