By now you may have heard that ISO is developing a series of standards on training and certification of condition monitoring (CM) personnel under the ISO 18436 document series. Some of these standards, such as the one addressing training and certification of vibration analysis personnel, have already been published. Others such as the ones addressing training and certification of oil analysis personnel, thermography personnel and acoustic emission personnel are in final stages of development and are expected to be published soon.
So what does this mean? Does it mean you can now train your personnel using an organization whose training content is accredited by ISO? Or that you can certify your personnel using a certification body accredited by ISO to 18436? The problem is this: ISO accreditation of training organizations or certification bodies as to technical content and quality of course or exam questions does not exist.
Who is ISO?
The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) is a network of national institutes in several countries throughout the world. These member bodies of ISO may offer accreditation services in accordance with a specific ISO standard. In the United States for example, the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) accredits organizations to the recently developed ISO-17024 on certification of personnel - from janitors to nurses, to condition monitoring. However, 17024 relates to the processes in developing a certification program, not to the technical content of exams or even the level of difficulty of the exams. The reason is simple: ANSI would have to have technical experts on hand to audit certification exams as to their technical content, level of difficulty, accuracy of correct answers and possible distracters, etc.
Basically ANSI would need the same human resources of each certification body's committee combined, and not only for a specific trade. As it relates to CM, ANSI would have to combine the same resources required of ICML in the development and maintenance of its oil analyst exams, plus the same as the Vibration Institute in its vibration analyst exams, plus other CM technology institutes. Consider the fact that CM is only one industry. ANSI would be concerned with certification of personnel in general. For information technology (IT), ANSI would have to obtain the technical expertise resources equal to that of Microsoft, Oracle and others combined to fairly judge the quality of IT certification exams. Considering how many industries use certification programs to evaluate personnel, it is impossible for ANSI or any other ISO member to offer such services. In a country with the size and resources of the United States, if it is not feasible for its ISO member to offer accreditation of technical content, then the possibility of this happening in other countries is probably nonexistent.
With this in mind, be weary of any training organization or personnel certification body claiming to be ISO accredited to a technology standard such as 18436 in any of its parts. Avoid any organization that claims to offer you "ISO training" or issue your personnel an "ISO Certificate" upon passing its exam.
A training organization or certification body may tell you that it is in compliance with a certain standard, for example 18436-2 for vibration personnel or 18436-4 for oil analysis personnel - but how can you be certain of this? The answer is, the ISO standard itself. Industry needs to realize that end users are the main reason these standards are created by ISO. The purpose is to provide end users with a "buyer beware" document which not only encourages the standardization of training and certification of CM personnel throughout the world, which is beneficial to industry, but it also helps users in choosing a suitable training company and certification body for their personnel. If you have CM personnel you'd like trained and certified, then you should familiarize yourself with the 18436 series. Part 1 provides guidelines on the requirements for the bodies operating a certification program. Part 3 gives requirements for the training organizations and the individual specifics in parts such as 2 and 4. These are mentioned above, and specify the knowledge base that should be tested for each category, required hours of training, etc. as it relates to each CM discipline.
Marks of Quality
Another important aspect to remember is that while ISO compliance with the specific technical standard by companies you choose for training and certification of personnel is a bonus, it will not guarantee the quality of the course or certification exams, only that they were developed with a body of knowledge that matches the syllabus of the pertinent 18436 part and follows this standard regarding its requirements, training and exam length, number of questions, etc. Other aspects such as the prestige of the companies in question, the length of time their programs have been in operation, geographical reach of their programs, the companies that have done business with them in the past and other aspects of a quality program are a critical guideline in choosing not only training companies and certification bodies, but service providers in general. Time- and industry-tested companies are your best choice.