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FOA vs ETA Certifications

Types of Fiber Optic Jobs

From the March, 2017 FOA Newsletter.

What’s An Accredited Certification?

ETA is an organization that describes itself as "a non-vendor specific third-party certifying organization" is basically a certification clearinghouse offering more than 50 certifications in everything from fiber optics to "Gaming and Vending Technician." ETA has been claiming that their certifications are "accredited." They have also contacted FOA schools trying to recruit them and using this claim to imply their credibility.

We think that we need to respond to these claims with some facts.

What does it mean to have the certifications from an organization be “accredited”? For that matter what is a "certification?" And who is authorized to accredit certifications?

The FOA is a member of ANSI and offers certifications according to the international standard for certification,  ISO/IEC 17024 Conformity assessment — General requirements for bodies operating certification of persons, as do many other certifying bodies.  Like FOA, ETA says they are following ISO/IEC 17024 .

This international standard defines certification and certification bodies thusly:
"This International Standard has been developed with the objective of achieving and promoting a globally accepted benchmark for organizations operating certification of persons. Certification for persons is one means of providing assurance that the certified person meets the requirements of the certification scheme. Confidence in the respective certification schemes for persons is achieved by means of a globally accepted process of assessment and periodic re-assessments of the competence of certified persons."

Most certifications are not accredited, they are self-regulated by an industry’s acceptance, like the CFOT® which is now 20 years old and has over 64,000 CFOTs worldwide. The first thing to understand about an organization’s certifications being “accredited” is that there is only one international or governmental recognized accreditation body in the US for industry certifications - ANSI, the American National Standards Institute.

ETA has been claiming that their certifications are “accredited” by a group called ICAC -The International Certification Accreditation Council. That sounds impressive, doesn’t it?

Well, not so fast…who is this ICAC?
 
In trying to find out who this organization was, we got confused between the ETA ICAC and the ANSI ICAC™ International Conformity Assessment Committee (ICAC(tm). That’s correct - ICAC is an ANSI trademark. From the ANSI website you learn that their The International Conformity Assessment Committee - ICAC™ is the U.S. interface to the ISO Council Committee on Conformity Assessment (ISO CASCO), a very important group. 

To avoid confusion, from now on, we'll refer to the ICAC that ETA is associated with as "ETA ICAC."

This ETA ICAC  appears to be an organization of a handful of certification clearinghouses that seems to be created to recognize certifications and provide a cheap “accreditation” service. They refer to the same ANSI/ISO/IEC 17024  standard followed by the FOA and almost everybody for their certifications. On their website, the ETA ICAC says they are “Affordable - ICAC has greatly reduced its overhead to save your organization tens of thousands in accreditation fees.”

ETA ICAC lists about 370 “accredited” certifications on their website. 42 of those are from ETA, 318 are from NOCTI (another certification clearinghouse for career and technical education certifications) and the final ~dozen are from an aerospace contractor, an optometry group and a group offering homeland security certifications. That's right, only 5 organizations use the ETA ICAC and more than 90% of the certifications are from only two organizations, ETA and NOCTI.

The people who run the ETA ICAC are listed on their website. Those of you who have been around a while will perhaps remember the President of the ETA ICAC - Jay Warmke, who used to be the Director of BICSI.  Warmke is also on the Board of Directors of ETA. Teresa Mayer of ETA and Amie Bloomfield of NOCTI are on the Board of Directors of the ETA ICAC along with at least one more representative of a company that is “accredited” by ICAC.

In our opinion, having a Board of Directors that is loaded with representatives of the organizations that are accredited by the ETA ICAC appears to be a conflict of interest and brings the whole notion of “accreditation” into question. And isn't having the President of the accrediting body on the Board of Directors of one of the organizations that it accredits (ETA) is even more troubling?

While investigating the legitimacy of the ETA ICAC, we contacted ANSI, the American National Standards Institute, which is the US representative for international standards including ISO and IEC. ANSI is the official US agency approved under ISO/IEC 17011, the international standard for “Conformity assessment - General requirements for accreditation bodies accrediting conformity assessment bodies” - in other words only ANSI is approved for accrediting certifications to ISO/IEC 17024 in the US.

ANSI confirmed to the FOA that this ETA ICAC has no connection to ANSI or ISO, is not accredited under ISO/IEC 17011 to offer accreditation and is not officially offering accreditation to ISO/IEC 17024. Furthermore ANSI confirmed that this ETA ICAC is using an ANSI trademarked name - ICAC™.

So it seems the claim that ETA’s certifications are “accredited” has raises more questions than provides answers.

Comment from The Fiber Optic Academy:

This article was published in the March 2017 edition of the FOA Newsletter.  Be sure you contact the FOA for verification of it's contents.  As with any training /certification course, and before registering for any fiber optics certification classes anywhere, be sure the contents of the class meets your requirements and it further answers ALL of the questions pertinent to your upcoming project(s).  Be content with the credibility of the certifying agency, as well as, the instructors conducting the trainings.

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