Credentials, Certificates, Licenses Oh My! Part 1: What’s the difference?

August 11th 2016 by Lea

When launching your new career in the trades, just knowing where to start is the hardest part.

There are so many choices you have to make, such as which trade to pursue- welding or machining? LPN or phlebotomy? Auto mechanics or diesel tech? What kind of school to go to- community college? Private technical institute? Non-profit training center? And finally, what kind of credential to earn?

Of all these choices, picking which credential to earn may be the most confusing. Just the term credential can mean many different things! Technically, “Credential” is an umbrella term that includes educational certificates, degrees, certifications, and licenses. Each of these have different values in your career path and job search..

The easiest way to categorize credentials is by who issues them. There are three main categories:

  • Licenses, issued by the government.
  • Third Party/Industry Recognized Certifications, issued by employer-led third party groups.
  • Diplomas and Certificates, issued by educational training institutions.

Types of credentials

Here, we break down what each of those categories are, to help you pick the best one for your career goals.

  • License:

    Licenses are issued by the government at the state or national level. For example, the Department of Transportation gives truck drives a specific license to operate commercial vehicles. Not all trades require a license, but if your field does require it, you have to have one when searching for a job. You typically obtain a license by both completing an accredited training program, and passing the government regulated test. Sometimes, in order to keep a license, you’ll need to meet ongoing requirements like continuing education or re-taking the test every 5 years to stay licensed.

Examples: Commercial Driver’s License, Practical Nursing License, Electrician’s License.

  • Third Party/Industry Recognized Certification:

    Standards and assessments are set by third-party organization, usually made up of leading employers in the field, to obtain a third party credential. These credentials are recognized across large geographic areas, often nationwide, and help you secure your job position because employers know exactly what skills you have. They aren’t always required, but they are definitely valuable and a candidate with a third party credential will be looked at more favorably by employers.

Examples: American Welding Society certification, CompTIA certification, American Medical Certification Association certification

  • Diploma:

    Diplomas are issued by training institutions such as Community College and Private Technical Colleges. They show that you completed a comprehensive course on a topic, like Auto Mechanics or Welding. They are intended to provide students with skills leading directly to a specific job. They can include multiple smaller certification programs that build on each other to result in a diploma. Diplomas are helpful to your career but are not as valuable to employers as licenses or Third Party credentials, unless your school is widely recognized.

  • Certificate:

    A certificate usually comes after a shorter and more specific course from a Community College, Private technical College, Non-Profit training center, Online training program, etc. These courses can be a few weeks long up to a year, and the certificate that comes with them doesn’t have any future requirements. Although these certificates are vital to building specific skills in your career path, they aren’t always significant enough on their own to employers, and therefore we recommend obtaining additional credentials before starting your job search.

Find out which credential is right for your career path and job search in Credentials, Certificates, Licenses Oh My! Part 2: How to get the one employers really care about

Credential Chart