Knowledge, skills of well-educated HR professionals should not be under-valued (Letter to the editor)

In the April 9, 2001 edition of Canadian HR Reporter, a letter was written to the editor in which the author questioned the need for certification of human resource practitioners. In the letter, the author states “HR, like parenthood is not an exact science.” I counter that HR is more like a science than an art. The HR discipline is grounded in a body of knowledge, much of which has been established by research.

The author attempts to prove his point that parents know how to handle problems without any certification by providing an example of a parenting problem: teenagers who break a curfew rule. Four parenting solutions are suggested: hit the child, ground the child, deprive the child, or do nothing. This is a performance problem, and any person who has taken a course in organizational behaviour or human resources management knows that, based on the scientific research of Skinner et al., all four options are ineffective. The first three, the use of punishment, are ineffective because punishment only works when the punisher is present, and has the adverse effect of the “criminal” seeking retaliation. The fourth option, doing nothing, will result in an increase in the unwanted behaviour, because as Skinner has noted, as long as the person is benefitting from his action, he is being reinforced and will continue. Any student who has passed the comprehensive provincial examination given by HRPAO would know how to more effectively handle performance problems by providing feedback and reinforcers for performing as desired (i.e. meeting the curfew). So for me, this example is not a good example for arguing that certification is unnecessary, but a strong argument for education and certification.

The second example that the author uses to illustrate his point that the HR profession does not need to be certified also fails. He argues that during a complex issue, such as a company in decline, the CEO or leadership group will be responsible (not HR), and that there is no textbook answer to the problem. I agree that the leadership group will ultimately make the decision, but I suggest that it is the role of the HR professional to delineate the proposed course of action, with anticipated benefits and limitations. And yes, there may not be a perfect answer to complex issues such as mergers, but there are model solutions, based on research and best practices, all of which are prescribed in textbooks. These solutions are much more informed than the guesses of an amateur or even a CEO who will probably have very limited experience with downsizing, or organizational development. Again, students completing the academic requirements for certification have learned in a systematic way to deal with these problems. The uncertified HR practitioner is forced to deal with these issues on a trial and error basis.

The author continues his point that the real HR person is the manager who has the power to hire and fire. But this does not mean that the boss knows how to select and terminate. For example, an educated HR professional knows that the interview is fraught with biases, but based on research, the most valid interview technique is a behaviourally-based one. Not every manager knows this, but every student who has taken a recruitment and selection course does.

I agree with the author that 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. Consult any recruitment Web site or national paper, and you will see that nearly every ad for an HR manager requires a degree in HR (or a related discipline), and the CHRP.

Those with CHRPs are more likely to be offered jobs, and receive premium salaries and promotions in recognition of the specialized knowledge they possess. I end my rebuttal with the suggestion that we should move beyond certification of the HR profession, and emulate other professions such as accounting, engineering and nursing by requiring those who practice HR to be licenced.

Monica Belcourt
Director of the International Alliance for Human Resources Research, co-ordinator of HR programs at York University, Toronto

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