The possibilities for enhancing your career by obtaining a credential, such as a degree, certification, certificate or license, abound. Even within the training industry, there are numerous college degrees and certifications available. With so many potential options and, often, little information on the competencies that they represent, how can consumers identify the credential that will provide the most benefit? And how can employers understand the value that their employees’ or potential employees’ credentials hold?

Creating more transparency for consumers and employers has been a concern in the credentialing world recently. Prompted by the ubiquity of credentials and the emergence of platforms like LinkedIn, Acclaim and Open Badges, which offer the ability to promote expertise through digital badges or skill endorsements, several efforts to validate these signifiers of competence have emerged. For example, both OpenBadges and Acclaim offer verifiable badges that allow you to easily determine details about the badge-issuing organization; the criteria for achieving the badge, including what the individual did to achieve it; when the badge was issued; and whether it has expired.

The Education Design Lab is undertaking a similar effort with its 21st Century Skills Badging Challenge. In partnership with Georgetown, George Mason, Vassar, and the Universities of Arizona and Virginia, among others, they are working to create micro-credentials for skills identified by employers as lacking in recent college graduates (e.g., critical thinking and ethical leadership). Instructors can award digital badges to represent these skills, allowing employers to understand more about applicants’ capabilities in addition to where they received their degree.

Another promising effort is the Credential Transparency Initiative (CTI), which aims to create a credential registry that organizes and provides information on the credentials available to both students and workers. This registry is intended to act as an online database, allowing users to search and view standardized information about the purpose, value and expectations of various credential options as well as other pertinent information (e.g., eligibility criteria, costs and industry). Funded through grants provided by the Lumina Foundation, CTI represents a collaboration among George Washington University, Workcred and Southern Illinois University. Notable participants in this pilot effort include the Human Resources Certification Institute (HRCI), the University Professional and Continuing Education Association, the U.S. Office of Personnel Management, and our very own Certified Professional in Training Management (CPTMTM) program.

What to Look for in a Credential

While we wait for these initiatives to take off, there are several factors to consider when determining the value of a credential. First, know the differences among the various types of credentials; there are important distinctions between certificates, certifications and licenses. Second, look for information on the knowledge, skills, and abilities (KSAs) or competencies that each credential signifies. When doing so, consider the methodologies used to develop the curriculum or assessments associated with the program. Assessments should be developed through rigorous psychometric research verifying their validity for evaluating the pertinent KSAs. Third, look for evidence that the credential is recognized in the industry and confers sustained career value. This evidence could include employers seeking individuals with that credential and outside accreditation.