Credentialing: What’s in a Name? A Lot.
By JANE M. WEISSMAN
Certification, certificate, accreditation, licensing — they’re all terms we hear and use in the renewable energy industry. However, each one is different, conveying that a different set of criteria, requirements and achievements have been met. Confusion about these designations abounds, as they are used interchangeably
and often incorrectly.
First, credentialing is a general term that includes certification, certificate, accreditation and licensure.
Professional certification is a voluntary process by which a nongovernmental agency or association awards recognition to an individual who has met certain
predetermined requirements and qualifications specified by that agency or associa-tion.* Recipients are required to demonstrate competence according to professional
standards. The key words are voluntary (unlike mandatory government licensing),
individual (certification is not for a company or an educational program) and
professional standards. Certification can also apply to a product.
Certification is usually not awarded indefinitely. A person is awarded the credential
for a certain period of time — a year, two, three or more. Assessment is ongoing. There
are additional requirements to become recertified, usually including professional
development such as continuing education courses, proof of continued practice in
the field and, in some cases, a recertification exam. The certifying body can suspend
or revoke the award if there are infringements of policies or ethics.
Now, let’s take a look at a certificate. A certificate is issued after an individual
completes something such as a class or series of courses. There are certificates of
attendance or participation or curriculum-based certificates. An assessment-based
certificate demonstrates accomplishment of intended learning outcomes. A “
certificate” is a one-time statement about an individual, a snapshot defining an accomplishment. It does not follow the person through his or her career. There is no tracking or
additional requirements to meet. When someone receives a certificate, it does not
mean they are certified.
One who is awarded professional certification status is known as a certificant.
One who completes a certificate program is known as a certificate holder.
One way of distinguishing between the two is that a certificate holder has demonstrated specific knowledge learned in a course; a certificant has demonstrated
knowledge and skill from experience.
Now enters accreditation. This is also a voluntary process by which a nongovernmental agency grants time-limited recognition to an institution (such as a school or
college), laboratory, organization, business or other entity after verifying that it has
met predetermined qualifications standards. Accreditation is not for an individual.
Licensure refers to a mandatory system of standards, usually controlled by state government, to which a practitioner must conform in order to practice a given profession.
Within the renewable energy community, the North American Board of Certified
Energy Practitioners offers two professional certifications and also a photovoltaic
entry-level Certificate of Knowledge ( nabcep.org). The Interstate Renewable Energy
Council is the North American licensee for the Institute for Sustainable Power Quality
Standard for Accreditation & Certification of renewable energy training programs and
instructors ( ispqusa.org). Others offer certification and certificate programs. Remember, being awarded a professional certification or successfully completing a certificate
program does not replace any local or state licensing or other requirements.
Jane M. Weissman ( email@example.com) is executive director
of the Interstate Renewable Energy Council. Access irecusa.org.
to practice in a trade or profession. See “
Credentialing: What’s in a Name? A Lot,” le;.
;e North American Board of Certi;ed
Energy Practitioners (NABCEP, at nabcep.
org) o;ers voluntary, independent certi;cations for both PV and solar thermal system
installers. Candidates qualify based on documented systems installation experience and
training. To become certi;ed, individuals must
pass a wri;en examination, sign a code of ethics and maintain a minimum level of practice
and continuing education for recerti;cation
every three years.
While NABCEP certi;cation is neither a
license nor o;cial endorsement to engage in
practice of the trade, it is increasingly popular
among incentive program administrators as
a quali;cation to take part in the local industry. Some states have permi;ed otherwise
quali;ed electrical or plumbing contractors
to participate in these incentive programs on
a provisional basis, requiring them to a;ain
NACBEP certi;cation to remain eligible program participants.
At least a dozen states ; including Arizona, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida,
Hawaii, Maine, Michigan, Nevada, New Jersey,
Oregon and Utah ; have created regulations
to govern solar installations. (Find details at
dsireusa.org.) With a few exceptions, these
states have independently addressed solar
thermal installations under the plumbing or
mechanical trades and PV system installations
under the electrical trade rules.
For PV systems, some states have established regulations for installations under the
responsibility of electrical contractors through
board rules or legislative actions; others have
created limited licenses. For example, Connecticut o;ers a PV-1 limited solar electric
*Source: The NOCA Guide to Understanding Credentialing Concepts
CLICK for More Resources
Database of State Incentives for
Renewables and Efficiency, state rules,
regulations and policies: dsireusa.org/
The Interstate Renewable Energy
Council Training Catalog: irecusa.org/
National Joint Apprenticeship and
Training Committee: njatc.org
North American Board of Certified
Energy Practitioners: nabcep.org