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What Is Best, Qualified Or Certified?

What is Best, Qualified or Certified?

Quality, Consequences and the Construction Industrial Complex (part 260).

Has licensing and certifications “jumped the shark”?

I received a business card from a senior built environment professional who had so many letters after his name the card was barely wide enough. I asked him if he was qualified for the project, he assured me he was certified. On close inspection he had several certifications but no real experience. In my mind, he was not qualified for the project.

So, what is best, qualified or licensed / certified?


A qualified person meets the standards, requirements, and training for a job, plus has relevant experience.

OSHA is clear on what it means to be a qualified person: “A person who, by possession of a recognized degree, certificate or professional standing, or who by extensive knowledge, training and experience, successfully demonstrated the ability to solve/resolve problems relating to the subject matter, the work, or the project.”

This is in practice, the British model of filtering and signaling for competence.

Architects, engineers, surveyors, project managers are not licensed or certified in the UK, they are qualified by specialized professional institutions via a combination of education, training and experience.

Accountability is rendered via a “survival of the fittest” approach. Good work and people are rewarded with better projects, poor work and low competence people trend towards low remuneration and less opportunity. Clients who can recognize and select for qualifications are protected via market competition, insurance and ultimately, litigation.

Benefits of Qualification

  • Clients have more choice as competition is not artificially restricted via licensing / certifications.
  • Personal accountability via a large competitive pool.
  • No hiding behind a professional license / certification stamp.


A certified person meets the standards, requirements, training and relevant experience required by the licensing / certifying organisation. The licensing / certifying organisation attest to the truth of a person meeting a standard. Therefore:

Qualified + Attestation = Licensed / Certified

Attestation is an important distinction and is the North American model of filtering and signaling for competence.

Attestation requires the licensing / certification organisation to be accredited and take on accountability plus some reputational liability for “bad actors”. Architects, engineers, surveyors, project managers are licensed or certified in North America.

Accountability is rendered via the ultimate threat of loss of license / certification via a malpractice claim i.e. loss of ability to earn an income or charge a “rent” for a professional service. Licensing / certification creates a limited monopoly and also a class structure that is easily recognized by clients. Clients are protected via market competition, insurance and can litigate for malpractice.

Benefits of Certification

  • Personal accountability in order to maintain licensing / certification.
  • Some recourse to licensing /certifying body.
  • Attestation of ability.

So, what is best, qualified or licensed / certified? Today, I would answer:

  • Licensed / certified for individuals becasue you join a limited monopoly club and can earn more due to restricted competition.
  • Qualified if you are a client due to more competition via the market, “survival of the fittest” approach.

Competence is what really matters but how do you verify it? In the internet and social media age, social proof will become IMHO, the leading way to filter for competence. As a client or employer in the near future I would say, “show me evidence of what you can do and what you have done”. Social proof will become the new certification.

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