Competence vs Qualification Personnel Certification Programs

Example of Competence for Quality Management System Auditors (ISO 19011)

Technical note by Dr. George J. Anastasopoulos*

Personnel certification was, is and will remain a desirable asset for any modern professional. In order to achieve it, significant effort and expenses are usually invested. Many times candidates have to choose between a “competence-based” and a “qualification-based” certification program. And in most of the cases the latter is “easier” and “cheaper” to achieve. But is it actually worth it? What is the difference between Competence vs Qualification Personnel Certification Programs?

Competence, in ISO 19011:2011 standard, is defined as “the ability to apply knowledge and skills to achieve intended results”. Competence based certification means that the PCB is expected to examine candidate’s knowledge, skills, personal attributes and qualifications specific to the program and/or scope of certification. Qualification based certification is based on the applicant's education and qualifications, rather than on the basis of measurable competence. The following short dialog is catalytic to understand, in a few words, the difference between “competence” and “qualification”:

- “Do you know how to drive a car?”
- “I got trained and acquired the driving license but I am still not confident to drive a car.”
- “That means you have qualification, not competence.”

There are college drop-outs who are CEOs of Fortune 500 companies as they have competencies, not qualifications. Therefore, having both qualifications and competencies helps immensely but people can still excel through competencies rather than qualifications.

International Organization for Standardization (ISO), recognizing this fact, decided that the certification of persons, according to International Standard ISO 17024, should be based on the demonstration of...