Declaring that it wants to focus on competency-based certification, the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) in the United States has unveiled plans to offer its own HR designation. The move is making waves south of the border, with HR professionals uncertain about their accreditation and questions around the certification process overall.
As of 2015, SHRM — which has more than 275,000 members in 160 countries — plans to offer the SHRM Certified Professional (SHRM-CP) and SHRM Senior Certified Professional (SHRM-SCP). Previously, the association worked with the HR Certification Institute (HRCI) in offering various HR designations, including the Professional in Human Resources (PHR) and Senior Professional in Human Resources (SPHR).
SHRM has been working on HR competencies for three years and felt it was important to examine which skills, traits or behaviours distinguish the best HR professionals, said Robert Carr, SHRM’s senior vice-president of membership, marketing and external affairs.
“As we began to move that process along, it became evident to us that in order to really get that competency model entrenched in the profession, it needed to be included in certification.”
And Alexandria, Va.-based SHRM discussed that with HRCI for more than a year, he said, but decided it had to move forward on its own. “In an ideal world, we would have done this with HRCI and it just didn’t work out that way.”
This is a higher level designation “and the attestation that not only have you mastered HR knowledge but you also have demonstrated proficiency and behaviours that we think are important to good HR practice… this is just an evolution,” he said.
But HRCI was not aware SHRM planned to introduce the new certification and was given no notification — it just terminated the operating agreement, according to Amy Dufrane, executive director of HRCI. And HRCI’s certification has always been competency-based, she said — it is not a regurgitation of knowledge.
“Of course, all exams have a bit of that, but what we try to do is assess someone’s capability of taking that knowledge and embedding it in a situation and really determining what is the best approach for that based on individuals who are doing this.”
Competencies are defined as the knowledge, skills and attributes needed to be successful in a particular role, said Linda Anguish, HRCI’s director of certification products.
“Each of our exams is grounded in a body of knowledge resulting from a practice analysis that has defined and validated those competencies. So that is nothing new.”
But if you’re talking about behavioural competencies, the question is how these can be measured, and some people claim professional certification is not an appropriate place for it, she said.
“In other fields where they attempt to assess competency, such as medicine, they typically use a performance exam to assess how people actually perform in specific situations, like a patient exam. It’s not a written test,” said Anguish.
“If you’re going to test people in a certification exam, you want to see whether people know what they need to know and how to apply that knowledge in a given situation — that’s competency-based. You also want to ensure that the assessment is valid and reliable, and multiple-choice testing is ideal for that.
“But if you claim that you are assessing behaviour and other intangibles, you need a broader testing process — observation-based. It is very challenging to do.”
It’s important to distinguish between the practice analysis or competency model and certification, according to Claude Balthazard, vice-president of regulatory affairs and privacy officer at the Human Resources Professionals Association (HRPA) in Toronto.
“The competency model sets up certification but... you could take the competency model and develop a stellar certification process or an awful certification process,” he said.
“Some people think of the body of knowledge as the foundation, but it really doesn’t tell you what kind of house you can build on that… You need a good practice analysis to have a good certification program, but the decisions you make, the engineering or architecture of the certification program, is a whole new set of decisions to be made based on the practice analysis.”
Implications for HR professionals
with U.S. designations
So what does all this mean for HR professionals who have one of the U.S.-based designations? As of 2015, they will have to decide whether they want to pursue SHRM’s or HRCI’s offerings.
People with a valid certification such as the PHR or SPHR will be able to obtain the new CP or SCP, said Carr — they just have to agree to a code of ethics and complete an online tutorial on competencies.
“The goal here is to make sure that you understand and you know of the nine competencies and you have some… understanding and appreciation of those competencies.”
The exam window opens for both of SHRM’s certifications starting in May 2015, he said.
HRCI, on the other hand, will continue to develop and market its “gold standard” certification, said Dufrane.
“People want the letters that the Human Resource Certification Institute has so diligently and meticulously put together over our 40 years of existence, almost.”
A senior HR professional with HRCI certification, Tim Sackett is unsure how he’ll proceed when his certification runs out.
“I’m 20 years into my career, this is kind of a joke — (the HR associations) have kind of made this a mockery so I’m just going to back away from it. I’m hearing more and more people say, ‘I’m not going to do it, I’m not going to play the game, and I’ll walk away,’” said the president of HRU Technical Resources in Lansing, Mich.
For years, SHRM emphasized its separation from HRCI when it came to the certification process and now it’s kind of funny when you look at SHRM’s stance, he said.
“You go, ‘Hey, haven’t you for like 20 years told us that you had to be separate, like that was super important?’ And all of a sudden now it’s like, ‘Yeah, it’s not very important.’”
SHRM has established a SHRM Certification Commission that will serve as an independent technical advisory committee and have delegated authority from the SHRM board of directors. The commission will manage the certification program, it said, including development of the exams, eligibility criteria and recertification requirements.
But, at the end of the day, HR professionals don’t really care, said Sackett.
“If they thought this is a bar exam or a CPA exam (they’d say) ‘Gosh, we’d better have some third party administer this and let people know.’ But I think HR people are kind of like, ‘Hey, this isn’t that, it’s probably a step down below,’ even though for years, HRCI and SHRM tried to make it like this is HR’s bar exam. It really isn’t, it’s a little bit less.
“And I think, at that point, then the SHRM membership doesn’t care — they don’t care if it’s coming from SHRM or HRCI: ‘Just give me the letters to put behind my name.’”
Dawn Burke said she doesn't know why she wouldn't take advantage of SHRM's offer of automatic eligibility for HRCI-certified professionals.
"Holding dual certifications certainly doesn't make me look less attractive in the market," said the vice-president of people at Daxko in Birmingham, Ala., provider of operations and financial management solutions.
As of now, no one yet knows if the new SHRM system will be remarkably different from HRCI, she said.
"To date, I am skeptical there are significant differences in what each measures or that those differences would be no noticeable in the market."
And while becoming certified is one thing, remaining certified is another, said Burke.
"A large portion of recertification credits come from HR events. I hate to say (it) but it it may come down to which certification group HR events organizers chose to attach continuing education credits to."
While Sackett said he feels badly for HRCI, the business side of him understands SHRM’s move.
“On communication, all that other stuff, yeah, they could probably do that better. But, business-wise, it’s hard to argue,” he said. “(SHRM) can make a ton of money by bringing it in-house.”
Competencies under review in Canada
The Canadian Council of Human Resources Association (CCHRA) and provincial HR associations have also been busy undergoing a major review of the Professional Practice Analysis (PPA) for the Certified Human Resources Professional (CHRP) designation.
"The research involved HR professional representation from every province in Canada and the results… confirm continual advancement of HR professionals in today’s business world," said Cheryl Newcombe, CCHRA’s chair.
As of July, the provincial member associations were working on a communications plan for the PPA and planning a co-ordinated release of those results in mid-August, she said.
"We’re not going to see a lot of change — what we’re seeing is a continual advancement of the HR profession."
The original HR body of knowledge was done in the late 1990s, according to Claude Balthazard, vice-president of regulatory affairs and privacy officer at the Human Resources Professionals Association (HRPA) in Toronto, but it was decided a fundamental review was needed.
"This would be sort of going back and building it from the ground up," he said.
The Required Professional Capabilities (RPCs) are "a faithful snapshot of the profession," he said, and will involve, for example, more strategy and metrics.
After a validation survey was conducted in 2013, it was felt there was still work to be done to produce an updated competency framework, said Balthazard. HRPA is continuing to flesh out that framework in collaboration with the other provinces, to various degrees, with focus groups planned for August.
"In the end, other provinces may choose to adopt HRPA’s more detailed version," he said, adding that while HRPA gave up its membership with the CCHRA, that does not mean the end of interprovincial collaboration.