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Professional Certification with a Global Mindset

Professional Certification with a Global Mindset

Posted by Joseph Caramagno on 02/02/2015

So you manage a professional certification program and you want to take it global? How are you going to establish and promote universal performance standards for a profession that differs from region to region?

Standing up a credentialing assessment program in a single region or territory is fairly complicated. Incorporating a global component is like asking Jackson Pollock to do face painting at the county fair. So if you’re thinking about taking your professional certification program on a world tour, here are two things to consider.

1. Multiple Bodies of Knowledge

A certification exam is based on a body of knowledge (BoK) that is unique to the profession (for example: nursing knowledge is different from automotive repair knowledge). But the laws, culture, and technology related to a profession tend to vary by region. So you can think of each region as having its own BoK for the same profession.

The extent to which there is overlap among the BoKs determines whether you should use one or more exams to evaluate professional competence. But how much overlap is required? In the words of a great many psychologists, “It depends.” One solution that has been used effectively to circumvent this problem is to offer a core subtest based on universal standards of practice and country by country subtests tailored to country-specific BoKs.

Core BoK diagram

If you take this approach, be cautioned that you’ll probably have to translate your test materials into multiple languages. Aside from the time and effort required to accomplish this, some ideas and concepts simply may not be clearly conveyed in all languages or cultural contexts. Determining how test questions should be written and how examinees in different countries will respond to them will be affected by their culture, language, religion, political and/or legal system, and so forth. This applies even across other English speaking countries in which case it may be important to know if your candidates take a lift to their flat or an elevator to their apartment – wear jumpers or sweaters – or store a first aid kit in the boot or the trunk.

2. Exam Types and Similarity

Your global certification exams need to be reliable and valid. If you create different forms of an exam or your exam types vary from one region to the next (essay vs. multiple-choice), your examinees will wonder whether similar pass/fail decisions are being reached depending on which exam they take. Here is an alternative strategy:

  1. Define a common core set of knowledge and skills required of all professionals independent of where they practice;
  2. Incorporate this core set into the test specifications (i.e., blueprint) ;
  3. Develop your exams to align with these specifications.

Make no mistake, engineering a professional certification for a global workforce is hard work. It requires careful planning and coordination with multiple stakeholders, and it takes time: a whole lot of precious time. If you have questions, get in touch with people in the credentialing world. They are probably working on some of the same issues you face and they would probably love to hear from you!

About the Author

Joseph Caramagno is a Research Scientist in HumRRO's Personnel Selection and Development Program.


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