What Is an ‘Accredited’ Certification? What Are We Doing About It?

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The Building Commissioning Certification Board (BCCB) is currently in the process of applying for accreditation to the ISO 10724:2012 for our Certified Commissioning Professional (CCP). This effort began 12 years ago and was designed to meet requirements for receiving accreditation by an industry-validated third party authorized to administer that standard.

Now, I’m sure it would come as no surprise that you can get just about any certification you want today – or for that matter, any diploma – with varying degrees of difficulty. What does it take to create and sustain a valid and trustworthy professional certification? For the BCCB, here’s how it happened, and where we are today:

In 2002, the Building Commissioning Association (BCxA) formed a Certification Committee under the leadership of BCxA member Bryan Welsh and committee members Jeff Rees, Gretchen Coleman, George Kevins and Dr. Chad Dorgan. Funding for the development of the certification program was provided by the Northwest Energy Efficiency Alliance (NEEA). During the first 18 months of its tenure, the Committee actively discussed what the components of the certification program should be, explored the professional issues associated with certification, researched other industry certification programs, and sought input from the BCxA membership. In 2002, BCxA management entered into a contract with Knapp and Associates International, a Princeton, NJ-based consulting firm and industry leader with a proven record of assisting professional organizations to develop certification programs.

The process was based on the International Standards Organization (ISO) 17024. Requirements for achieving accreditation through this standard included (1) establishing a framework for the administration of the program and (2) conducting a comprehensive survey of commissioning professionals to define the knowledge areas and specific skills required to conduct a successful building commissioning project. From this process, a comprehensive body of knowledge was developed and used a weighted technique to determine how the certification examination should be structured.

In May of 2003, fifteen test-writing volunteers from the BCxA membership met in Rancho Mirage, CA, for two days prior to the National Conference on Building Commissioning (NCBC) to begin crafting the certification examination. Several hundred test questions were formulated, reviewed by experts in psychometrics, edited and again reviewed by the Certification Committee.

The Committee spent extensive time developing criteria for candidates to qualify for eligibility to take the examination and for subsequent certification. With counsel from Knapp, a draft application form was created along with a special candidate bulletin that explained the process in greater detail. On June 15, 2004 the BCCB was officially incorporated in the state of Washington as a nonprofit. These activities were all elements of ISO 17024 requirements. By May of 2004, the BCCB rolled out their first CCP exam. Since then several test question revisions and eligibility updates have occurred; certifications are always a work in progress – as the job tasks change, so must the certification requirements.

Leaping forward eight years, in 2012, ANSI/ISO 17024 was updated, changing the accreditation requirements. To become accredited to this new standard is an expensive proposition. However, the BCxA and BCCB believe it is important to obtain. Why? Because by following an international standard verified by a credible third party we are saying to those who earn certification, as well as those who employ them, “We have gone the extra mile to prove our experience, knowledge, skills and abilities.” Similarly, when you review an ASHRAE standard like 202-2013 and see the ANSI logo on the cover, you know it has achieved the globally recognized mark of excellence in standard development.

Today there are many commissioning certifications in the market. Commissioning is now included in codes around the country. There are, very reasonably, a lot of questions about how to identify a “right” credential. Two organizations are trying to answer these questions: the International Accreditation Service and the US Department of Energy.

The International Accreditation Service (IAS), a subsidiary of the International Code Council, has created AC476 – Accreditation Criteria for Organizations Providing Training and/or Certification of Commissioning Personnel. Within this accreditation, IAS has developed a set of JTAs (Job Task Analysis) and KSAs (Knowledge, Skills and Abilities) along with eligibility requirements of applicants. AC476 also invokes a portion of ISO 17024, which has caused confusion for certifying organizations. Currently, the BCxA has chosen not to support AC476 in its current form but continues to work with IAS on ways to help the code officials.

The US Department of Energy (DOE) felt there were no objective criteria to answer the question of what constitutes a “right” credential in regards to commissioning. The DOE asked the National Institute of Building Science (Institute) to help them develop voluntary national guidelines, known as the Better Buildings Workforce Guidelines. The Institute established the Commercial Workforce Credentialing Council (Council) to lead development of those guidelines for five key job titles: Building Energy Auditor, Building Commissioning Professional, Energy Manager, Building Operations Professional, and Facility Manager.

The Institute asked BCxA to take an active role on this Council in two ways: at the Advisory Board level, and the subject matter expert (SME) level. This month the SMEs will be working on developing JTA and KSA documents that ultimately will become a professional standard. Once those documents are complete the SMEs will create a “scheme” – the eligibility requirements to qualify for the certification. The Advisory Board will then create guidelines for those who want to belong to the Better Buildings Workforce Guidelines Program. Upon approval to join the program, individual certification holders will be eligible to perform work on and/or in federal building projects. Job training will be conducted as part of the US Department of Labor Federal Personnel Training Act.

The BCCB has always known that accreditation to ISO 17024 was important and its certification holders. Requirements for accreditation now appear both imminent and unavoidable due to government initiatives and code mandates. The BCCB will be submitting their application to ANSI for the CCP program during the first quarter of 2016.


by Liz Fischer, Certification Director