Time for a senior HR designation?

It could attract execs to associations, but CCHRA says it’s too soon since national CHRP launch
By David Brown
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 02/15/2005

Even as the young national Certified Human Resources Professional designation is still finding its legs, some influential HR association leaders are already asking if Canada needs a new senior-level CHRP.

It is time to start exploring the possibility of an HR designation that would be more attractive to senior- and executive-level HR professionals, said Gerlinde Herrmann, the new president of the Human Resources Professionals Association of Ontario.

Referring specifically to HRPAO, she said senior HR professionals are under-serviced by the association.

“I think that for 90 per cent of the population, HRPAO does an amazing job,” she said. But the other 10 per cent feel like there isn’t a lot of reason for them to join the association right now. “I think that as an HR association we need to find a way to engage the executive level.”

That doesn’t necessarily mean a senior-level HR designation, but it should be considered, she said.

Provincial HR associations grant the designation, but the Canadian Council of Human Resources Associations oversees the national standards which were launched in 2003.

Even if HRPAO can’t unilaterally deliver a designation for senior HR professionals, it can still deliver courses more attractive for senior-level HR people or perhaps even a senior-level certificate, she said. Anything that will attract more executives to the association should be considered, she said.

Monica Belcourt, a key player in the development of the CHRP and former president of HRPAO, also believes it is time to at least explore the possibility of a senior-level designation.

The CHRP is well on its way to being accepted as a vital prerequisite for entry-level HR professionals, she said. But senior-level HR people will balk at the process required to get the entry-level designation, while other senior leaders who have the CHRP will want something to demonstrate they have experience and expertise worthy of more than an entry-level designation, she said.

A senior designation will be something to explore, but not now, said Genevieve Fortier, president of the Canadian Council of Human Resources Associations.

“In the future we will look at this but it is not on our priority list right now,” she said.

The national CHRP is still in its infancy, she said. For the time being, CCHRA is committed to consolidating the designation’s position in the national business community, improving the exam process and marketing it across the country.

“You need to have a vision and some goals but you also need to take some time to deliver those goals properly,” she said.

“We need to be strengthening this CHRP across the country before we open a second one,” she said. “We have to do marketing efforts in order to get the word out, to make sure the national business community knows a national designation is out there and what it is all about.”

Belcourt agrees with Fortier that the CCHRA still has work to do to promote the CHRP so that it becomes more recognized across the country.

“Having said that, the development of a designation takes years. This will take three or four years,” she said. “I would love to see some committee structure set up now — the beginning of the beginning.”

The American Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) and the British Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development already have senior-level designations, so Canada should at least be talking about it, said Paul Juniper, who has been involved with the development of the national standards for the CHRP and was a key advocate behind the decision to make a university degree a mandatory requirement to receive the designation.

“We do a good job of getting people the basic information to get them their first job, but we don’t do anything beyond that,” he said. (Last year, SHRM also launched a new Global Professional in Human Resources, the GPHR.)

Until HR associations do more to help HR people earn respect and promotion to the top of the HR ladder and beyond, HR professionals will continue to feel subordinate to other functions, said Juniper. There is nothing being promoted or supported by the HR associations to help those HR professionals with aspirations to the top of the organization.

“In HR, the Holy Grail is to be the vice-president of HR. They don’t feel that way in finance,” he said. A senior-level HR designation would be one step toward rectifying that problem.

But aside from career aspirations, career demands are also changing, he said. “I think it is pretty clear that one of the things that have changed is we need a much broader business knowledge than we used to.”

Increasingly CEOs are calling on HR to manage the corporate culture, he said. This is particularly true in larger, international organizations. “What they want from HR isn’t technical knowledge anymore. So then you have to ask what is the value of only giving HR people technical knowledge.”

But Fortier said the fact that the British and Americans have a senior-level designation isn’t reason enough to push ahead with one in Canada. Superficial comparisons of what is being offered in different countries aren’t helpful, she said.

For example, Canada has one designation but two exams, said Fortier. The first exam, the national knowledge exam, covers the technical aspects of HR. The second exam, the professional practice assessment, focuses more on strategic knowledge.

In the U.S., the Professional in Human Resources (PHR) focuses on technical knowledge, while the Senior Professional in Human Resources (SPHR) is meant to be a test of strategic knowledge.

“I would never suggest that our CHRP is a senior designation,” she said. “It was not designed for that purpose. It was designed as an entry-level designation,” she said. “It is just extremely difficult to compare from one country to the other. And in this case, just because they have two doesn’t mean we should too.”

(To be granted the SPHR, a professional is only required to have two years in HR, though six to eight years are recommended. The Canadian council recommends the CHRP candidate have two to four years of practical experience before attempting the professional practice assessment requirement.)

Barry Barnes, a regional HR manager with Lafarge Canada, in Markham, Ont., got his CHRP in 1994 and believes the creation of national standards was a positive step for the profession. But he is not convinced a senior-level designation is the necessary next step. Rather, the associations may be better off first improving their other offerings to senior HR professionals.

“The question is, are associations addressing the needs of senior professionals sufficiently?” said Barnes. “And to some degree they are not.”

One reason the CHRP is considered an entry-level designation is because so few senior HR people have it, he said.

“If you are the vice-president of HR, and you don’t have a CHRP what are you going to gain by getting it?” he asked. If associations provided more development opportunities and support that are appropriate for both senior-level people and those destined for the executive ranks, then more senior-level people will join associations.

Over time, the impression of the CHRP as an entry-level designation will change as more vice-presidents have the designation. The accounting profession is a case in point, he says. “You don’t ask a CMA if they have a senior-level CMA. It is just not an appropriate question.”

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