Friday, October 22, 2010

Certification is failing, do we need Professional Accreditation?

Recently a question was posed by a colleague "Certification as a concept has lost it's meaning... The future as I see it, in line with other professions is not only to be certified, but accredited by some national body".

With volunteer lifesaving though Surf Lifesaving Australia, for the bronze medallion, for instance:
1. You must demonstate pool swim proficiency (400m in less than 9 minutes)
2. You must complete the training course (about 5 days)
3. You must pass the written exam
4. You must be able to do a run, swim (400m ocean swim), run within time limit
5. You must be assessed for practical components (rescues, lifts, resuscitation, first aid, observation, radio)

Then each year you have to redemonstrate proficiency, including:
1. Above again
2. Recap on changes to procedures (about 1 - 2 days)
3. Above - cut down written proficiency exam
4. Above again
5. Above again (criteria selected by assessors)

And you must maintain a minimum number of patrol (or water safety) volunteer hours per year.

Last year I did effectively 5 days of training. This year for proficiency, it probably took me another 2 - 3 days. The practical assessment alone was 0.5 days.

It is a lot for doing around 50 volunteer hours per annum, but they are very professional in their approach, and one reason why ultimately in our own company culture we aspire to Surf Lifesaving Australia's values. Many of them are skills that I may never have to use, but when I do need them I am confident I will get 90% of it right, and that will make a difference. The other key is you work as a team, and that way you support and remind each other on learned skills, they focus a lot on communication. It comes out in assessment, as they encourage team work in assessment, and look for the communication and reminding each other of procedures. That should be a goal in our work also.

So what is reasonable for someone doing this 1000 - 1500 hours per annum in their profession. Obviously if you are doing it everyday, the training and assessment is quite different. Is revisiting 5 days of training and assessment each year appropriate? This would exhaust the average training budget industry currently provide (see our industry benchmark).

So why can we expect such a high level of training in lifesaving (which is based on volunteers), but in a professional discipline, which also has some significant impact on people's lives and livelihood, skills expectations are not at a similar level.

I think the training provide by SLSA is great. I find the time commitment a big challenge though. And sometimes the reasoning on procedure changes is confusing.

So yes, I agree about stepping up to accreditation. Foundation level certification being the current bar is way to low, and the way much of the assessment is done is just pathetic. The outcomes are disappointing. I am certain with multi-choice exams done online, I would guess that around 30% of answers come not from the assessee, but from some other coach. I have seen this first hand with other multi-choice proficiency exams in other disciplines.

Certification is a step in the right direction, but failing to improve skills and competency outcomes, means that our best intentions may ultimately be threatened, and certification will be seen as a farce and a failure, and our intentions are reversed.

How to get influence???

It needs to be influenced via an industry body like the ACS, or a National Training Authority. Ultimately in needs commitment from employers that it makes a difference to the outcome and productivity.

I think there is a long way to go...


  1. "Foundation level certification being the current bar is way to low, and the way much of the assessment is done is just pathetic." I can't agree more. If you prepare little bit on your own (without any help from third party), I am sure you can pass these certifications.

    All I hear from software testing industry people is we need
    -good accreditation
    -influence via industry body
    -commitment from employers

    However, one thing I don't hear a lot of software testing people addressing/mentioning is about "Desire to improve oneself in software testing". I would like to hear your thoughts on is.

  2. I would agree and add one thought. When I was in the US Navy, I had to undergo general training for my profession (Electronics Technician). When completed my basic school, which was 18 months of instruction, multiple guess and written exam, and practical tests; I had the opportunity to specialise on a specific system. When I was finished with the specialised system I was certified to work on the the system. When I finally arrived at my duty station I had to do a reassessment that needed to be completed in the first six months to prove I could work on the actual system I was in charge of.

    Since most testers in the IT industry start off not trained in testing or an engineering or science degree, the certification is the first real education in testing most individuals get. Accredidation across a specific industry area such as automation, non-functional testing, and test management should be performed to meet specific standards like the new ISO standard for Software Testing 29119. Finally, because companies have specific types of systems such as main frames, SAP, Sharepoint, Web based, RIA and Client Server applications; individual testing groups within companies and government departments should put together a set of qualifications requiring individuals to prove their understanding of testing not just in the organisation but specifically for each system under test.
    I believe this type of rigor in the industry would give confidence in the IT industry that Testers really are professionals.

    I would also believe that as professionals that we don't have to rely on our employer only on our career development. There should be some commitment by the individual to volunteer some of their time to improving there testing skills.

  3. I would agree with you Kelvin. I would also like to add that beyond accreditation. That testing groups within a company should create qualification standards for the various types of systems they test such as Web, SAP, RIA, Sharepoint, Main Frame. I would also recommend Mentoring within testing organisations. The first engineering position I had I was teamed up with a Senior Engineering to provide guidance and support for the first three years while I learned the practical aspects of engineering.

    In addition, as you have done with lifesaving professionals will develop their skills outside of working hours and volunteer their expertise and contribute to the industry as a whole through activities such as open source projects, conferences, blogging, pod casts and forums.

    Thanks for the post Kelvin.