Qualified vs Certified – What’s the difference?

Within the beauty trades, there is a lot of confusion about the difference between being “qualified” and being “certified”.

It is essential that you know the difference, especially because this factor directly influences your employment opportunities and may have a huge impact on your ability to make a living as a salon professional.

The meaning of the word “Qualified” in the context of the beauty industry:


A qualification is defined as “the outcome (certificate, diploma, degree or title) of an assessment and validation process which is obtained when a competent body determines that an individual has achieved learning outcomes to given standards and/ or possesses the necessary competence to do a job in a specific area of work”

A qualified individual:

  • has attended an educational institution or school on a full or part time basis, and has completed a formal education programme that is in alignment with a standardised national or international curriculum;
  • has sat for both written and practical examinations, and has produced the required results to satisfy the examining body that indicates their competence in the chosen field of study;

If you are a qualified professional, you will likely have attended a course that has a minimum duration of three months, though most diploma courses take a minimum of two years to complete. Only once you have passed the exams, you will receive documentation – which may include a certificate – proving you have completed the required course work satisfactorily, and have been awarded the relevant qualification.

A qualification is usually based on the technical and foundational principles of a particular field of study that will likely require further education once completed.

Some qualifications may comprise of a group, or groups of specified certification programmes that may be completed as separate modules in order to obtain an equivalent level of skill and knowledge.

Examples of Qualifications in the beauty industry:

cidesco-diplomaLevel 3 Diploma in Beauty Therapy | Level 3 Diploma in Hairdressing | Level 3 Diploma in Nail Technology

The “levels” referred to in the diploma awarded illustrate that all the modules of the full programme have been completed. A level 1 certificate, for instance will only include basic outcomes and competencies that form part of the required learning for a diploma to be awarded, and must be passed in order to progress to the next level. Diplomas are usually only awarded to candidates who have passed a level 3 or higher. Beauty industry diploma qualifications can only reach a maximum level of 5, while degree awards usually start from level 6.

The higher the number of the qualification’s level, the more advanced the coursework and skills obtained will be.

Professional designations include: Hairdresser; Beauty Therapist; Nail Technician; Somatologist; Health & Skincare Therapist; Aesthetician; etc.

The meaning of the word “Certified” in the context of the beauty industry:

A certificate is defined as “an official document that states that the information on it is true”.

Certificates can literally be issued for anything… Proof of ownership, birth, death, marriage, employment. It is a form of verification by one or more witnesses that an event has occurred.

A certified individual:

  • has attended and completed a class, workshop, seminar or course

Certificates are usually issued to anyone who attends training in order to prove that they were present at the event.

cidesco-certificatesThe problem with certificates, unfortunately, is that they can be issued to anyone, for just about anything, by anyone. They do not necessarily indicate or prove that competence has been assessed, or that a professional designation has been awarded – which is where the confusion between “qualified” and “certified” comes in to the equation. Certified does not always mean qualified.

Examples of certificates issued in the beauty industry:

  • Certificate of attendance – usually issued by product distributors / private educators when you attend brand related education or skill workshops (E.g. Nail Art classes; Elim; Gatineau; Matis; Artistic Nail Design; Bio Sculpture; CND; Dermafix; Nimue; Goldwell; Lanza; etc.)Most often, these certificates do not require any practical or written assessment to be completed by the attendee, and do not contribute to any particular qualification.
  • Certificate of Merit – may be issued by brands or accredited training providers in addition to product based certification once a written and practical assessment has been completed and a satisfactory pass mark has been achieved.Certificates of Merit are often awarded for advanced education where a diploma is a pre-requisite for attendance. (E.g. laser therapies; permanent make-up; paramedical aesthetics. To attend these courses, you must hold at least a Level 3 Diploma in Beauty Therapy)

    In some cases, it is possible to combine several certificates to obtain a full qualification, this depends entirely on the requirements of the qualification awarding body.

    For example: A diploma in Nail Technology requires certificates for several modules (conduct & ethics; chemical & salon safety; consultation; indications & contraindications for services; manicure & pedicure; all artificial nail enhancement systems; nail art techniques; etc). Each module completed may be certified separately, but you would need to acquire all the certificates to be eligible for a diploma to be awarded.


A  little about Awarding Bodies

images-mockupThe true value of a certificate that proves you are qualified in a professional context is determined by who the issuer is.  An awarding body decides on the standards of the course content, then approves independent training providers to provide the course and award any related qualifications. However, note that certificates for attending courses accredited by an awarding body do not always lead to a qualification.

  • If the issuer is a recognised education provider of the relevant professional body for your industry, then great! Your certificate is very likely legitimate.
  • If the issuer is not a recognised education provider of the relevant professional body for your industry, it’s very possible that the certificate you have been awarded has little or no value in your industry.

Many professional trades set professional standards and strive to maintain them in order to ensure that practitioners within that trade can prove their capabilities. It is important that the trainer you decide to work with is registered as a training provider with your industry’s professional body, and does indeed teach according to the industry standards, because if they don’t, you may end up being underqualified. This will certainly affect how prospective employers and clients will perceive your capacity to do your job, and how much they are willing to pay for your services.

Visit our Registered Schools and Educators page to find quality training providers in Namibia

Examples of Awarding and Accreditation Bodies:

  • Beauty Industry Qualifications – CIDESCO | ITEC | City & Guilds | CIBTAC | BABTAC
  • Accreditation bodies – SAQA | NQA | SETA |NTA

It is important to note that a qualification may be accredited, recognised or awarded by one or more organisations who are involved in setting the standards for educational criteria. These criteria are often a combination of National (set by the government) and Professional industry standards. There are many more awarding and accreditation bodies than are listed above, though for relevance, we have referred to those most widely  used in Southern Africa.

The NBIPA acts as a Professional and Regulatory body that recognises industry specific qualifications, and membership is restricted to those who meet the qualifications requirements. The NBIPA would also have the legal authority to regulate the beauty industry and advise the government on legislation based upon these requirements.