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Strand 1: Certifications and Licenses

GEMEnA's first strand of work is to develop and deploy a core set of survey items related to the prevalence and key characteristics of industry-recognized certifications and occupational licenses. To meet this goal, GEMEnA undertook a rigorous process of survey item development. This process included a series of focus groups and cognitive interviews, leading to the development of a 15-minute Adult Training and Education Survey (ATES) questionnaire. The ATES instrument included questions on certifications, licenses, and educational certificates, both to enumerate the number of adults who have these credentials and to identify the key characteristics of each credential. The instrument was tested in an ATES pilot study designed to evaluate the validity of specific items by comparing results against population estimates from other sources and by assessing the characteristics of known credentials; the study was not conducted for the purpose of generating population estimates.

The ATES pilot study was administered to a national sample of adults from September 2010 through January 2011, using computer-assisted telephone interviews (CATI). The study also included a seeded sample of adults who were known (from administrative records) to possess a certificate, certification, or license, and the reliability of proxy responses was assessed using a subsample of respondents who also provided responses for a second member of their household. Based on pilot study results, GEMEnA has identified a recommended set of survey items believed valid for collecting information from individuals about industry-recognized certifications and occupational licenses. The use of proxy respondents for a limited set of items was also recommended. More details on the structure, findings, and recommendations of the ATES pilot study will be available in the study's final report (forthcoming). A second, shorter report includes a more detailed description of one aspect of the ATES methodology—balancing over-reporting and under-reporting. Finally, the ATES questionnaire will be included in the study's final report, but is also available separately.

Moving forward, GEMEnA member agencies are looking for opportunities within their own agencies to incorporate the ATES tested items into ongoing or planned studies of out-of-school youth and adults. In addition, GEMEnA is seeking ways to test these items further to explore their performance in different survey contexts. These plans include:

Census. The Census Bureau has added a topical module on credential attainment based on the ATES pilot study to the 13th wave of the 2008 panel of the Survey of Income and Program Participation (SIPP). The module is being fielded in the fall of 2012 for release in fall of 2013. These data will provide the first official statistics from the federal government on the prevalence of industry-recognized certifications and occupational licenses. In addition, Census has identified an opportunity for further testing of certification/license items in the field test of the redesigned SIPP.

NCES. NCES is incorporating a set of questions on certifications/ licenses into its upcoming Baccalaureate and Beyond (B&B) longitudinal study of 2008 bachelor's degree recipients. On-going secondary longitudinal studies (the High School Longitudinal Study of 2009 9th-graders and the Education Longitudinal Study of 2002 10th-graders) will incorporate questions on certification for out-of-school youth and young adults.

Other GEMEnA member agencies, including the Bureau of Labor Statistics and the National Center for Science and Engineering Statistics, are considering placement of certification/license items in their household studies related to education and training for work. GEMEnA will continue to identify opportunities to recommend the inclusion of validated survey items in appropriate federal household data collections.