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How are certification and certificate programs different?

Professional certification is different than a training or educational program. Professional or personnel certification programs and assessment-based certificate programs serve different purposes and although the terms sound similar, they are not interchangeable and their distinctions are important to understand.


The primary focus of a professional/personnel certification program is on providing an independent assessment of the knowledge, skills, and/or competencies required for competent performance of an occupational or professional role or specific work-related tasks and responsibilities. 

The purpose of the assessment process is to evaluate mastery of the knowledge, skills, or competencies required for certification. The assessment takes place after the participant has had the opportunity to acquire the targeted knowledge, skills, or competencies. The assessment is conducted in a standardized manner in a secure, proctored environment. Successful completion of the assessment is required to receive the certification. Certification also is intended to measure or enhance continued competence through recertification or renewal requirements. 

The certification awarded designates that participants have demonstrated the requisite, work-related knowledge, skills, or competencies and met other requirements established by the certification program provider (e.g., academic degree, a specified number of years of occupational or professional experience). 

Eligibility requirements ensure that the application process is fair and impartial. Each eligibility requirement has been established to ensure that individuals certified by ESPCC have an acceptable level of knowledge as demonstrated by the exam requirements and skill as demonstrated by the experience requirement needed to provide employment support services at an entry-level. In establishing these requirements, the ESPCC acknowledges that a combination of both work experience and demonstrated knowledge are essential for Certified Employment Support Professionals.

Training for the Examination

Additionally, it is important to note that the certification program provider conducts the certification program independently of any educational/training programs. That is, the assessment is NOT linked to a specific class, course, or other education/training program or to a specific provider of classes, courses, or programs. The assessment is NOT designed to evaluate mastery of the intended learning outcomes of a specific class, course, or education/training program, nor is the certification program provider the sole provider of any education or training that may be required for certification. The certification program provider also is not responsible for accreditation of educational or training programs or courses of study leading to the certification. 

Certificate Programs:

Training programs offer a certificate of attendance when an individual completes the coursework, but they do not give a credential. 

Training programs focus on providing information and education to enable students to master the curriculum of a specific career field. Certification programs provide the third-party, objective testing to validate that individuals who take the national exam are competent to pass an examination on nationally accepted professional competency standards.

Training programs typically offer a  certificate of attendance or certificate of completion when an individual completes the coursework, but they do not give a credential. Training programs may require individuals to pass an exam on the training content but the exam is not based on nationally standardized competencies and is not administered by an independent professional organization as is required of nationally accredited certification programs. A training certificate demonstrates that at a single point in time the individual completed a course. It does not necessarily show that they have the skills and knowledge to perform all of the requirements of a particular job as demonstrated by nationally accredited certification examinations.

Comparison between Certification (CESP) and ACRE Certificates


The Association of Community Rehabilitation Educators (ACRE) encourages the use of competency-based training. Training approved by ACRE is at least 40-hours and focused on employment competencies that align with the CESP. Please go to the ACRE website for more information.

Access a 1-page document highlighting the differences between the ACRE Training Certificate and the APSE CESP Credential.


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