Certifiably Professional: Measuring Success in Parks and Recreation
Chipkin, Harvey, Parks & Recreation
* This year, the CPRP program will complete its centralization into the national association with the remaining 13 states turning over their jurisdiction.
* Progress is being made on the creation of more advanced levels of certification--particularly for the CPRP designation.
* NRPA's overall certification process itself is moving toward accreditation by the National Commission for Certifying Agencies--which would lend gold-star validation to the process
To better understand how far certification at NRPA has come, it helps to look to the origins.
Doctors do it. Lawyers do it, And so do parks and recreation professionals. For well over a half century, parks and recreation professionals have been seeking certification of their skills, knowledge, and experience. lust as M.D. conveys a doctor's training and knowledge, so do the three certifications of the parks and recreation field--Certified Parks & Recreation Professional (CPRP), Certified Playground Safety Inspector (CPSI), and Aquatics Facility Operator (AFO)--offer similar proof of competency. For NRPA, 9,010 looks to be a milestone year in how far certification at NRPA has advanced.
Certified Park & Recreation Professional
While formal certification, as we know it today dates only to the late 1990s, the profession has long gravitated toward some form of recognition of professional competency. In the 1950s when certification began, the emphasis was on registration. As Janice Geden, a recently retired staff member of the Colorado Parks & Recreation in Boulder, Colorado, explains it, "Any certification program always had the elements of the three Es: education, experience, and examination. At that time, lacking an exam, they looked to education and experience."
Since its beginnings in the 1990s, the CPRP program has seen no changes, though there was concern grew over its slow growth. That changed with NRPA's 2005/06 strategic plan, which sought to assess the value and relevancy of the existing program but also its management and future direction. In 2006, the National Certification Board (NCB) and NRPA completed, with the assistance of an outside consultant, a comprehensive assessment of these areas. The assessment found overall satisfaction with the concept of certification, but it also turned up the need to centralize the management of the national program under NRPA and to develop mastery level certifications. Those are tasks that should be complete in 2010.
Geden, an early proponent of certification, worked to bring along others in the field. "As a director," she says, "it was an important part of my job to mentor staff on the importance of certification by setting the example to become certified."
Certified Playground Safety Inspector
As for the origins of the Certified Playground Safety Inspector certification, Tom Kalousek, who is in his third term as chairman of the National Playground Safety Institute, an official NPRA body, dates the focus on playground safety to 1981 with the publication of two handbooks on the issue. In 1988, an organization called the American So ciety of Testing and Materials international was formed to develop written standards for playground safety, Kalousek explains. That same year ASTM was petitioned by the federal Consumer Product Safety Commission to create a set of safety standards. It took until 1993 for those standards to be set. But with that achievement, NPRA decided that a formal training program was in order and the CPSI course was launched in 1993.
Aquatic Facility Operator
NRPA's Aquatic Facility Operator (AFO) program dates to 1989 when the NationalAquatic Section of NRPA began creation of a training program for pool operators. The program, designed for community swimming pools, had to be free of product bias and needed to be given by professionals who are thoroughly trained and continually evaluated. Not only were participants trained in daily pool operations but also risk management, staffing, budgeting and purchasing. With that criteria in place, NRPA's National Certification Board voted in 1992 to approve the association's Aquatic Facility Operator training and exam.
The AFO training and certification is specifically designed to meet the needs of those working in public, semi-public and municipal pool or water park facilities, and is designed to provide training and information for both supervisory and operations staff.
The Argument For Certification
In this day and age, when competency is valued and sought more than ever, one would think there should be no need to explain the importance of professional certification, Yet, that's an on-going proposition for proponents of certification.
Marcia Jean Carter is past chair and member of the National Certification Board and the Council on Accreditation for NRPA, and an associate professor in recreation, park and tourism administration at Western Illinois University. Carter cites three overriding positives associated with certification:
1. Personal: Sense of achievement, increased marketability and job mobility, and personal confidence in abilities.
2. Professional: Evidence of commitment, credibility, and recognition among peers, maintenance of updated knowledge and practice competence, commitment to lifelong learning
3. Consumer (user and employer): Provides evidence of accountability, increases consumer confidence.
In fact, there's little question that certification is a factor in choosing a candidate for a job. "When I was in Boulder it was not a mandatory requirement for the job, but it was definitely a desired criterion when I was hiring staff," Geden says.
In The Woodlands, Texas, according to Jim Nunes, director of parks and recreation for that community, which has an extensive system of parks and recreational areas, "We have 80 full time employees; of those, seven are CRPRs, five are AFOs and three are CPSIs. We have identified two or three more as people who we believe should obtain certification.
"We definitely encourage certification for our staff," Nunes says. "When I'm looking at applicants, I do consider who has gone through the certification process--who has made that commitment to the profession versus the person who has not,"
Aside from the practical matter of getting hired, there are less tangible arguments for certification, "Certification," Geden says, "has become the professional responsibility of an individual. If you are truly a professional and don't have the certificate, what does that say about you?
"Certification shows ability to meet standards," says Geden, "and a commitment to ongoing education. And there has never been a time in our history when ongoing education has been more important. With technology making instant communication global, that information changes constantly and it's critical to continue to upgrade your knowledge."
"It's not just about service delivery, it's a mindset of accountability and needing to keep knowledge current. How can I understand trends? How can I become a better leader and manager?" Geden concludes.
Growing Interest--Obstacles And Resistance
Despite the weak economy, there is a growing interest in certification. "Consumers, risk managers and insurance companies demand assurance that experiences provide accountable, quality outcomes and certification ... is viewed as essential to the provision of quality outcomes," Carter says.
On the CPSI front, Teri Hendy, a principal with Site Masters Inc. in Cincinnati, a consultant on playground safety, says "The benefit of receiving the CPSI certification is that some agencies now require certification as part of a job description. Many agencies require their playground inspectors and maintenance staff to be certified. In California, state law requires that all new playgrounds be inspected by a certified inspector prior to being opened to the public."
Kalousek agrees that legislation may eventually make the case for certification much more compelling. He notes that several states have passed laws mandating that public playgrounds comply with either CPSC or ATSM guidelines--or both.
Despite that growing interest--and even requirement for certification in some places--there has been some slowing in the actual growth of certified parks professionals for several reasons. There are fewer opportunities to gain the education and experience requirement because fewer colleges offer the requisite major than when certification evolved in the 1980s. Additionally, a decline in federal financing for public agencies has reduced the size of professional staffs at all levels.
Also contributing to less rapid acceptance of certification is a persistent resistance--based mainly on cost; and, perversely, fears of increased accountability.
"It is still not common to have certification. One of the challenges with this certification is that it has not developed in a way that it will guarantee additional salary," Geden says.
"Resistance remains even though the idea that 'If I don't know something, then I can't be held responsible,' has been knocked down by experience," Kalousek adds.
"Arguments against certification can be debunked by relevancy reviews of agencies and professionals who do have the credential as compared to those that don't, says Carter says. "Those comparisons show a consistency in performance across geographic locations and types of institution."
Some employees, Hendy adds, "may say they don't need the certification because they are not inspecting playgrounds." Others, she said, are fearful of taking the certification class for fear of not passing the exam.
"If you are in the business of designing play areas, supervising people who do inspect and maintain playgrounds, sell or install playground equipment, or specify what goes into a play area, then you would benefit greatly from taking the course. We focus on recognizing hazards on playgrounds as well as managing risk on playgrounds. The knowledge gained from taking the exam is very beneficial. People taking the class typically say they will never look at a playground the same way again."
And as Nunes sums it up, "We need to get the movement going again and show the relevance of certification to stakeholders such as city managers and HR professionals. They need to understand the benefit of having properly credentialed associates. In the 1990s it seemed there was a little more of a push by the state and national associations to make certification more prevalent."
Taking Certification to the Next Levels
Parks and recreation leaders active in enhancing professionalism in the field seem eager to see the development of certification at the management and executive levels;
"There is a lot of misunderstanding about the CPRP; it is designed to be an entry level certification," Geden says. "Entry level says you have a full complement of entry level knowledge and what it takes to be a solid, entry level professional. So it is important that we pursue more advanced levels. Certification was a definite plus for the industry when it first came about, but we didn't continue with the momentum as we should have."
Nunes also believes some time might have been lost recently, possibly because of the complex transition to centralization. "There is a big opportunity now to create higher level certification to demonstrate that there is a growth process within our profession," Nunes says. "It's a real opportunity to work with decision makers so they can understand the value of certification. We need to show that certification is not a stagnant process, that it is a growth process for the profession."
There are similar concerns in the CPSI program. "After an initial audit has been done to determine if a playground is compliant with guidelines, there should be an action plan to bring it up to compliance or to maintain standards. That process takes more insight than is available through the CPSI training," Kalousek says.
NRPA is going through the process of determining whether or not to have an "auditor level" playground safety certification. "But we're not there yet," Kalousek says.
Other issues must be dealt with, Kalousek says. This includes, "an uneven dispersal of inspectors. Of the 50 states, some don't have the population or wherewithal to have inspectors. While a state like New Jersey will have a lot, because of various laws and dense population, states like Wyoming and Louisiana will have few or none."
Aside from advanced certification, another goal is to create specialty credentials. In fact, it is not unusual to hold two certifications--one general and one specialized. Nunes said his assistant director and his aquatic superintendent holds dual certifications while he holds only the NPRP "because I'm more of a generalist,"
Accrediting the Certification
From its beginning, NRPA's certification program has used the guidelines established by the Institute for Credentialing Excellence. Last fall, a presentation was made at the National Certification Board meeting to make members aware of the need to secure approval by NCCA, the body within ICE that accredits certification processes, Carter explains.
That approval, once earned, would bring NRPA's certification to the next level of its own--and mark a greater level of professionalism for the entire association.
RELATED ARTICLE: Certifying the certifiers: how the field stays current.
Yes, there are certifiers for the certifiers. And, s certification becomes more important, their validation is more important than ever.
"Certification is growing significantly as more and more organizations and professions take an interest. One reason is that besides the age-old belief that the ultimate goal of credentialing is public welfare and safety, many have learned this is a way to help promote the profession itself--to show consumers that in fact there are individuals who have gone through a rigorous qualifying process," says Jim Kendzel, executive director of the Institute for Credentialing Excellence (ICE).
ICE, by its own description, is "an organization dedicated to providing educational, networking and advocacy resources for the credentialing community." It also has an accrediting body, the National Commission for Certifying Agencies (NCCA), which evaluates certification for compliance with NCCA's Standards for the Accreditation of Certification Programs.
NCCA, then, would be the body that would approve parks and recreation certifications if that process continues. There is another notable accreditation organization--the American National Standards Institute, though ICE is larger and has been around longer.
Not all members of ICE have certification systems accredited by NCCA; others belong, as they would to any organization, for the education, networking and advocacy benefits. There are over 320 member organizations in ICE; of those, more than 100 member organizations rep resent 220 certifications accredited by NCCA, Kendzel explains.
ICE represents more than 150 different professions--ranging from "pre-birth as in Lamaze trainers to post death, those who do cremations. In between we have personal trainers, financial planners, marriage counselors and many others," Kendzel says. More and more, governments are requiring that certification programs be accredited by an out side body. For instance, "Some states require that crane operators be in an accredited certification program," Kendzel says.
Accreditation, "involves a peer and interview process," Kendzel says. When an organization does meet the standards, it means they have a system in place that is valid and reliable." Very few achieve accreditation on their first effort.
Once accredited, an organization must submit annual reports--and go through a brand-new review every five years, Kendzel explains.
Kendzel says that, surprising even to his organization, certification programs and certifications themselves seem to be increasing during the recession. "We found that many people who are out of work will get credentialed to improve their resumes. Others are reaching out for a certification they might need to get a job in a different field," he says.
While any organization can join ICE itself, Kendzel says a big part of the organization's mission now is to separate valid certification programs--"where those certified have actually been evaluated and assessed"--from those that do not adhere to minimal standards.
"Because of the aging of the population there has been a huge growth in senior advisors and, consequently, widespread fraud and misrepresentation in that field. As a result, federal agencies and various states have mandated that they be certified by organizations accredited by NCCA," Kendzel says.
Another ICE mission, which may have applicability to parks and recreation, is that certification "might help lower income young adults enter into college more easily," Kendzel says.
Kendzel has been involved in meetings with the U.S. departments of education and labor; and groups like the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation on this issue. "They believe that a person who goes through an industry certification is a good candidate for college and in fact might be eligible for college credits."
The bottom line? "Ultimately it's the trust of a third party validation that a person is competent in a chosen profession" Kendzel says.
RELATED ARTICLE: Certification 101.
Certified Parks and Recreation Professional (CPRP)
The CPRP certification is granted to individuals employed in the recreation, park resources and leisure services profession who meet high standards of performance. In order to achieve CPRP status, applicants must meet minimum qualifications and successfully complete the national examination. The steps to certification include:
* Determine if you are qualified
* Apply for certification
* Sit for the 150-question exam (125 questions are scored and 25 questions are un-scored and being tested for future use)
* Once the exam is passed, candidates must maintain certification every two years with 2.0 Continuing Education Units (CEU)
Certified Playground Safety Inspector (CPSI)
The CPSI program is designed to ensure all certified individuals are qualified to inspect playgrounds for safety issues and to make certain each playground that they inspect meets the current national standards for safety. The national standards are developed by the ASTM and CPSC. The steps to certification include:
* Find a Certified Playground Safety Inspector course in your area (CPSI course is optional for certification but strongly encouraged)
* Register and complete the CPSI course (fees dependent on course location)
* Successfully pass the 100-question exam (exams are offered at course locations and via a computer-based test at over 1,500 testing centers around the country)
* Maintenance of the CPSI certification is required every three years by passing the CPSI certification exam
Aquatic Facility Operator (AFO)
The NRPA AFO program is an advanced, state-of-the-art certification program for those persons managing and operating aquatic facilities. The steps to certification include:
* Find an Aquatic Facility Operator course in your area (AFO Course is optional for certification but strongly encouraged)
* Register and complete the AFO Course (fees dependent on course location)
* Complete the 50-question exam
* Certification is obtained once a candidate obtains a passing score on the AFO Certification Exam
Maintenance of the AFO certification is required every five years by passing the certification exam or completion of 2.0 aquatics specific Continuing Education Units (CEU) during the certification cycle
Additional Highlights ...
Certification Registries for CPRP, AFO and CPSI are now available on-line the registries include names and certification cycles for all certified professionals.
Applying for the CPRP Certification is now easier than ever via the on-line certification application. Visit www.nrpa.org/cprp.
SARA BALDWIN is NRPA Director of Certification and Accreditation.
JULIE JOHNSON is NRPA Certification Manager.
HARVEY CHIPKIN is a freelance writer based in Bloomfield, New Jersey.…
Questia, a part of Gale, Cengage Learning. www.questia.com
Publication information: Article title: Certifiably Professional: Measuring Success in Parks and Recreation. Contributors: Chipkin, Harvey - Author. Magazine title: Parks & Recreation. Volume: 45. Issue: 4 Publication date: April 2010. Page number: 38+. © 2009 National Recreation and Park Association. COPYRIGHT 2010 Gale Group.
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