HRPA launching 3-level HR designation

Move is a game-changer, says CEO of Ontario Association – but what happens to CHRP?
By Sarah Dobson
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 11/03/2014

Ontario’s HR association is launching a new framework that will create three new professional designations.

The names of the designations — a junior one, mid-level one and senior one — weren’t available at press time but the change could mean the end of the Certified Human Resources Professional (CHRP) in the province.

Professionals who currently hold the CHRP will be grandfathered into the mid-level designation — even if the CHRP name changes — and continuing professional development will still be required, according to Claude Balthazard, vice-president of regulatory affairs and privacy officer at HRPA in Toronto.

If the names changes, “the CHRP would become an obsolete designation — anyone who has a designation today will be able to keep it for life,” he said.

The initiative is meant to reflect and promote the evolution of the profession — and it’s a game-changer, said Bill Greenhalgh, CEO of the Human Resources Professionals Association (HRPA).

“It’s up-to-date, it’s competency-based, it deals with a lot of the things that organizations want in terms of understanding strategy, understanding business — and we’re validating it on that basis,” he said. “It’s better than anything else that’s available in the world of HR, and organizations are now moving to try and get to that point — and we’ve actually got there. In addition to that, it’s equivalent or in fact ahead of some of the designation structures that some of the other associations have.”

In the past, certification has been basically about what you want people to know, he said.

“As the world has evolved, the competency models now are not just what do you want them to know but what do you want them to be able to do,” he said. “It’s one thing for people to know information but it’s the application that really adds the value.”

The HR practice ranges from entry level all the way up to CHROs and what those people do varies so considerably that a single designation simply could not cover the bases — it’s a wide spectrum, said Greenhalgh.

CHRP challenges
Employers want HR professionals at all levels to better understand the business and provide more strategic input, which is not reflected well in the present CHRP, he said.

“When you look back at the CHRP, it’s a fantastic designation — it’s been around since the middle ‘90s. But the content, the educational content in it, dates from back then,” he said. “There have been a couple of attempts in the meantime to upgrade it slightly but there haven’t been many changes, it’s been more fine-tuning.”

And there have been questions about the CHRP’s ability to serve the profession well in the future, said Greenhalgh.

“You look at what’s happened in the workplace, changes in demographics, changes in the economy. You look at Ontario, loss of manufacturing, the growth of service industries; the change in work processes and arrangements — people tend to be working more part-time or as consultants or whatever; people retiring… legislation in the workplace like harassment and bullying, diversity — all that stuff has all happened in the last 10 years, 15 years and… very little is reflected in that educational content.”

When the CHRP was originally developed, it was entry-level and now it’s more mid-level, said Antoinette Blunt, president of Ironside Consulting Services in Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., and chair of a task force overseeing and guiding the framework’s development.

“If anything, elevating it and describing it and defining it for what it truly is really ramps up and demonstrates the true value of that designation... it’s acknowledgement of something that has progressed and evolved over time but hasn’t been publicly acknowledged for what it truly is,” she said. “We now know that we need to offer something as a new designation that’s really more at the entry level because the CHRP has moved up, from that perspective.”

HR professionals practising at the professional level without three years’ experience and a university degree should have the opportunity to practise within a professional framework, especially in Ontario with its new public act, said Blunt.

“We have a great responsibility for the protection of the public to ensure that professionals are practising at an appropriate level. That provides us with more of a framework to encompass the whole scope of the profession.”

At the entry level, at least a diploma or certificate in HR will be required for the new designation. At the mid-level, a degree plus completion of a required business and HR curriculum at the degree level is required while at the senior level, no required coursework or educational qualification is needed, said Balthazard.

Another reason for the new designation is there’s nothing about employment law in the current certification process, said Greenhalgh, even though this area affects almost all of the HR profession, from hiring and terminations to labour relations.

“Our members and organizations say they don’t understand why there hasn’t been any part of that in there,” he said.

The new designations will have workplace and employment law embedded in the competency areas, said Balthazard. There will be a separate knowledge-based exam around employment law at the entry level and more on knowledge and the ability to apply that knowledge at the mid-level.

In working on the competency framework, it became apparent certain areas were missing, such as business acumen and strategic direction, said Blunt. The new framework will have 213 functional competencies and 15 enabling competencies with behavioural indicators at each of the three levels, for a total of 228 competencies, she said.

“It really provides a lot of very specific detail so that members will understand ‘What does it mean to practise at this level, what knowledge will I need, what technical skills will I need, how will I demonstrate competency in this area and how will it be assessed?’”

Mutual recognition
Ideally, there should be common standards for HR designations in Canada that everybody recognizes and everybody awards on the same basis, said Greenhalgh.

“Today, that doesn’t exist — the CHRP is different in different provinces, it’s granted in different ways.”

There’s never really been a national standard, said Balthazard. For instance, provincial associations, other than Quebec’s, have yet to introduce any requirement for HR coursework.

The CHRP is only protected by statute in Ontario and Quebec and while that may change in the future as the profession is regulated in other provinces, for now that’s not the case, he said.

Hopefully, the other provinces will pick up and accept the new designations, said Greenhalgh.

“We don’t know why they wouldn’t because their goal is a tier-one, competency-based designation that has got all the things in it — legislation, employment law, tests the ability to apply knowledge as well as to know information — and is respected and valued and is protectable,” he said.

“If any other province or anybody wants to start from scratch, it’s going to take them years to get to where we are, and quite a lot of money... We assume that they’ll pick it up and end up with mutually recognized designation across the country that is actually granted in an identical way in every province.”

While change can be difficult, it’s hoped members will embrace the new changes, said Blunt.

“This does not take away anything from whatever somebody currently has. It’s very progressive, it allows the opportunity for growth and opportunity for more options for people entering the profession. So for those that are currently in the profession, it really doesn’t impact where they are, except to provide them with more up-to-date guidelines as to where their practice should be at today. So it’s more of a confirmation of where members already are.”

And employers should embrace the new designations, said Blunt.

“Employers that have HR members that are not CHRP — (who) may be functioning at an administrative level in an HR department — will be able to see that there’s an opportunity to have these professionals certified at the appropriate level, which gives them more assurance that their employees are functioning appropriately.”

The process
There will be a three-year transition for the new designations, said Greenhalgh. And about 60 per cent of HRPA members are already designated, and they will be grandfathered into the mid-level of the designation.

About 20 or 30 per cent are currently working along the path and will have at least partial exemptions.

They also have time to take the Comprehensive Knowledge Exam and go through the existing CHRP certification process to be grandfathered as well.

“We’re trying to make the transition as simple and as reasonable as possible and as clear as possible,” said Greenhalgh.

“We understand that… dollars are scarce and our goal is to keep certification cost at an absolute minimum,” he said.

“At the same time, of course, the value these designations create will really add value to their careers, so if there is any small increase in the certification cost, it will be more than offset by the value that it brings to them in the marketplace.”

Attaining the designations will include exams that test knowledge and performance assessments that assess the ability to use this knowledge, according to Balthazard. And the enabling competencies are specified at the individual, team and enterprise levels.

The first version of the new knowledge exam will be available in November 2015 and the new employment law exams will roll out around the end of 2016.

The first people to go fully through the program accreditation would start in September 2016 and come out of it around the end of 2017.

HRPA intends to introduce program-based accreditation for degree-granting HR programs. This will not require any changes for many of the colleges and universities as they have upgraded their programs over the years, said Greenhalgh. And the association will work closely with educational institutions and qualify the whole program, he said.

Students who graduate from accredited HR programs will be exempt from writing the knowledge exam. The exam will be maintained to qualify candidates who graduate from non-accredited programs, said Balthazard.

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