HR, meet your associations

A look at what’s happening with some of the major HR associations across Canada

Associations play a pivotal role in the HR profession. They help practitioners network, stay on top of their games and elevate the profession as a whole. Canadian HR Reporter sat down and talked with the heads of provincial associations from across the country, plus a number of other leading associations. For a list of HR associations, including contact information, see article #5019.

Diane Wiesenthal

Canadian Council of Human Resources Associations

In 1992, provincial HR associations recognized the need to collaborate on national issues. The Canadian Council of Human Resources Associations (CCHRA) was formally established four years later, in 1996, but it relied heavily upon the largest provincial association, the HR Professionals Association of Ontario, for support and especially for office space in Toronto.

“When CCHRA was first set up, it was an infant company and needed some strong support from provincial associations,” said Diane Wiesenthal, president of CCHRA.

Now the council is gearing up for its big move from Toronto to Ottawa next month.

“We’re a national council. We really should be located in the national capital of Canada. It’s a closer alignment to federal government relations, which is key to us, as well as having other national associations located in Ottawa,” said Wiesenthal.

With its move to Ottawa, the council also wants to strengthen its government relations strategy and work more as a lobby group for HR. The council will also continue to build its international relationships with other like-minded associations around the world and raise awareness of the CHRP designation on a global scale, said Wiesenthal.

As part of its move to the nation’s capital, the council is hiring its first CEO. The council will continue to have three other staff positions — an executive director of professional standards, a communication specialist and an administrative position.

CCHRA relies heavily on volunteers, about 60 in all. The national board of directors consists of representatives from the provincial associations and there’s also a professional standards committee, an independent board of examiners and a marketing committee.

The council is the national body responsible for maintaining national core standards for the HR profession and it awards the Certified Human Resources Professional (CHRP) designation. The council represents more than 33,000 professionals and 16,000 CHRP holders.

Building and strengthening the HR designation is one of CCHRA’s main goals over the next year. As part of that process, the council will be working with the business community to ensure the competencies the CHRP requires are relevant and will continue to be relevant in the future, said Wiesenthal.

The national board is also looking at enhancing the designation and perhaps offering a designation specifically for senior HR professionals.

“Longer term, everyone shares the vision that we want to have the best designation in the world for Canadian HR practitioners and we’re working towards that goal,” said Wiesenthal.

David Knudson

Human Resources Institute of Alberta

With a 16-per-cent jump in membership in 2006 and record-breaking attendance, the Human Resources Institute of Alberta (HRIA) is enjoying robust days. Created in 1984, the group was established “to promote, encourage and maintain a professional standard of practice in the occupational field known as human resources management through the development and certification of practitioners in Alberta.”

The HRIA is working hard to become the umbrella HR organization for the province, with local chapters. But provincial collaboration is not the only reason for the jump in numbers, said David Knudson, who became a volunteer president of the HRIA in 2005, citing outreach and marketing initiatives. “I had an aggressive plan. I saw opportunities for growth and to be able to position and market the profession.”

The escalations are evident in membership numbers, which have increased from 1,000 in 2005 to 2,600 this year, and recruiting ads, with more than 600 posted online in 2006, a 36-per-cent increase over the previous year.

The CHRP designation has also helped. Last year more than 340 HR professionals wrote the National Knowledge Exam and the National Professional Practice Assessment exams through the HRIA, surpassing the 2005 record of 200.

“It’s more than exceeded our expectations,” he said. “The designation is seen as valuable now and with its seamless nature, being portable across the country, it’s quite desirable. There are more people working in HR who truly want to raise the level of professionalism.”

The association launched its first conference last year and attendance exceeded expectations with more than 450 and a waiting list of 100. This year the HRIA will have capacity for 500 at the Edmonton “Explore the Possibilities” event in April, with high-profile keynote speakers such as David Suzuki.

Les Waldie

British Columbia Human Resources Management Association

Back in 2003, the British Columbia Human Resources Management Association (BCHRMA) was running a slight deficit. But revenue has gone from $1.8 million in 2004 to $3.3 million this year.

“Certainly we’ve made great progress on our whole fiscal viability because, if we don’t have that, we don’t have anything,” said Les Waldie, who has served as president since the summer of 2006 and is also vice-president of HR for Northern Health.

The organization has undergone considerable restructuring since 2005 when the volunteer board decided to shift from being operational to strategic, hiring CEO Simon Evans. Most recently it has focused on fiscal viability, membership services and the online newsletter. Membership has risen considerably, from 2,800 in 2004 to a projected 3,660 by the end of the fiscal year in June.

BCHRMA has also done measuring to understand how it is perceived by the business community and the general public. “We have a benchmark now and we’ll be looking at doing some things to raise our profile, all in the context of providing a better awareness of our association and our membership, all for the benefit of the members,” said Waldie.

The association has devoted a lot of time to ensuring it is responding to members’ needs by offering new symposiums directed at members outside the province’s main cities and offering education that’s at a level of interest to senior practitioners. The B.C. group has also collaborated with Alberta in areas such as training courses.

Lori Fenn
Executive director

Human Resource Management Association of Manitoba

The Human Resource Management Association of Manitoba (HRMAM) has seen astounding growth. Based in Winnipeg, the 63-year-old association has 1,100 members, nearly twice as many as the 600 it had at the start of the decade. Executive director Lori Fenn attributes much of this growth to a heightened interest in the CHRP designation.

Having membership double in such a short time means coping with some growing pains. At the HRMAM, the challenge is how to meet the needs of a diverse membership.

“There’s such a wide variety of skills and experience, how do we provide value to this growing membership? Our diverse membership is our biggest challenge,” said Fenn, pointing to students and senior HR people as two groups that may feel not as well-served as others.

The association is also gearing up to provide service to business professionals at large. In Manitoba, the ratio of small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) to large enterprises is more than 300 to one. That means, throughout much of the province’s business world, it’s not a dedicated HR person who does HR work. To reach out to these people, HRMAM has put together a 10-module training curriculum on HR functions such as recruitment, training and conflict resolution.

Another major initiative the association undertook this year was teaming up with the Assembly of Manitoba Chiefs to tackle the issue of under-employment among Aboriginals. The initiative came out of a recognition that members had a strong interest in Aboriginal recruitment. When Manitoba Public Insurance won HRMAM’s Excellence in Leadership award in 2005 for its Aboriginal employment practices, it fielded a lot of phone calls from other employers hoping to learn from the crown corporation.

“That started the ball rolling,” said Fenn.

The HRMAM board then decided this was an area where members needed support. With a multi-year partnership, the role of the HRMAM is to develop a cultural awareness among employers, said Fenn.

“Our focus right now is on understanding Aboriginal cultures and communities, for the purpose of eventually identifying what the barriers are and removing the barriers to employment.”

Rachelle Gagnon

Human Resources Association of New Brunswick

For the first 10 years of its existence, the HR Association of New Brunswick (HRANB) had three chapters in the province’s major, mostly English-speaking, cities. But the association wanted to grow into the northern, French-speaking areas as well. To be able to do that, the association has been building up its French-language services over the past two years.

“Before we were able to offer more services in northern New Brunswick, since the language is primarily French, we wanted to be sure all our bilingual services were up to date. That includes the website, customer service and ensuring our administrator was bilingual,” said Rachelle Gagnon, president of HRANB. “At this point, with our services fully bilingual, we felt we were able to move ahead.”

In the past two months, the association has established chapters in Bathurst and Edmundston, which will complement the original chapters in Saint John, Fredericton and Moncton.

To spearhead the new chapters, HRANB was lucky enough to find two former chapter presidents from the HR Professionals Association of Ontario, said Gagnon.

“They’ve taken on the lead and become the new chapter presidents for those chapters,” she said.

While the association has been around for a decade, it has only been in the last five years that it has been very active. With more than 750 members, it plans to focus on growth over the next couple of years, said Gagnon.

Professional development activities are one way the association attracts and retains members. Each year the association hosts a provincial professional development day. This year Bruce Katcher, author of 30 Reasons Employees Hate Their Managers, will lead the workshop on May 10.

“It’s such a timely topic because it talks about employee engagement and motivation, communication and managing relationships. That applies certainly to the HR field,” said Gagnon.

The chapters have also developed activities and programs that all members benefit from. Last year the Moncton chapter organized a golf tournament to promote and foster networking and the Fredericton chapter started a mentoring program for HR professionals.

Elizabeth Whitten

Human Resources Professionals of Newfoundland and Labrador

Since the HR Professionals of Newfoundland and Labrador (HRPNL) formed three years ago, it has grown from 10 members to 150. The number of CHRP designation holders has also more than quadrupled from four to 19 in that time.

“We’ve grown significantly,” said Elizabeth Whitten, vice-president of the association.

And each time the CHRP national exams come around, more and more HRPNL members are writing them.

“The level of interest is really growing and we’re really pleased with that,” said Whitten.

Part of this growth can be attributed to the association’s focus on professional development.

Over the past two years, HRPNL has worked with the College of the North Atlantic, which has 17 campuses across the province, to create a post-graduate HR certificate. The program, composed of 10 HR-specific courses, is mostly for people who already have a degree and want to move into the HR field, said Whitten.

HRPNL is continuing to promote the CHRP designation to professionals and employers alike. Last month the association took out an ad in the province’s largest newspaper listing all designation holders and explaining the benefits of the designation for professionals and employers.

The association has grown from one chapter in St. John’s to include a second in Grand Falls-Windsor. Whitten said there are plans to start a third chapter in Corner Brook.

In the coming year, the association plans to continue focusing on professional development for members and promoting the designation. As part of this, the association is planning a major redesign of its website so members can ask questions of each other and share experiences.

The association is also looking at providing members with preparation courses for the National Knowledge Exam and the National Professional Practice Assessment. A more formal approach that includes study groups will be especially helpful for members who have been out of school for a while, said Whitten.

“It helps them build their confidence if they have a group of peers they can work with to help prepare,” she said.

One of the challenges the still-young association faces is that it’s run completely by volunteers. The association’s recent member appreciation dinner in December became an opportunity for the association to recruit members to become more involved, said Whitten.

“We gave members the opportunity to let us know what they feel we as an association can be doing to better meet the needs of members and really offer value to our members,” she said. “Not only did we get good feedback and ideas from our members, it was also beneficial in that we had many people come forward and agree to take roles on committees and task forces for various projects.”

Sue Nelson

Human Resources Association of Nova Scotia

Having reached the 1,000-member mark, the Human Resources Association of Nova Scotia (HRANS) has ambitious plans to keep growing. It hopes to grow its membership by 10 per cent in 2007 and to increase the number of job postings on its website by 25 per cent, said Sue Nelson, association president.

To do this, the association plans to brand itself and market the CHRP designation to the HR community. To ensure this task gets the attention and focus it deserves, the association wants to hire an executive director.

“We’ve reached that point where the volunteers can’t keep the association going any longer,” said Nelson. “We’ve reached that growth threshold that warrants a different kind of office arrangement.”

HRANS has come a long way since 1945 when a small group of personnel practitioners formed the Maritime Personnel Association. In the 1960s, with nearly 60 members, the name changed to the Halifax and District Personnel Association and then finally in 1991, it became the Human Resources Association of Nova Scotia.

HRANS has seen a lot of changes in its composition over the past decade. Prince Edward Island joined the association six years ago, with Charlottetown making up one of the association’s three chapters, which also include Cape Breton and Halifax.

Then in 2004 Newfoundland and Labrador left HRANS to form its own association, the Human Resources Professionals of Newfoundland and Labrador.

This year will be busy as HRANS gears up to host its conference, an event that takes place every two years. Members from all the Atlantic provincial HR associations will attend in May. Then in the fall, P.E.I. will host the Atlantic Canada HR awards, an event that rotates around the provinces and was held in New Brunswick last year.

The association is planning on investing more money in professional development and scholarships over the next year and is looking at partnering with other organizations and associations, said Nelson.

“Our main focus is to ensure we bring back some really good value to our membership,” she said. “We want to help them see there is more value in joining an association...than just having your CHRP.”

Bill Greenhalgh

Human Resource Professionals Association of Ontario

Formed in 1990 by an act of the Ontario Legislature as the body to grant and regulate the CHRP designation, the HRPAO has 16,000 members in 28 chapters across the province.

Bill Greenhalgh, hired less than a year ago as CEO, said one of the top achievements this past year has been the setting out of a new vision and mission statement. Though not a departure from what was there in the past, the new vision — to be a global leader in advancing the human resources profession as the essential driver of business strategy and organizational success — “is just a bit more precise and probably more focused,” said Greenhalgh.

Having a precise mission statement helps focus the activities of the organization, said Greenhalgh. For example, it’s stated more explicitly now that HRPAO is a member-driven organization and that “our whole focus has to be on making things better for our members.” A concrete example of that is a new professional development kit called PD in a Box. It’s a package of workshop material designed so anyone can give a two-hour presentation on one of 10 HR topics. The package includes a PowerPoint presentation, a facilitator’s package, workbooks for participants, place cards, felt pens and evaluation forms.

“One of the challenges is we have chapters all over Ontario,” said Greenhalgh. “Generally if we run some kind of professional development, the tendency is to have it in a big location because it gets better attendance. But because two-thirds of our members are outside Toronto, the question is how to provide professional development that chapters require, of an equal quality and calibre as that provided in Toronto?”

With PD in a Box, a local chapter can set up seminars for as few as five people, not have to worry about hiring expensive speakers from Toronto and still be able to deliver quality seminars.

Also in line with its new mission — “to be a thought leader” — the HRPAO has set up a new web portal called Greenhalgh described it as “the go-to site for HR people, not just in Canada but worldwide.”

The HRPAO has also ramped up its government advocacy role, particularly with the hiring of a full-time director answering to a committee dedicated to this function. Within the organization itself, the HRPAO has undergone a governance review — an 18-month process looking at “how the association governs itself, the role of various committees, their terms of reference and mandates and directions.”

Florent Francoeur
President-general director

Ordre des CHRA et CRIA

At the Ordre des CHRA et CRIA, Quebec’s association for HR and industrial relations professions, promoting the value of the CHRP designation is at the top of the agenda for the next two years, said president-general director Florent Francoeur.

But unlike the case with other HR associations, the pitch isn’t necessarily aimed at members. That’s because out of 7,800 members, 6,800 already have the CHRP. The rest are in the process of obtaining the designation. Members must either have the CHRP designation or be working towards it.

Rather, the campaign to raise the profile of the HR professional designation is aimed at business people generally. Relying on research that said business leaders are more likely to watch Quebec’s all-news cable le Réseau de l’Information (RDI) and the all-sports cable, le Réseau des Sports (RDS), the Ordre has been buying ad time on these networks to get out its message.

“We want to continue to emphasize the difference between someone who has a CHRP designation and someone who doesn’t,” said Francoeur. “What we say to the public at large is, ‘If you do business with an HR professional, you should be doing business with a CHRP holder. If you are hiring an HR professional, you should be hiring a CHRP holder.’”

The raising of HR’s profile also involves working with the government to contribute the profession’s view on policy. Francoeur already sits on the Labour Standards Commission and the Pay Equity Commission and he’s also representing the Ordre as the government consults the public on three ongoing files: a review of pay equity legislation, a program addressing work-life balance and a bill on self-employed workers.

“This allows us to voice to the government how pay equity is implemented, from the point of view of an HR professional, or if the government proposes changes to the law around work-life balance, how we as practitioners think these changes will affect organizations,” said Francoeur. “We think that’s an important role for us, and we’re very active in this role.”

Merrill Brinton

Saskatchewan Association of Human Resource Professionals

Having spent the last year-and-a-half working to group together the various HR associations in the province, the Saskatchewan Association of Human Resource Professionals (SAHRP) is now looking for an executive director to take charge. At 750 members, the group has reached a critical mass and a volunteer board is no longer effective.

There’s a need for someone on the ground on a full-time basis who “we can rely on to follow through and do the research and kick us a bit when we need it,” said Merrill Brinton, CEO of SAHRP and head of the Saskatchewan HR practice of consulting firm Meyers Norris Penny.

The mission “to promote and encourage leadership and expertise within HR management through provincial networks and developmental opportunities while supporting professional standards to influence organizational excellence” remains the same for the association. But, as a larger body, it now has the resources to bring in either local expertise or someone outside the province who might be appropriate, he said. “We need to step up and do a lot more, from a leadership perspective, helping our members, who are very diverse.”

The SAHRP is a CHRP granting body and currently about 40 per cent of members have the designation. Those, along with overall membership, are expected to grow by about 10 per cent, said Brinton.

The Saskatchewan association is also challenged with trying to figure out how, as a smaller organization, it can link nationally on the HR front, he said. “We’re not a big player but we have a lot to contribute obviously and a lot to learn from other associations. We look to them for guidance and support as we move forward.”

Patrick Culhane
President and CEO

Canadian Payroll Association

It pays to pay attention to payroll, said Patrick Culhane, president and CEO of the Canadian Payroll Association (CPA).

“First, consider the metrics of payroll in Canada. There are $660 billion paid every year in wages and benefits by 1.4 million Canadian employers; $200 billion in statutory remittances go to the provincial and federal governments; and $77 billion is paid annually in retirement and health benefits. The numbers are staggering.”

To help Canadian companies handle that heavy load, Culhane and the CPA have racked up some impressive metrics themselves. In the last seven years, since the CPA recruited Culhane, a chartered management accountant, it has more than doubled its membership to almost 13,000.

“We’re non-profit but we’re a profitable $10 million-dollar-a-year organization. So we plow our financial resources back into additional services for members,” said Culhane, acknowledging that for the CPA too it pays to pay attention to payroll.

The payoff for practitioners who take CPA courses is to learn, first and foremost, how to keep their companies in compliance with the gamut of federal and provincial payroll legislation. However, imparting knowledge of provincial labour or employment standards is also an important CPA aim.

“In larger organizations, payroll tends to report through HR but, in smaller ones, there often is no HR department,” said Culhane. “There may be one payroll person who is also handling compliance with labour standards.”

And ignorance of how to comply can be costly.

“Up until 2003, if you were late with your payroll remittance to the government, there was a 10-per-cent penalty. It was one of the most onerous penalties in our entire tax regime. However, we worked with the Canada Revenue Agency and did a comparison with the United States, the U.K. and Australia. So now we have a graduated penalty like them; three per cent if you are up to three days late, five per cent under five days, seven per cent under seven days, and then it moves to 10 per cent.”

Iris Almeida-Côté

Canadian Pensions & Benefits Institute

Having been in Canada for 45 years, the Canadian Pensions & Benefits Institute (CPBI) is undergoing a major refurbishment. While it has a healthy membership of more than 3,000 and plenty of events, it has lacked a strategic business plan. That is all changing with the arrival of Iris Almeida-Côté, who assumed the newly created position of CEO in 2006. Formerly the director of policy, programs and planning at the Parliamentary Centre in Montreal, she has worked hard to transform the CPBI into a dynamic organization while, at the same time, getting back to basics.

The mandate and mission of the institute has always been to promote education and knowledge-sharing through quality programs and networking opportunities. But the new plan is focused on three strategic goals: making CPBI a professionally managed, efficient and effective corporation; offering members quality services to demonstrate the added value of being a member; and making CPBI a recognized brand in the pensions and benefits industry across Canada.

“The focus is on quality education, membership services, defining and harmonizing the brand,” she said.

To achieve that mandate, various initiatives have been undertaken, such as raising the institute’s profiles focusing on fiduciary responsibilities by setting up financial and auditing systems, moving the office from a small town in Quebec to Montreal, building strategic alliances with other organizations and setting up an intranet system to connect regional boards and councils.

It’s also putting greater emphasis on French and English offerings, making web casts an integral part of programs, developing a dynamic website, celebrating volunteers and building a database of experts across Canada who specialize in pensions, benefits and investments.

Areas of particular concern for members, and the CPBI, include the increased retirement age, pension reform, health and wellness, work-life balance, investment opportunities, income trusts and the discussion of national and international trends. These will be addressed at some of the 100 events the institute runs across the country, ranging from regional and national conferences, breakfast forums, training programs and web casts.

Lynn Johnston

Canadian Society for Training and Development

Since going national in 2003, the Toronto-based organization that was known back in 1946 as the Ontario Society for Training Directors has seen a 25-per-cent growth in membership. There are now 17 chapters across Canada — with two in British Columbia, two in Alberta, one each in Quebec, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick and 10 in Ontario. Still, with 2,000 members, president Lynn Johnston estimates the society could grow by another 1,000.

The profile of members has remained constant over the years. About one-third are vendors and suppliers in the industry. The balance are workplace learning and performance professionals (now the preferred term for training and development professionals) who work inside organizations. Among this latter group, Johnston is seeing an increased interest in professional certification.

“That’s an idea whose time has come. Members are acknowledging that we need to see ourselves as a profession,” said Johnston. Currently, about 15 per cent of members either have the Certified Training and Development Professional designation or are trying to obtain one. The CSTD’s target is to bring that up to 25 per cent by 2008.

One initiative the CSTD recently introduced was Learn at Work Week, a chance for individual organizations to find ways to celebrate learning inside their organizations. Last year, more than 50 organizations took part.

“The whole idea is to give members an opportunity to celebrate what they do,” said Johnston. “We’re seeing companies hold events to acknowledge new learners or demonstrate the value of training.”

The CSTD is preparing to host the 2009 conference for the International Federation of Training and Development Organizations, a Geneva-based world federation of training associations of which the CSTD is a member. It’ll be a chance to showcase best practices coming out of Canada and to demonstrate the value of certification, said Johnston.

Richard Rousseau

HRMS Professionals Association

Quebec and Ontario getting together to meet a common need? As rare as that might be, that’s just what two former Montreal and Toronto branches of an international HR management systems association did in September 2005 to form the HRMS Professionals Association (HRMSP).

“Our main goal is to familiarize HR people with technology,” said HRMSP president Richard Rousseau. “We had our international connections but there was nothing that was bringing Canadian management systems users, vendors, and consultants together in a room to exchange ideas and experiences. So that is what we do and I am amazed the way things have gone in our first year-and-a-half.”

Under the leadership of Rousseau, who is also the head of Montreal-based HR technology firm DLGL, the Ontario-based HRMSP now counts more than 100 corporate members.

“We just had a breakfast session here in Montreal, for example, where we had a panel of major companies including Desjardins and the liquor control authority for Quebec explaining how they implemented an e-recruitment system,” said Rousseau.

“We had 48 people sign up for the session and they included directors of recruitment, other senior HR types and some payroll people.”

The Toronto chapter is organizing similar events and that has Rousseau thinking growth.

“We have requests now to expand to both Ottawa and Quebec City. So they will come next and then we’ll go to the West Coast.”

Rousseau said HRMSP’s growth indicates the continuing need for a Canadian forum.

“But it doesn’t matter what province you are in, the issues of how you computerize the information about your individuals are the same,” he said. “The technology to do that is changing so rapidly, and HR people have so much on their plate at the same time, that there’s a need to help them decide on what technology and especially how they are going to introduce it to their organization.”

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