People interested in pursuing the Certified Human Resources Professional (CHRP) designation now have three pathways to consider instead of one — in every province but Ontario.
That’s because provincial members of the Canadian Council of Human Resources Associations (CCHRA) have introduced a program for identifying post-secondary credit-level degree, diploma and certificate programs for accreditation in their respective provinces.
To be accredited, the post-secondary program must be assessed and shown to cover at least 80 per cent of the content of the CHRP competency framework. And any school that is accredited will be recognized by other member associations.
Students who graduate from an accredited program with an overall average grade of 70 per cent or higher will be eligible to waive the National Knowledge Exam (NKE) and move straight to the experience portion of the CHRP. The program will also be available to students who graduated in the past five years, provided the program has not changed significantly.
CCHRA has been working on the initiative for the past year, according to Chris McNelly, CEO of the Human Resources Institute of Alberta (HRIA), adding it’s very similar to what’s available for accountants and engineers.
“The National Knowledge Exam is essentially an exam based on theoretical knowledge of the field of human resources and it’s broad in its spectrum so... for a student who has gone through a credit-level post-secondary program that essentially teaches all of the information that is tested on the NKE, we really see that as a substitute for that academic level of knowledge.
“So what we see is really giving a higher level of credibility and integrity to those post-secondary institutions and respective programs that it meets the knowledge base within the competency framework of the CHRP.”
Melanie Peacock, associate professor at the Bissett School of Business at Mount Royal University in Calgary, said she is thrilled by the development.
“What this means, basically, is that we are recognizing as a professional body, a profession, that while we maintain and will continue to maintain high academic rigour, high qualifications within this designation, we’re appreciating that for those students that have shown accountability via another approved and accredited route, that they don’t have to then write the National Knowledge Exam. That’s a big change,” she said.
While accountants can take accounting courses through university or college programs to become professionals, CHRP candidates only had the NKE to test academic knowledge, said Ron Gauthier, CEO and CHRP registrar at the Human Resource Management Association of Manitoba (HRMAM) in Winnipeg.
“Now, with the accreditation of the program of getting and aligning with our competencies, that means that we’re encouraging young students to be trained in HR at a post-secondary level and then come and pursue their professional designation.”
It adds credibility to the designation because, on a going-forward basis, all the new people will be post-secondary-trained in HR through a diploma or degree program, he said, adding institutions are very excited about it.
“They are in the process of working on a submission to us to develop how close their courses and learning outcomes are to the competencies to see if they would meet the benchmark of being accredited by HRMAM in Manitoba.”
The accreditation process is being reviewed by academic HR professionals and there’s a high degree of integrity in reviewing the curriculum, said McNelly.
“For those institutions that, for example, have an HR program that maybe doesn’t involve compensation, they have to adjust their curriculum to align with the competency framework. And this is a really positive approach for the HR profession because we want to ensure that post-secondary institutions are aligning their curriculum to meet the needs of the market and actual profession itself in the workplace.”
Accountants, engineers and lawyers are closely aligned with post-secondary institutional programs to ensure they align with best practices in those professions, he said.
“This is just a natural evolution and growth of the HR profession, and it adds a higher level of integrity and credibility to the HR profession, particularly for those students who are graduating in those programs that are accredited… it’ll give much greater comfort to employers to know that those students that are coming out have that basic level of knowledge that is aligned with the competency framework.”
CCHRA and the member associations are taking a practical yet rigorous approach in assessing the programs, said Peacock.
“And now we have those nine knowledge domains as well as the five competencies, so it’s awesome that they’re really looking at that. And given that it will take some time, I’m also very appreciative that they’re saying, ‘As long as the program has not substantially changed, people that have finished even within last five years will qualify,’” she said.
“What I love about this is it’s open to all sort of academic institutions that can apply for accreditation, so it’s allowing organizations to not only look at their own programs and review and making sure they’re aligning within requirements within the CHRP, which is great in and of itself… but it’s also holding that degree of rigour because there will be accreditation committees to look at this and make sure it’s happening.”
Waiving the NKE
But Ian Turnbull, managing director at Laird & Greer in Toronto and co-author of the Study Guide for the HR Knowledge Exams, has reservations about the changes.
“I believe in certification, I believe in standards and I believe that employers and professionals both should reasonably expect that the people who claim to have such a designation have a certain level of competence and knowledge and skills,” he said.
“How good are the courses in HR? It’s a fairly unregulated and undisciplined area of academia. I think there’s a lot of variability in the quality of education sessions.”
There’s a lot of people talking about fundamental orientation changes in HR, talking about empowerment, employee buy-in and so on, he said.
“Is that being taught in schools or are people being taught skills? You go to a compensation class and you learn how to calculate a compa ratio, and you go to a class on staffing and you learn how to conduct an interview, but is there anybody talking about the overall practice of HR and how it should function and how it should be tied into the operation of business?”
There has to be a standard and there has to be an examination for the standard, said Turnbull.
“I don’t care whether you call it the NKE or the CPA or some completely new description. There are RPCs (required professional capabilities)… and I don’t know of any effort by academic institutions of any description to tie RPCs to learning materials.”
People who go through law boards to become a lawyer or a medical board to become a doctor may complain about how hard it was but they’re proud to have passed, he said.
“I don’t think we should be making it easy to become an HR practitioner.”
But anyone who’s done a post-secondary program knows there are more exams, questions and coursework than the NKE can test on, said McNelly.
“I consider a post-secondary program as a higher threshold than the NKE. The NKE is one exam that tests a broad base of HR, whereas if you do a degree in HR, that’s four years, 40 courses and… 10 to 20 of those are going to be in business and going to be focused on HR and it’s going to actually test to a much greater depth of knowledge than the NKE can even test.”
Quebec has taken this approach for years, with five universities in that province now accredited, so nothing is lost in bypassing the NKE, said Tony Ariganello, CEO of CCHRA and president and CEO of the Human Resources Management Association (HRMA) in Vancouver.
“Quebec is exceptionally strong and they’re very, very positively recognized in Quebec with respect to the HR profession. I think 70 per cent of jobs that are posted at the HR level, senior level, require the CHRP, so in no way has it minimized that. And not everyone is coming through that stream — you’ve got to remember, you really need to focus on HR and with a specialization in HR.”
The post-secondary accreditation program will also improve relations with the schools and the NKE, said McNelly.
“You can begin to bridge that gap because now you’ve got a much greater accessibility into providing guidance and advice and development of the curriculum — that then leads into better information to adjust the NKE as well because there’s still going to be many members, many HR professionals that want to get into the HR profession but… don’t have an academic background from an accredited institution or program,” he said.
“By connecting much more closely with post-secondary institutions, we ensure that the academic theory is translated into the NKE and also for those accredited programs, they relate to what’s happening in the current HR industry. So it’s really about aligning best practices in the industry and aligning that with post-secondary curriculum and ensuring that the NKE is aligned with those best practices as well and provides that bridge.”
Allowing transferability also makes sense, said McNelly.
“It just provides consistency within the academic curriculum and consistency of expectations of knowledge that’s aligned with the competency framework. And that’s what you see in the other major professions,” he said.
Another big part of the change is it allows for a pipeline of student growth in membership.
“The expectation is they’ll maintain their membership throughout the duration of their HR career,” said McNelly.
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