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Course Certificates, Certifications, Licensure: Choosing Training to Meet Your Goals

Unfortunately I often see people touting their program as certification or people asking if a course certifies them to perform a certain type of work. It is quite apparent that people are often mistaken as to what terms relating to educational and training courses really mean. It is important to understand what the terms mean and how they relate to your professional goals.

Certificates, Certification, and Licensure

Certificates of Attendance are given out at courses where simply being present it all that is required to receive the certificate. These courses are informational in nature such as webinars or conference attendance. However, they do not require any testing the student must pass in order to receive the certificate.

Certificates of Training are awarded at courses where the student receives the instructional content and then passes an assessment to show that they have not only been present but that they listened and understood the content.

Certification on the other hand is an award by an entity that confers upon the holder that entity’s recognition as fully able to master the concepts of a specific field at a designated level. For instance, ASIS International has several levels of certified security practitioners such as the Associate Protection Professional, the Physical Security Professional, and the Certified Protection Professional. These are similar to how other professions such as craftsmen have Apprentice, Journeyman, and Master levels of certification to denote the education, experience, and quality of craft of the craftsman. In the protection industry and many others, the certification is denoted by letters following the name such as Jane Doe, CPP. This is called a designation. These certifications, unlike the certificate courses, often require a component of continuing education necessary to meet renewal of the qualification at the end of its certification life. These are called Continuing Education Units.

Licenses on the other hand is a legal designation, or proof that you are qualified to work in your profession or to operate a machine such as a vehicle. Moreover, you can have a title and yet be unlicensed. For instance, a person can be a certified massage therapist because they have completed the necessary schooling program to be certified to do that job. However, they may not have the license to legally perform that business. They are still a massage therapist. That is why it is important to distinguish between licensed and certified individuals. Whereas a certification simply means that a certifying entity says the person meets all of their requirements to have their certification and to use their designation the licensure is the government stamp of legal approval. Nor does having a license equal certification. Some jurisdictions may allow someone to have a license to work or perform an act without completing a certification. For instance, you may find into some jurisdictions that provide a license as long as a person pays the necessary application fee. In other jurisdictions they may require proof of completion of a certifying institutional program before they will licensure you to work in that field within their jurisdiction. Always be wary of organizations that use misleading language to make their certification sound like licensure.

Continuing Education Units: are awarded by organizations for completion of courses that supply certificates of attendance or training. Certification and licensing entities alike often require CEUs in order to renew the certification or license after a certain period of time. It is always important to check the rules on what is accepted by the organization which you are trying to attain credit toward the license or certification to see what courses qualify toward renewing the credential. Some organizations may be extremely lax in what they allow to be as CEUs for renewing their credential. They may allow a wide range of courses to be used as CEUs, even ones their organization has no personal knowledge or analysis thereof. For instance, the Kansas Attorney General’s Office allows a wide array of courses to be used toward renewal of the state’s PI license. Other entities may only allow you to use courses that they have specifically reviewed and determined meet their criteria for CEUs. In those instances, you will need to verify that a training provider, or sometimes even a specific course is recognized by the credentialing entity for CEUs toward that renewal. Sometimes the credentialing authority, such as a state licensing authority, will have a list on their website as to what courses and/or what training providers are acceptable for use to receive towards that specific credential.

Choosing a Learning Program

There are several factors that one should consider when choosing a program. What is their reason for learning? Will the course support their educational goal? Will they be able to learn effectively in the course? Will the course be cost effective?

Reason for Learning

Necessary learning happens when you need to take a course in order to gain some type of advantage or credential. When it comes to choosing a learning program for yourself it is important to identify your needs and goals first. Are you needing to become licensed to perform a service? If so, you need to look at the licensing requirements. Do you need to receive a certification in order to be licensed? If so, you need to ensure that you find a learning program that awards that certification. You also need to ensure that the licensing authority recognizes that credentialing entity as an acceptable certification program. Did you check the licensing board’s website to see if that company was on the list of approved training providers?

Learning for fun just happens when we want to know more about something and do not see any significant professional advantage coming from the course. As someone who’s completed over 300 courses there are a number of them that were just for fun because I had the opportunity to go. For instance, I took a course in the military on ballistic missiles though I had no responsibilities related to ballistic missiles whatsoever. The course was free and I was bored. Some people just enjoy learning to enrich their own mind or understanding the world without having a practical purpose. Or, the course may be business related (for instance something you could write off on taxes) but not be truly necessary or practical for your needs. For instance, there are many security professionals that do not need a close quarters battle course or a security driving course for their specific work duties. However, they are fun courses to take.

Skill building courses are the types of courses we take to initially learn or continue building on concepts and training.

Course levels

Not all courses are made for the same audience. Some courses would be wasted in terms of financial cost-benefit for a student because they would cover basic subject matters with which the student may already have the comprehension of the subject matter the course would provide. Others would be too advanced for a student who does not have previous knowledge of subject matter. That is why it is important to look at the target audience and any pre-requisites or recommended learnings for students to have before attending that course. Simply people go to many courses on the same subject does not mean that you are progressing in your knowledge. If you keep going to awareness-level courses you are going to maintain an awareness-level knowledge.

Awareness-level courses are for those who have no or very little knowledge of the subject matter. In awareness-level courses students are being introduced to the concepts and the basics of a subject matter. The collegiate version are the 100 level courses. Sometimes these courses may be indicated by their titles such as “basic” or “introduction to…” These are great courses for those who are just getting into a new field of study.

Intermediate courses build on the foundation of the earlier courses in their program or require the student to have gained the awareness-level concept elsewhere.

Advanced practitioner level courses are for those that have significant previous study and/or experience in the subject and are looking to gain a mastery level of knowledge.

Course Content

What if you are wanting to take a course to get into a specific niche of an industry? You need to look at the syllabi of the courses. Any training provider should be willing to give you at least a basic outline of the concepts that they will be teaching in a course like that shown in Figure 1. Both of the courses shown in Figures 1 and 2 are Executive Protection courses. However, as you can see these courses are not clones of each other. You will learn different techniques and subjects based on which of these EP courses you choose to attend. And the same goes with if you go to a course like Independent Security Advisers LLC. The ISA course is heavily focused on risk assessment and advances. So, if you are wanting to get into a niche area of EP for instance, you might want to choose a course based on which elements of the syllabi more closely match what you are wanting to learn.

Figure 1: Protective Detail Specialist, Select-International

Figure 2 - 4 Day EP Agent Training, LaSorsa & Associates

Instructors and Learning Styles

Who is the instructor? How much do they know? What is their reputation like? Unfortunately, there is only so much vetting we can do of potential instructors. Course reviews by students are a decent starting point. I do tend to take student reviews with a grain of salt. The student might have ulterior motives in giving an instructor an unduly positive or negative review, especially in the instance if the instructor also runs a business in which the student hopes to be a prospective hire. There are other things to look at besides just student reviews. Has the instructor or their program received any awards or been recognized by prestigious organizations for their course’s content or method of instruction? Are they certified by other organizations as instructors? For instance, is ABC Security Company’s Executive Protection Course instructor also a certified by a police department as an instructor for their Executive Protection Unit or by the Department of State or other agency to teach a similar program to its employees? Another issue when deciding who you want to receive instruction from is what is that instructor’s teaching methods like. I have been to courses of instruction with amazing syllabi but the instructor made me hate the course because the way they taught. I have also been to courses I probably reviewed too highly because I liked the instructor even though their content was lacking. I do not find Professor Severus Snapes to be agreeable to me in awareness-level courses or awareness-level portions of courses. We have already paid to learn from an instructor because we know they know more than we do. Being condescending to one’s students to reinforce that is a quick turn off and a detraction from learning for me. Also, so are the ones that treat the student body as a captive audience to listen to the stories of their heyday when they were a young buck in the military or in law enforcement. If the story is pertinent to the material, then absolutely use it, but some just treat their students as hostages to their nostalgia. It can quickly turn a course into noise-over-signal in which students begin daydreaming about other things while the instructor is off on memory lane talking about how they onetime had pancakes in Baghdad with some general or the time you were executing a warrant on a meth lab (completely unrelated to the module of instruction we are on), and the student misses it when the instructor comes back to reality and gets back to the course material. Another teaching method issue is that some people learn in different ways. Some of the learning types are visual, auditory, or practical. For example, I do not like verbal communication so I have a hard time paying attention to speakers but I enjoy reading content or watching someone perform an act and then attempting to replicate the act myself. Is the instructor going to teach in a way that will maximize your learning potential? Even if not initially as part of their instruction will they take the time to go over something with you in a different way if you did not comprehend the material in the format that they said or demonstrated it the first time? Good instructors adapt to the different styles of the students.

Ratings and Reviews I know I just said to be leery of student reviews. However, there are important things to look for. I have avoided several schools because I saw numerous students complain that the institution was slow in sending them the necessary proof of training completion, they needed to apply for a state security license. Another is non-delivery of the course. If students tell me they were surprised on the day a course is set to begin with a notification the course will not be conducted that is a red flag for me.

Course Distribution Methods Residential learning is the oldest method of teaching where you are in a shared physical space with the instructor. One of the best reasons to select an RL option is when you need practical hands-on training that requires a team or the use of implements you do not possess on your own such as training aids. RL courses may, stress only may, provide a better opportunity for social networking with peers. Another added benefit of RL can be mental devotion to the class. Whereas studying at home or elsewhere you may have to contend with other sensory demands that may distract you from your learning in an RL setting you can more fully devote yourself to the class. Issues arise in time away from work and home, costs of attendance such as airfare or vehicle gas, and lodging if necessary.

Distance learning is the more modern method of being able to learn from anywhere in the world. Even before digital we had the correspondence courses, or methods where you do your homework and mail it in or perhaps relay your answers via a conference or telephone call with the institution. But for the most part now DL is learning right from our smartphones and computers. And when it comes to lectures or solo learning there really is no benefit to RL over DL unless you have a learning or attention issue involving DL concepts. Used to one could say that practical applications could not be taught by distance learning. However, with camera technology students can now demonstrate physical practical mastery in many aspects just as easily as they could in a RL setting. If one surgeon can mentor another via systems like Zoom during life-critical open-heart surgery many of the hands-on portions of our training courses can also be done via DL.

- At your own pace learning is a concept where you can access the course material at any time day or night, whichever fits your availability and needs. This is great for those who cannot be in class during specified hours. The negative to this is that answers to questions are not immediate. You will likely correspond with the instructor via email for questions.

- Instructor-led virtual learning is the concept of DL but doing it at a set time where the instructor is still teaching it like a classroom often via a medium such as Zoom. The positive aspect is that you have instant access to chat with the instructor and class to discuss questions. The downside is that the set hours for this IVL may impact your work-private life schedule.

Blended learning is a great option for courses that have both elements of the above. For instance, lectures, and solo practitioner practical exercise portions can often be done via DL. Then when the course advances into team tactics or practicals involving niche tools or training aids you would not normally purchase yourself that can be a good time to switch to RL. This can help cut down costs in time away from work or home, lodging, gas, etc to the bare minimum.

Cost-Benefit Analysis

Also called return on investment (RoI), identifying what you will get out of each potential course you want to take, and what is going to cost you, is important. A course should meet a level of RoI where the benefit exceeds the cost. Moreover, which course provides the greatest amount of benefit over cost should also be examined. This does not apply to learning for fun as that is more hobby-related than business even if the course is business related.

Spending Money and Losing Money to Make Money

I have already discussed some of the costs such as tuition, travel, and lodging. You also need to think about loss of work. Some courses are rarely offered. Do you miss out on job opportunities to go to the course? It can be hard to turn down money to go to a course which the whole point is to increase your chances of making money. But will turning down an immediate job or assignment and taking that course likely result in better-paying or more offerings down the road? It can be difficult to analyze possibilities such as this.

Post-Educational Job Finding Success

Deciding whether a course will get you future employment (if that is your goal) can be tricky. You might attend a program at an institution that helps in finding their graduates jobs. Many universities offer this and so do some private learning institutions. Some of these institutions, if receiving government grants or allowances to use programs like the GI Bill may have to meet requirements in post-educational job placement for students. You should be able to find the statistics for those institutions. However, for institutions that are not required to disclose post-educational job placement you may only have word of mouth. Perhaps you know several people that have been hired after attending a specific course. It is of course important to differentiate between correlation and causation. Yes, they may have went to a course and been hired on after, but that does not necessarily mean you will.

Hiring comes down to a number of factors such as the whole of resume. Likely some of those people would have been employed anyway if they had applied before attending that training program. Others, perhaps they had a great resume and that course was the last thing to get them over the tipping point for the hiring staff. Think of the decision to hire someone as a score board that has a minimum cutoff. Oftentimes a specific course alone does not provide enough points to get over that hiring threshold. And some hiring staffs look deeper than just completion of the course itself. If a hiring staff has the choice of hiring someone from the ‘C’s gets degrees’ crowd or someone who passed the program summa cum laude or honor student they will likely add more points in favor of the student that demonstrated higher aptitude for the instructed material.

Another aspect a course of instruction cannot overcome is your own personality. Many people blame learning institutions for failing to help them find placement yet the school is only responsible for imparting learning and maybe even help finding opportunities for the student to apply. They cannot make you a likeable person that hiring staffs want to hire. It would have to be one amazing course to get over the fact you seemed like a jerk when you interviewed. Also, understand how your attitude while taking that program of instruction will affect you. Some of the attendees in your course might already be hired by a company with which you might desire to find employment. Or a hiring staff might ask your instructor about you. How you acted while taking that course; whether you displayed initiative, desire to learn, help others, and demonstrated aptitude for the content will affect how you are seen and what those people would relay to the hiring staff to help them determine whether or not to hire you. So, when factoring in the RoI of a course you need to be honest about one the course can do for you individually, and not how it has helped out people of different character, experiences, and skillsets than your own.


Some courses have benefits that are not immediately quantifiable on an expense sheet or are not immediately identifiable prior to attendance such as it will qualify you for specific jobs. Networking is one example. Attending a course allows you to meet people. There is a difference in how well you may be able to connect with someone based on whether the course is a residential or distributed learning course. However, that does not mean that networking with peers is impossible in the DL courses. But making contacts and impressing people can help you gain business allies, secure future beneficial financial opportunities, and attain formal or informal references.

Alumni Groups

Alumni groups can be an important tool. Sometimes if you complete a course or program from a training institution they include you in their alumni groups. Whereas networking at a single course helps you mingle and build relationships with students of that specific iteration of the course an alumni group can help connect you to all members that have attended that or other courses provided by that institution. That is a much larger pool of people.

Discounts & Scholarships

You may be able to obtain discounts on specific goods or further training aligned by that institution. For instance Select International recently announced that its honor student of each class will receive a scholarship to go to the Vehicle Dynamic Institute to be trained as a security driver. LaSorsa & Associates announced in 2019 they partnered with a medical health insurance provider, NAWP, to provide optional health coverage insurance to members of its alumni.

Evaluating a Course’s Worth

How do you evaluate the worth of a course? Well, if you have compared a number of syllabi what are courses normally running cost-wise that offer similar content and benefits? If you have five courses that are very similar and three of them have very similar instructors, syllabi, and benefits such as certification or required training prep for licensure then you have an idea of the what the course cost should be and that the other two courses are off the mark. The more comparisons you have the better you are able to gauge this. For instance, it is very easy to gauge the cost of a state security guard required training course for licensure because you will likely find many training providers for that course. However, a niche course that only has one or two training providers it is more difficult to gauge what the correct price should be. At the end of the day you have to ask what are you getting out of the course and how much are you willing to pay for that skill?

Purchasing Options

Never be afraid to ask if there are any discounts or scholarships. Some training providers do have reduced prices for people of specific careers or situations. Some have payment plans. Some, like Independent Security Advisers LLC has scholarships for which you can apply. Like college scholarships it may range from simple demonstration of financial need to a writing essay or other demonstration that would help them decide they should award you a scholarship. Often, a training provider will award a scholarship to you because they feel that you have demonstrated some capability or characteristic which they believe will lead you to a bright career and they want to be connected to you. They want to say “John/Jane Doe went to our school.”

Another option is employer tuition assistance. If you are currently employed and your employer provides tuition assistance, ask them if a course you want to attend would be covered under their tuition assistance program. Some companies have very strict tuition assistance guidelines such as they only pay for college courses or for job-related skills training. For instance, they will provide TA for a degree in business or electrical engineering if that is something you can use in the business. Others have very liberal TA programs that will pay for programs completely unrelated to the business. They may, however, have requirements such as the course must be accredited by a higher learning commission or by a state agency. For instance, the Independent Security Advisors course qualifies for the Virginia 32I for the Personal Protection Specialist license. Whereas another type of course that teaches the same subject matter but does not have a government licensing might not be covered. Then there are some extremely liberal programs that will pay for just about any course you want to attend if you do not go over your allotted TA for the year. Another option is the Montgomery GI Bill for veterans. There are several schools such as Executive Security International that allows students to use the GI Bill for payment.

That’s Just Like… Your Opinion Man

Ultimately at the end of the day what you choose to spend your money on and how you choose to spend your money is up to you. If you ask people, they will each have their own opinions. Often those opinions reflect their situation and not yours. They do not really put themselves in your shoes when considering what you should do. Their financial situation, resume, and subject matter knowledge might be completely different from yours. So in my opinion take everyone’s advice, mine included, with a grain of salt.

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