Clock ticking on degree requirement for CHRP

With deadline just months away, most are onboard with change
By Sarah Dobson
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 03/07/2010

With the degree requirement for the Certified Human Resources Professional (CHRP) designation in most provinces less than one year away, HR professionals, associations and colleges and universities are on track in ensuring the change is both understood and embraced.

The decision was made more than five years ago so people have had plenty of notice, said Simon Evans, CEO of the British Columbia Human Resources Management Association. Though there are still a few questions around the new guidelines, particularly among younger people, most understand and appreciate the change — degrees have become much more common if not standard for most professionals, he said.

Businesses are realizing the human capital aspect is just as vital as financial or technology capital, said Evans. Five years ago, very few first-year students were interested in HR.

“Today, that’s been totally reversed,” he said. “The engagement of HR in the universities, at all levels… is dynamite.”

As of Jan. 1, 2011, CHRP candidates who have passed the National Knowledge Exam (NKE) will require a bachelor’s degree from an accredited college or university if they want to register for the National Professional Practice Assessment (NPPA) and qualify for the CHRP designation. In Ontario, the degree requirement will be added to an existing coursework requirement, while Quebec has always required CHRP candidates to have a degree.

While some people may be discouraged by the longer path that will be required in 2011, looking at the expectations of HR professionals, this is the definitely the direction of the future, said Nora Molina, executive director of the Human Resources Institute of Alberta (HRIA).

“In the long term, if they’re pursuing a career in HR, expecting to go beyond an entry type of role into any type of management, most certainly the degree is the expectation.”

And since the degree can be three or four years long, if a person already has a two-year diploma, “the barrier is not really that great,” she says.

For the past year, HRIA has seen a “considerable rise” in exam writers but some people are taking a risk by hurrying, she says, which is why the one-time May 2011 exemption — for people who try and fail the October 2010 NPPA — is a great option. Under the exemption, candidates who fail the October NPPA can write it again in May 2011 and, if successful, still receive a CHRP without a degree.

There are general competencies that come from a degree that are the same competencies required of HR professionals, says Cheryl Lamerson, professional standards manager at the Canadian Council of Human Resources Associations (CCHRA).

“We’re asking HR professionals to be very strategic, to have that broader understanding, so that education helps them in that way as well.”

And many people will consider a degree even if they are successful attaining the CHRP by 2011, says Carole Grosse, program leader for HR programs at Camosun College in Victoria, B.C.

“You need to have higher education if you want to move up in HR, you have to have post-secondary. The days where it was OK to grow into it and get to the top, I think they’re over, there’s just too much competition, people with better credentials.”

Should degree be HR-related?

For now, the degree does not have to be HR-related. That makes sense as there are nurses and engineers with arts degrees, for example, who have managed to do very well, says Melanie Peacock, an associate professor at the Bissett School of Business at Mount Royal University in Calgary.

“It’s not just the education it’s the work experience they bring to it,” she says. “The degree is proving you have the discipline, the commitment, the study habits, general knowledge of many subject areas.”

Many members come from varying career paths and don’t necessarily have an HR degree, but along the way they have acquired knowledge and experience in HR, says Molina.

“We want to continue to allow that diversity,” she says. “I really wouldn’t see there being a value in making it an HR-only degree. There’s a general concept that we’re not trying to clone everybody exactly the same.”

However, there are those who may ask “Why is a degree in underwater basket weaving better than a two-year diploma in HR?” says Lou Charlebois, registrar at the Saskatchewan Association of Human Resource Professionals.

The discussion may not be over yet at the national level, he says, but if there was a move to an HR-only degree, few universities would qualify in Canada.

“Most of them are just coming out of the old paradigm of a degree in organizational behaviour and industrial relations,” says Charlebois.

And most of them do not cover all of the professional capabilities identified by CCHRA.

“Very few universities meet those criteria. To be a little controversial, many college programs have come very close if in fact are not covering all of the illustrated RPCs (required professional capabilities).”

However, down the road, it wouldn’t be a surprise if an HR-only degree became a requirement for the CHRP, says Evans.

“When you’re trying to put together a program nationally, it does take a bit longer, it’s not a simple corporate decision.”

Professions go through an evolutionary process, says Lamerson of CCHRA.

“We will get to the point where there will be more degrees purely in HR, it will be more broadly offered and I think, yes, it will get to the point where we’ll say, ‘We require a degree in HR’ or some combination of a degree in something else and a post-graduate certificate in HR — there are different ways of approaching it.”

But if HR degrees become more popular, would the appeal of the CHRP subside? While it’s true a person might decide one qualification is enough, the CHRP continues to gain popularity, says Lamerson.

“An individual might find, despite what they thought, employers still want the CHRP. So I’m not really concerned about that.”

Most students are keen to achieve the CHRP, recognizing it gives them greater credibility and more job positions state “CHRP preferred,” says Peacock. There are also great networking and liaising opportunities involved.

“Although employers aren’t making (the CHRP) an essential qualification today, I think, in years to come, they will and I think that’s in the back of most students’ minds, to get it,” says Graeme Simpson, a program co-ordinator at Humber College in Toronto.


Schools onside

Colleges, universities improve HR offerings

Many of the colleges and universities across Canada have ramped up HR offerings in anticipation of the 2011 degree requirement for the Certified Human Resources Professional (CHRP) designation.

Mount Royal University in Calgary started offering a bachelor of business administration with a major in HR in 2008.

“That’s one of the key things we have done to prepare for this transition,” says Melanie Peacock, an associate professor at the Bissett School of Business at Mount Royal.

The university will also recognize credits from other programs and schools. For example, if a person has a two-year HR diploma, he can transfer those two years to the HR degree.

York University in Toronto has been offering a three- and four-year bachelor in HR management for years that is “entirely consistent” with the accreditation process of the CHRP, despite the changing standards, says Marie-Hélène Budworth, undergraduate program director at the School of Human Resource Management at York University.

“We’ve been aware this was coming down the pipeline for some time, so the program is in line with the standards,” she says.

About two-and-a-half years ago, Humber College in Toronto gained approval to offer an applied business degree with an HR specialization. This means it is pure business for the first two years, then pure HR in the second two, says Graeme Simpson, a program co-ordinator at Humber College in Toronto.

The school also has a three-year business administration diploma program with HR specialization in the third year, so it is encouraging students in that program to transfer into the degree program with advanced standing.

Camosun College in Victoria has had an advanced diploma for eight years and has seen an “incredible increase” in enrolment, as people try to get subject matter under their belt to write the CHRP exams before the degree requirement comes into effect, says Carole Grosse, program leader for HR programs at Camosun College.

The school also introduced a bachelor in business administration with an HR management and leadership option about three years ago, in anticipation of the 2011 deadline. And many of the people who did the diploma program, who thought that was all they needed, are now staying for two more years to attain the degree, she says.

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