CHRP no guarantee of job but ensures basic competence (Letter to the editor)

As chair of the National Standards Steering Committee of the Canadian Council of Human Resource Associations (CCHRA) I feel compelled to comment on the pros and cons of certification of human resource professionals in Canada -- the subject of a series of Letters to the Editor in Canadian HR Reporter.

Background: The certification “CHRP” (Certified Human Resource Professional) began in Ontario, but rapidly gained favour nationally. CCHRA was formed in 1995 with the major goal of Canada-wide portability of the CHRP. All current provincial HR associations (B.C., Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia), plus, World At Work, the International Personnel Management Association and the International Association for Human Resource Information Management are CCHRA members, representing more than 24,000 Canadian HR practitioners.

In 1997, CCHRA and Human Resources Development Canada (HRDC) created a project to research, create and formalize a set of national standards for the practice of HR in Canada. Both HRDC and CCHRA are extremely pleased with the results to date, and this project is now in its fourth phase with participation from all parts of the country. If any reader is interested in being part of this exciting project, contact your local HR association. Canada does not yet have an active CHRP-granting association in every province and territory, nor have we completed the work of defining the parameters of HR to our satisfaction, but the goal is within sight.

There seem to be two primary themes to the letters on this subject:

•There is/is not a definable body of knowledge and/or competencies that are unique to HR practitioners, and the “CHRP” designation is/is not the comprehensive standard for HR practice;

•There is/is not a need to certify HR practitioners; and having a CHRP helps/ doesn’t help the holder find employment.

Definable body of knowledge and completeness of CHRP: John Platz (CHRR, April 9, 2001) suggests that HR is an art. Organizations, he suggests, have unique values that colour everything they do, and he concludes that a standard HR response wouldn’t suffice. Ernie Gec (CHRR, June 18, 2001) suggests that: “Best practices are a way of institutionalizing the tried and the safe route. Those who win are breaking out into uncharted territory where the textbooks don’t help much.” And finally, John Martin (CHRR, May 7, 2001) suggests that the CHRP should not be seen as the “only criterion to demonstrate a level of competence.”

I couldn’t agree more. As it stands, the CHRP defines a standard set of general HR knowledge. It does not define the ultimate level of knowledge in any HR function, nor should it. Just as a lawyer or engineer must temper knowledge with experience, so too must the HR practitioner tailor solutions based on circumstances. That, is competency in practice.

CCHRA and HRDC are currently refining “national standards” for a generalist HR practitioner, not a functional specialist. World At Work, for example, offers compensation certification that is both narrower and deeper than is the CHRP. In this way, the two certifications are complimentary, and the importance of World At Work as a CCHRA member is illustrated.

Platz also writes that it is line supervisors who are truly responsible for the management of an organization’s human resources. It is they, he says, who meet the LR Board standard tests, not HR. To that I say, “Amen!”

The first and foremost challenge of any HR presence in any organization is to establish a framework for human resource management. That framework lays down guidelines for action by management and employees alike, taking legislation and translating it to the organization’s culture and needs, and making it possible for the organization to manage within an acceptable range of HR practices.

Does HR do it all? Of course not; no more than the financial controller manages individual department budgets. But, the fact that someone other than a certified professional has some responsibility in that functional area does not mean that there isn’t a distinct body of knowledge here.

The Phase IV National Standards project continues to explore the relative merits of education versus experience, and the upcoming pilot project will test the measurement methods and standards of each.

No Need to Certify HR?: “Credential envy,” says Gec “won’t deliver us to the promised land.” Nor should it. But should HR ignore an opportunity to define and improve our profession merely because someone else did it first?

As Monica Belcourt so ably states (CHRR, May 7, 2001), “the CHRP is not a ticket to an executive position. Neither is an MBA, a CA or a law degree. However, it does tell employers, employees and the general public that the practitioner has mastered a body of knowledge and adheres to a code of ethics. Employers know and value this."

I can’t say it better than that. Neither CCHRA, nor any member association, has suggested that individuals not possessing a CHRP are deficient in any way. Nor do we say a CHRP guarantees the holder will find employment, but it opens a door called "basic competence." After that you are on your own.
CCHRA member associations do encourage employers to look for potential employees holding and/or working on the CHRP. In that way we try to ensure that standards are met, but not at the expense of the art that Platz mentioned, nor of the adventure of the “uncharted” so relished by Gec.

Platz asked "Parents aren't certified -- why should HR professionals be?" Clearly parents aren’t certified, but wouldn’t the world be a better place if every person about to create a child understood the commitment of parenthood, that drinking, smoking or doing crack damages the embryo and the child, that reading to them at night lays down a foundation for learning, and that abuse and neglect beget a life filled with difficulties?

Thanks to Canadian HR Reporter for committing so much space to the debate of this important issue.

Ian Turnbull
BA, MBA, CHRP (and proud of all three)
Chair, CCHRA National Standards Steering Committee
President-Elect, CCHRA
President, IHRIM

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