Definitions and Terms

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An official record or document (such as a certificate or diploma) which shows a person has completed a course of study or training and is qualified to practice a profession or activity. A qualification is expressed in a formal document (e.g., a certificate, degree, diploma, or award).

According to the European Commission a qualification is ‘a formal outcome of an assessment and validation process which is obtained when a competent body determines that an individual has achieved learning outcomes to a given standard’.

Qualifications for technicians/operators can be considered ‘occupational’ and provide a standard usually in the form of a list of competencies (‘vocational’ skills), corresponding to the main tasks and functions of an occupation. These qualifications/standards differ from qualifications/standards in education where the focus is on what people need to learn, how they will learn it, and how the quality and content of learning will be assessed. In educational qualifications/standards, the competencies are organised in learning fields (or teaching units), following the logic of progressive accumulation of knowledge and skills: the aim is to steer the learning process.

These differences are necessary as some competencies required in the workplace are beyond the scope of educational and assessment processes.

There is often confusion over the terms ‘qualification’ and ‘certification’. Engineering standards ask for ‘qualified’ personnel (‘qualified’ through training and/or experience) to produce the products to the required standard. Standards such as ASME B31.4 ask for these qualified personnel, but never ask for ‘certified’ personnel.

Companies often decide who is ‘qualified’, by assessing their personnel’s training and experience against their own processes and criteria. The customer must trust the companies’ processes. These processes and criteria are documented but they are not usually ‘certified’ (a verification that the product, service or system in question meets specific requirements). These ‘employer-based’ qualifications will lead to a variety of criteria, inconsistency, and lack of credibility.

A better approach is for an independent third-party certification body to certify the qualification, based on a central certification standard, or agreed processes and criteria.

Qualification Descriptor

A statement of outcomes which are to be assessed, and which a student should be able to demonstrate for the award of the qualification.

A statement of the wider abilities that a typical student would be expected to have developed, to give a wider view of the capabilities of the holders of the qualification.

Qualification Level

Qualifications are usually grouped into levels; for example, in England and Wales academic qualifications range from entry level to level 8:

  • Levels 1 to 3: e.g., qualifications awarded at high school level.
  • Levels 4 to 5: e.g., under-graduate qualifications.
  • Level 6: e.g., bachelor’s degree.
  • Level 7: e.g., post-graduate certificate/diploma/degree (masters).
  • Level 8: doctorate.

Qualifications at the same level are a similar level of difficulty, but the size and content of the qualifications can vary.


An individual that has been evaluated and can perform assigned tasks.