I read a blog post recently on this subject and found it very interesting, and quite relevant. I thought if the question is being asked, then let's address it! There is no doubt there are lots of people who get frustrated about certification, I'm one of them. I get frustrated because it gets so confusing for anyone who wants to be certified. Others get frustrated because it seems overrated? I'd like to give you a touch of my own insight, not to sell you on certification, but to talk about what certification is, why you need it and who offers a good one. I'll be straight up with you and will explain why certification is not a scam.

What is certification?
First, by definition, certification is a document that attests to the truth of certain stated facts; certification validates the authenticity of something or someone; certification confirms that some fact or statement is true through the use of documentary evidence you get the picture. Certification is basically the documentation that proves that an individual has the capability of understanding the facts. So then, two things are most relevant when looking at the validity of certification, these are 1) how the facts, respective of the certification, are derived and 2) how the facts, respective of the certification, are assessed.

1. Fact, respective to the industry -- where do they come from?
I'm not going to go into all the details of this, it would become a very large article series if I did. But in a nutshell, fact, as it relates to personal training, comes down to the understanding of certain exercise science principles and implementing fitness program design that is safe and effective. So the question is, where do those details come from and who makes sure that the certification company gets their facts straight? I'm more inclined to think if they all just willy-nilly come up with their own thoughts on personal training fact. Well, generally speaking, the fact comes from you -- from the experienced personal trainer and fitness enthusiast. Let me explain. When I say that the facts come from you, I mean that the certification agency should perform a task analysis study on a consistent basis and ask for industry-wide participation. Ultimately, this task study becomes distributed in the form of a survey whereby only a minimum number of respondents and respondent demographics can validate its results. This allows the certification agency to analyze the on-the-job skill set that is required of a personal trainer. Therefore, though you personally may not have taken one or another task analysis survey, the certification agency cannot randomly make-up its own fact for the purpose of their own assessment; this comes from a statistically sound sampling which then dictates the knowledge, skills and abilities (KSAs) that are assessed.

2. Assessment of certificate holders -- do we really know that they understand the facts?
The certification company does not randomly make-up its own fact regarding what a personal trainer should know to pass its test; that's something dictated by the industry study. Moreover, the trainer's KSAs must be demonstrated at some level (and this is where personal preference and a lot of other considerations, maybe even debate, can come in. ie. written test versus hands-on test, etc.). An actual assessment (or test) is the only sure thing that can substantiate a qualification such as a certification; just like your local CPA or electrician. The assessment itself is the core of a certification program. If you've never been a part of building, executing, analyzing, managing and improving a real test then it's understandable that scam may have come to mind. Scam, in the context of certification, makes me think of random guy A posting questions to some quiz engine, you login and take it as many times as you need to pass, and then 'poof' you're certified! Or, better yet, how about continuing education companies who refer to courses as a certification,Â❠not because they don't know better, but possibly because it's a better buzz word. A correctly developed, psychometrically tested, legally defensible exam is something you can rest assured does indicate that the person who passed it knows at least a baseline... does it make that person a great trainer, no.

What standard and to who's accountability are we holding certs to?
I guess what frustrates me even more than the diminishing values of free market enterprise, is the ease by which consumers are complacently confused. Not because we, as consumers, aren't bright enough to get it, we just don't want the responsibility of having to get it. In my opinion, this is the case in every industry and with almost any consumable good or service. Relevant example? Why would a client hire a personal trainer just because he/she is certified anyway? Is the onus not at all on the client to dig a bit deeper or use a better measuring stick than that? And do they even ask at all? In my experience, most clients don't even bother asking about certification (not until they're upset about something). Why? Let's go back to the example of the CPA make assumptions that because my accountant is certifiedÂ❠I will experience a certain level of bookkeeping satisfaction, but that alone won't do it for me. I'll extend some grace in an error or two, but not for long. Certified does not always mean qualified (I read that somewhere, and I agree). But where does our savviness as consumers, or employers, come into play? Maybe we scam ourselves a bit with attitudes of entitlement, or complacency, when it comes to our own personal responsibilities.

Angie Pattengale is the Director of Certification with National Federation of Professional Trainers (NFPT) and has been with NFPT since 1994. Angie was an integral part in leading NFPT to have its certification program accredited by the National Commission of Certifying Agencies (NCCA).


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