J. David M. Rozsa is CEO of Metacred, an association management company dedicated to developing, managing, and growing the best credentialing programs in the world. Metacred acts as the certification or accreditation department for its clients, which include not-for-profit associations and for-profit companies.
In this episode, co-host Celisa Steele gets David’s expert perspective on the world of credentialing, including current opportunities and threats; what it takes to create a successful credential; and why stakeholder input—beyond potential applicants—is so important. They also discuss how to demonstrate the impact of credentials, what learning businesses need to consider before launching a new credentialing program, and the value of digital badges.
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[00:00] – Intro
The Role and Value of Credentials
[01:49] – How do you describe the role of and the value of credentials?
Credentials advance consumer safety and protection. They advance stakeholder risk management of outcomes in practice and workforce development gaps in the labor market and, ultimately, economic development.
The value of credentials is to provide third-party validation of competencies as a risk management tool for consumers, employers, and other stakeholders, as well as a way for workers themselves to improve their chances of earning higher compensation.
The Process for Creating a Successful Credential
[03:15] – At a high level, what goes into getting a successful credential started?
- Start with a needs analysis. Before entering into program development, make sure there is (a) significant demand for third-party validation of competencies for an occupational role and (b) enough potential applicants who can invest in their professional growth so that the certification program will be able to charge exam fees sufficient to be a net-positive revenue center for the organization.
- Identify all stakeholder groups that have an interest in the occupation to be credentialed. This includes potential applicants and also their employers, customers, patients, business partners, suppliers, vendors up and down the supply chain, related advocacy groups, government regulatory authorities, etc.
- Determine what each stakeholder group would value in a credential for that occupation. This informs your definition of the credential program purpose, which in turn drives all other decisions about developing the new program.
- For a personnel certification program, conduct a formal job analysis to define the knowledge and skills necessary for competent practice of the certified occupational role. This determines the topics for the exam and the period for recertification. This, combined with your program purpose, allows you to set the eligibility requirements and the recertification standards.
- Train subject matter experts in that particular occupational role as item writers, and have them draft exam questions.
- Enlist a diverse group of subject matter experts to serve as your exam committee and refine those draft questions.
- Data-test the exam, fix or retire any poor performing items, construct your final exam forms, and set the passing point through a formal test score study.
- Throughout this process, market and promote the new program to the various segmented audiences of stakeholders to encourage uptake.
Common Credentialing Missteps
[07:18] – Are there common missteps or things that organizations tend to get wrong about credentialing?
The biggest myth is failing to consider the needs of stakeholders other than potential applicants.
When you only think about the universe of potential applicants when you’re building the credential program, you end up with a program that doesn’t really align with what employers and customers and the other stakeholder groups care about. So then the practitioners don’t have external pressures on them to earn the certification. You don’t have employers requiring the certification, et cetera, and, ultimately, that results in lower application rates, smaller profitability, if any, and often the program eventually fails.J. David M. Rozsa
David recommends ASAE Foundation’s ForesightWorks research. In particular, the action briefs on Education 3.0 and microlearning offer insights into aligning credentials with workforce development needs.
[08:52] – Because it’s so important to work with employers and other stakeholders, why do you think it doesn’t happen all the time? Is it just a matter of insufficient time and energy?
Part of the issue is insufficient time and energy, and part is that engaging with employers and other stakeholders simply isn’t considered. There are many people working in credentialing and professional development more broadly who aren’t focused on the marketing or business side of their work, which can feel overwhelming.
Building a credential that aligns with the needs of different stakeholder groups takes more work but tends to get much greater support and be much more successful.
Typical Timeline for Rolling Out a Credential
[10:37] – Is there a typical timeline for rolling out a credential, from the idea to walking through the high-level steps you laid out?
David has seen creating and rolling out a credential go as quickly as four months and take as long as four years. It really depends on the willingness of the organization to invest both money and time, as well as availability of the volunteer leaders and subject matter experts to meet.
The Current State of Credentialing: Opportunities and Threats
[13:06] – How would you characterize the current state of credentialing? What do you see as the big opportunities or the big threats?
There are significant opportunities for the globalization and localization of credentials. There is also opportunity for microcredentialing and developing credentialing ecosystems that provide learning pathways aligned with the needs of employers and consumers. For example, microcredentials may lead to larger certificates that ultimately result in a certification at a certain point, with regional endorsement modules and specialty post-certification credentials. That type of ecosystem aligns well with the game theory approach to learning that has been proven to be pretty successful.
One threat to credentialing is the undercurrent of anti-intellectualism. There’s an ASAE Foundation ForesightWorks action brief on the rejection of expertise. That’s a growing threat, as well as the economic recession, both of which cause a reduction in individuals’ investment in their own skills and growth.
How Credentialing Has Evolved
[14:38] – How have you seen credentialing evolve over the course of your career? Are there any trends that you’ve noticed unfold during your years working?
In the couple decades David has been involved with certification and accreditation, he’s seen a marked improvement in legal defensibility across all credentialing programs. There’s also been significant international expansion and international collaboration across credentials. More and more organizations are recognizing the need to align their professional development products with the needs of employers and other stakeholders.
One of the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic has been to accelerate the adoption of live remote proctoring for certification exam administration. Remote proctoring was resisted by the organizations that accredit personnel certification programs for many years because of exam security concerns, but, due to the pandemic, it was necessitated. The uptick in application rates, once live remote proctoring launched as an option for certification customers, was very significant.
[16:59] – Will live remote proctoring continue, or were some of the credentialing bodies only making exceptions during the pandemic?
When the Institute for Credentialing Excellence, NCCA—the body that accredits personnel certification programs along with ANSI ISO/IEC 17024—came out with its initial acceptance of live remote proctoring in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, it was intended to be temporary. But, due to pressure from certifying organizations that are members of ICE, it has been made permanent. The adoption and the convenience to the customer has outweighed the security concerns.
Innovative Approaches to Credentialing
[18:49] – Are there any innovative approaches to credentialing that you can share?
One of the more interesting recent trends is trying to assess an individual’s soft skills. Metacred is researching whether there is an objective way to do this. David thinks employers and customers would appreciate the value of a certification that validates skills in innovation, collaboration, creativity, and other soft skills.
Metacred is also measuring the impact of credentials on actual outcomes in practice to ensure the credentials have real-world value. They are asking applicants to tell them about their current outcomes in practice, using whatever metrics their stakeholders would care about for that particular profession, at the point of application and then again at the point of recertification. They are trying to determine whether there’s a correlation between somebody earning the credential (all the study and preparation that goes into passing the exam, as well as meeting the eligibility requirements, and then all the continuing professional development that goes into the periodic recertification) and improved job performance. So far, they’ve seen significant correlation.
And I think that ultimately is where the credentialing industry will have to go, rather than focus on whether somebody has knowledge or whether they have previously done certain things within the context of their work—knowledge-based or competency-based credentialing—to really focusing on the outcomes piece of it.J. David M. Rozsa
[20:48] – What are you doing to incentivize those credential-holders to share that outcomes data with you?
David believes the largest incentive is to make something mandatory, and so, when possible, they require applicants for most of their managed credentialing programs to share both outcomes in practice and salary.
This happens again at the points of recertification. Individuals can’t submit an application for initial certification or recertification without completing that data, so the participation rate is 100 percent, and there hasn’t been any negative impact on application or recertification rates.
Credentialing Advice for Learning Businesses
[23:35] – What high-level advice do you have for learning businesses to help them get their credential programs right?
For a new credentialing program, David suggests the following:
- Be aware that certification program development is an expensive proposition, especially due to the legal defensibility requirement of having to conduct a job analysis.
- Ongoing management of the program also requires specialized expertise that is in short supply.
- Investing in marketing is critical. It’s not necessarily true that “If you build it, they will come.”
- Partner with other organizations to help share investment costs or management workload.
- Have a rational basis for every decision, maintain the firewall between certification and education, and follow your own policies consistently.
Do what you say you’re going to do. Hopefully your program’s purpose is focused on consumer protection and workforce development needs. So sleep well knowing that you are making the world a better place.J. David M. Rozsa
The Value of Digital Badges
[25:43] – What are your thoughts on digital badges and their value (or lack thereof)?
David believes digital badges are inevitable and considers them a standard part of business. Metacred digitally badges all of the credentials they manage. (They have a strategic partnership with Credly for this.)
The main difference between a digital badge and any other indicia of a credential is that the digital badge has real-time verification of the fact that it’s still valid. A digital badge is significantly high value compared to a a piece of paper, and it’s very low-cost, so David doesn’t see any argument against digital badging.
[27:36] – Wrap-up
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