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Wilkinson Coutts & Matthews Integrity Training

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WILKINSON COUTTS / MATTHEWS INTEGRITY HUB: an up-to-the-minute information mix designed to help you with your lifework and career development in the asset integrity, inspection and NDE industries.

Matthew Petroleum Notes

Qualifications-v-Certifications: THE DIFFERENCE

The integrity industry, as a collection of technical disciplines, places a lot of importance on how people can demonstrate their level of knowledge and competence to do the job they are doing. This is primarily achieved by personnel qualifications and certifications, supported by experience. It’s a subject central to the objectives of both employee and employer. Let’s look at it;

Qualification-v- Certification; what’s the difference?

There are three things to say about this:

  • In the integrity industry, the difference is important
  • There is no single definition of the difference that everyone will agree on
  • The generally-understood meaning of the two terms are sufficiently clear to fit most circumstances, so there should be little need for confusion.

To add to the complexity the situation differs between countries. The USA has one of the strongest identities for certifications, whilst Europe and some other countries are historically not quite so enthusiastic about it, and place as much emphasis on qualifications.


Here’s the bones of the difference

Certifications refers to a person being tested to see if they are competent to do a job or task, usually by the passing of an examination and/or the completion of a program of study. Some professional certifications also require work experience in a related field before the certification can be awarded. Most certifications expire after a certain period of time and have to be maintained with further education and/or testing.

Qualifications show that a person has reached a certain standard in a programme of study. It may also suggest a person is suitable for a job but it doesn’t go so far as to necessarily imply competence. There is often no requirement to show relevant work experience and many qualifications (like degrees for example) do not have to be renewed.

There’s a small problem

The main difference then, pivots around the issue of conferring of a level of competence on the holder of certification, but not of qualification. Unfortunately, this is where the system falls down slightly as the level of real job-related competence that can actually be assessed by most certification programmes is quite limited. You would need someone looking over your shoulder for a year or so to properly do that. Neverthess, that’s broadly how the certification system works. 

The Certification Process is tighter

Owing to the higher-level status (let’s call it that) of certification programmes they are more tightly controlled by the certification bodies that provide them and award the certificates.

They generally have the following features

  • The certification body is itself accredited by some higher body to make sure the process is properly controlled
  • There are entry criteria for candidates e.g. previous qualifications, job experience, eye tests and employer references
  • There are formal examinations, often divided into several levels, with external monitoring of their content and results.
  • There is a regularly-reviewed and published BoK (body of knowledge) for the programme, setting its technical scope
  • There is a formal certificate issued to the certificated person and it generally needs regular renewal
  • Lists of certificated people are published so employers can check up on people who claim to be certificated.

What’s the conclusion?

On balance, the conclusion is that certifications are more technically focused, less generalized, more difficult to apply for (red tape) and have tougher exams than do qualifications. They have big BoKs (2000+ pages for some) and are more likely to have closed-book exams that you sit at an external testing centre.

ASME IThere are lots of certifications around in the plant integrity industry. You can see a summary of the major ones on our Qualifications and Certifications webpage. Certification providers also have very comprehensive websites showing the certification levels, BoKs, application procedures and various ‘programme documents’ that you, and they, have to follow. Like we said, there’s quite a bit of red tape about in most of them.

Finally, watch out for TICKET COLLECTORS

There’s no doubt that certifications and qualifications are a good thing. It’s worth repeating; they’re a good thing. So good in fact that you can find people who seem to do little else but collect them for a living. Read about this in our linked article Watch out for the Ticket Collectors.