How does Canada’s HR certification stack up to that of the United States and the United Kingdom? It depends on who you talk to — some say Canada is well-established and leading the way, while others opine there is still some work to do.
Canada’s penetration rate for HR certification is high (at the end of 2009, there were 21,644 holders of the Certified Human Resources Professional designation), though it’s hard to get a sense of how many people there are in HR who should get the designation, says Claude Balthazard, director of HR excellence at the Human Resources Professionals Association in Toronto.
“If you put in the best guesstimates we have, indeed, certification is much more popular in Canada,” he says.
In the U.K., the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) has a membership of about 130,000, with 101,500 who have gained a post- graduate level qualification, says Christine Williams, membership manager at CIPD in London. Each year, about 12,000 new students register for the qualifications.
“It is difficult to respond to what this is as a percentage of HR professionals as the size of the HR population, and how it is defined, varies vastly depending on who surveys the market,” she says.
In the U.S., there are 111,788 professionals certified with the Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM) designation in more than 80 countries, says Mary Power, executive director at SHRM in Alexandria, Va. Looking at job postings, the association has seen an 18-per-cent increase in the last three years of job postings that request or require one of its certifications.
“It’s growing rapidly,” says Power. “Our organization is over 34 years old and, in the last five years, demand for certification has increased immensely.”
Each region has developed a certification system that reflects the development and nuances of the HR profession in that country. And each country has made substantial changes recently as the standards rise.
U.K. provides road map
The U.K. has completely redone its professional designation, as HR professionals can now be chartered. It has also introduced an experience assessment route to help experienced HR professionals access CIPD membership and laid out a new road map for the profession that features “a multi-dimensional picture” of the profession across 10 professional areas, at four different levels.
“The changes we have recently made to the content of our qualifications reflect the evolving HR profession,” says Williams. “For example, organization design and development is a core area that was not fully acknowledged in the past. Professional membership recognition is no longer awarded just based on qualifications — candidates need to also be assessed on their competence in the workplace.”
The British system looks at the behaviours HR professionals need to support what they do, which is not the case in the U.S. or Canada, says Paul Juniper, director of the Industrial Relations Centre at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ont.
“(They are) raising the bar, in the sense of making people have more qualifications before they write exams. We’re seeing that basically everywhere — the standards are going up.”
The CIPD also has levels of competency within each particular domain, as a person may be competent, for example, at a certain level in compensation but more competent in recruitment. But in the U.S. or Canada, you either meet the standard or you don’t, says Juniper.
“There’s much more options and variety in the British system and the British also have a much broader educational system that’s unique to the profession backing them up,” says Juniper. “Here in Canada, we rely much more on academic institutions to provide the training. In Britain, much more of it is done by the profession itself.”
Compared to certification in the United States under SHRM, the CIPD has much greater control of the content and how the programs are delivered, says Williams.
“Universities and colleges have to go through an approval process before they offer the program and we manage how, where, when the content is delivered,” she says. “We also have a very active role in defining and checking the way the assessments are conducted. In some elements of the (exam required by SHRM), assessment knowledge is tested by multiple choice — we hardly ever just test ‘factual’ knowledge, it is always in the context of how it is applied.”
U.S. takes multiple-choice approach
Six years ago, Juniper took one of the SHRM tests and said only one-half of the people passed.
“People may mock (the exam) a little bit but it’s not that easy — there are 225 questions in 240 minutes, multiple choice, but some of them can be quite difficult. So you need to know your stuff.”
The U.S. has three certification levels — Professional in Human Resources (PHR), Senior Professional in Human Resources (SPHR) and Global Professional in Human Resources (GPHR). The number of questions varies by the type of exam, says Power, from 166 for a GPHR to 225 for a SPHR. There is also more case study work in the SPHR.
“The PHR and SPHR both pull from the same body of knowledge but emphasis on strategic HR or business alignment of an organization is more heavily weighted in SPHR,” she says.
However, an independent body called the Human Resource Certification Institute (HRCI) does the testing, not SHRM. In the U.S., it’s considered anti-trust to force membership in an organization so people have access to a designation, so it’s set up that way, says Balthazard.
“In Canada, we think of it completely differently,” he says. “In the states, certification is unrelated or separate from professional regulation so the system is a bit different. In Canada, certification tends to be tied to professionalism.”
Another significant difference from Canada and the U.K. is there is no membership component in the United States, says Power. And the standard for the global designation — GPHR — in the U.S. is going to change, says Juniper. Right now, global work experience is not really required. In the future, a person will have to have worked in one other country.
Having been involved in HR education for more than 20 years, Juniper says the challenge is HR people in Canada are not being taught a lot about business. In the U.S., there is a SHRM academy that teaches people at the beginning of their careers about areas such as marketing, finance and accounting. It’s worrisome to create a silo where people are coming up through HR and, in the end, having to stay in HR, he says.
“In order to have more career options later in your career, it helps if you have started with a broader base,” says Juniper. “The next step for education for HR (in Canada), you need to look to what the Americans are doing with the academy and what the British have done with adding levels of competency.”
Foreign HR credentials
The British and American ways
Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD), U.K.: CIPD qualifications are available at advanced, intermediate and foundation levels and people can study awards, certificates and diplomas at each level. Most CIPD qualifications provide the underpinning knowledge towards CIPD professional membership (associate, chartered member or chartered fellow).
Set at a post-graduate level, advanced level qualifications involve critical analysis, self-reflection and problem-solving techniques to learn how to develop and implement HR solutions that drive organizational performance.
Set at an undergraduate level, the intermediate qualifications develop a person’s ability to evaluate the effectiveness of different HR models and practices, and increase understanding of the external factors that impact HR activities and organizations.
CIPD’s foundation level qualifications provide a range of relevant practical skills in HR and development. Candidates can choose to follow an HR or learning and development pathway.
Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM), U.S.: The HR Certification Institute administers SHRM’s certifications: Professional in Human Resources (PHR), Senior Professional in Human Resources (SPHR) and Global Professional in Human Resources (GPHR).
The PHR is designed for the HR professional who focuses on program implementation, has tactical or logistical orientation, has two to four years of HR work experience and focuses on the HR department rather than the whole organization.
The SPHR is designed for the HR professional who designs and plans, rather than implements, HR policy, has six to eight years of progressive HR experience, understands the business beyond the HR function and influences the overall organization.
The GPHR is designed for the HR professional who has HR responsibilities that cross national borders and establishes HR policies and initiatives that support the organization’s global growth and employer reputation.
There is also a California certification (PHR-CA and SPHR-CA) that requires a second exam because that state has such different laws.
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