Certification boards face many questions about their programs. Among these is the question: “Is a shorter recertification cycle better?” As with most questions about certification program “best practices,” the answer is always—it depends. In this case, we don’t have to leave it at that, so let’s take a look at the variables that might dictate the length of a recertification cycle.
We’ll look first at our audiences: the certification board and the certificant. Then we’ll look at some of the benefits of a shorter cycle. Finally, we’ll look at how a cutting-edge certification management system can minimize the downsides.
Is a Shorter Recertification Cycle Better for Certification Boards and Certificants?
Before we decide what is better or worse, let’s take a look at what is better or worse “for whom?” First, let’s consider the needs of our certificants: they will be primarily influenced by factors such as cost and disruption to their work lives. We need to make sure the recertification cycle does not place an undue burden or cost. For our certification boards, factors will be influenced by other considerations like administrative feasibility and program reputation. Recertification cycle policies shape staffing requirements, such as peak staffing and customer support times. With respect to program reputation, we are talking about how certification requirements conform to the underlying promise of our certification. Fast-paced professions, for example, may need constant refreshers, whereas, in industries with more stability, knowledge may be more enduring. So when considering our choices, we want to make sure we can:
- Convince our certificants that the cycle makes sense.
- Make sure we don’t drown in applications and customer support needs.
- Maintain the rigor our community expects of us.
So let’s take a look at how a shorter recertification cycle better suits our certificants, staff, and reputation.
The Benefits of a Shorter Recertification Cycle
A shorter recertification cycle has the following benefits for each constituent. Let’s consider the “short recertification cycle” as a one-year interval.
The Benefits for Certificants
- Annual requirements mean greater consistency, so fewer certificants lapse because they can’t remember whether they are due to renew “this year” or “next year.”
- Annual requirements mean that a person stays abreast of current issues at a more steady pace. Certificants incorporate professional development into their practice continuously.
- There is no cramming at the last minute, so any stress due to the recertification process is more evenly distributed.
- A person can only fall one year behind in requirements, whereas in a multi-year cycle, a person may fall so far behind that it is impossible to make up for lost time.
The Benefits for Staff
- The staff ensures contact information does not fall behind a person’s transitions.
- Policy changes apply to everyone equally within the current year. Therefore, staff does not have to anticipate how change affects certificants in the middle of their cycle vs. those at the end of their cycle.
- More consistent requirements may reduce customer support requests for extensions and exceptions to those who fall behind.
- Application spikes are more predictable because everyone is in the same cohort instead of different-sized cohorts for different years.
- Consistent recertification submissions, year over year, will lead to more predictable recertification revenue.
- Staff can modify policies and know they will affect all certificants. This allows the program to emphasize high-risk competencies.
- Rapidly changing fields encourage continuing competence.
- Improved certificant engagement, which is due to constant interaction between the Board and certificants.
The Benefits of a Longer Recertification Cycle
Longer intervals have some benefits, but we’ll see that they may not have all the impact we expect.
The Benefits for Certificants
- Longer recertification cycles allow certificants to concentrate on their careers instead of recertification requirements.
- Certificants don’t have to interrupt their work to perform the administrative details to demonstrate compliance.
- Certificants can concentrate professional development efforts in particular years to make dramatic strides instead of thinking about short-term exercises.
The Benefits for Staff
- Processing recertification applications will require fewer staff members because the number of recertification candidates is a fraction based on the number of years in the cycle.
- Even though the benefits to reputation for a shorter cycle are compelling, many prestigious boards manage long-term recertification cycles, so as long as the rationale is to be consistent with other prestigious boards, the argument “we are just like them” may hold some weight.
- Longer recertification cycles may allow more strategic milestones. For example, the members of The American Board of Medical Specialties organize the 10-year recertification cycle into three distinct cycles followed by an examination requirement. The program can define distinct requirements for shorter cycles within a longer span.
- If the program has stable requirements, such as a body of knowledge that changes on a predictable, longer cycle, a longer recertification cycle that aligns with modifications to the body of knowledge demonstrates alignment between expectations and requirements.
How to Remove Obstacles for Shorter Recertification Cycles
The list of advantages of longer and shorter recertification cycles is not entirely balanced. Many of the advantages of longer cycles are purely administrative, such as reducing staff time and fewer check-ins with certificants. Many programs whose practice areas probably warrant a shorter recertification cycle may choose a longer cycle just because of the perceived burden on certificants and staff. If the perceived administrative burden is the real obstacle, let’s look at some of the choices a program can make to achieve shorter recertification cycles without the administrative overhead.
A close look at the administrative burden of a shorter cycle shows that it is largely illusory. On the one hand, not having to submit recertification requirements every year means people don’t have to think about it every year, but on the other hand, it means people are more likely to forget. Similarly, for staff, processing additional applications may be time consuming. However, it is quite likely that having more current contact information and simplifying recertification rules will balance the amount of time required to handle exceptions.
The administrative burden can also be lessened by implementing strategic policies, such as audit processes. Programs that review all applications may move to a partial audit that allows them to check a smaller number of applications. Simpler and more consistent recertification applications will result in fewer customer support requests and higher rates of compliance.
Deciding What’s Best for Your Program
As you consider if a shorter recertification cycle is ideal for your program, first consider the kinds of competencies your program addresses and the frequency of change in your profession. Your reputation hinges on the alignment between what you say about your profession and the rigor of your requirements.
If you find that a shorter recertification cycle will provide an incentive to stay current in a rapidly changing profession, there are ways to implement programs to shorten recertification cycles while minimizing the administrative burden for your practitioners and staff. In most cases, you’ll need a robust certification management system that makes the application process easy for everyone and lets you harness your staff resources to the areas of greatest need.
Getting Started with Heuristic Solutions
As you probably have realized there are benefits to both longer and shorter recertification cycles. If you have more questions about if a shorter recertification cycle is better for your program, we would love to help.