Canadian way means strong provincial, national bodies for benefit of HR (Guest commentary)

Designation ensures same basic knowledge across the country

One of Canada’s great strengths is the rich diversity of the different provinces. Different perspectives, economies, educational infrastructure and legal and political structures are all bound by a single constitution. But, as our politicians regularly discover, diversity can often become disparity and these differences can lead to a Meech Lake situation where full agreement is not possible.

That makes what the Canadian Council of Human Resources Associations (CCHRA) and the provincial HR associations have accomplished in the last few years all the more remarkable. It’s easy to forget how far we have come as a profession in the country in fewer than 15 years.

The road travelled

It was only in 1998, when we received funding from Human Resources and Social Development Canada (HRSDC), that we started on an ambitious plan to establish a comprehensive national standard for HR professionals and to promote programs to upgrade the profession. Through the creation by the provinces of the CCHRA in 1994, and thousands of volunteer hours combined with seed funding from the federal government, we launched a brand new national designation, the Certified Human Resources Professional (CHRP), in January 2003.

Amazingly, by the end of 2007 — just four years later — there are more than 18,000 CHRPs registered with the nine provincial HR associations. Last year alone, more than 1,500 HR professionals received their CHRP, and exam registrations for May 2008 are up by nearly 50 per cent from last year.

The visionary move to launch the new designation anticipated the survey results we’re all seeing these days which talk about the rapidly changing role of HR and its strategic importance in organizations. This view of the future has greatly contributed to the huge success of the program.

Strength in partnerships, recognizing differences

But that is only part of the story. To understand why it has worked so well when many other federal/provincial initiatives have floundered, we should look to the pioneers of the program. There were some early decisions that formed the basis for successful partnerships across the provinces and with CCHRA, such as:

•Up front, there was recognition and acceptance of genuine differences among the provinces, so there was never any attempt to force everyone into a one-size-fits-all process.

•CCHRA was given a clear mandate by the provinces to lead the advancement of the profession built on credible and essential designations. The national body manages and enhances the standards and the exams and educational requirements that support them. Arising from this, there was also a clearly defined role for the provinces — to manage the tools, programs and processes that ensure members are prepared to meet the national standards. This diversity reflects a conscious decision to rely upon one of our greatest strengths — each other. We can learn by sharing best practices, resources, information and insights with each other.

•Through the CCHRA, a vital decision was made to focus on an outcome everyone could agree on: A shared vision of core national standards for HR that would be applicable across the country. The standards that evolved are indeed truly Canadian and go beyond provincial differences to concentrate on what can be shared.

•And, last but not least, everyone involved kept a keen eye on the fact the eventual beneficiaries of this plan are the members of the provincial associations. Everything we do through the partnership of the provinces and CCHRA is designed, ultimately, to contribute to the careers of these members.

A truly national designation

From this program, all CHRP holders in this country possess not only the same basic skills but the knowledge their certification will be recognized from coast to coast, wherever their careers take them. And it means as the profession evolves, CCHRA reflects the increasing demands on the profession by ensuring the designation continues to evolve so the core standards serve the needs of provincial members now and in the future.

Role clarity, recognition of the diversity among the provincial partners, a focus on members and a commitment by everyone in the partnership to evolve the profession to meet rapidly changing needs — that’s the basis for our success — and is the Canadian way.

Merrill Brinton is president of the Ottawa-based Canadian Council of Human Resources Associations and Debbie Bennett is chair of the board of the Toronto-based Human Resources Professionals Association of Ontario.

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