Raising the certification bar for HR

As the date approaches for the launch of a national HR professional certification, volunteers continue working to finalize the details of the requirements.

It was announced earlier this year that beginning in March 2003 the minimum criteria for receiving the certification will be the same across Canada.

Under the new system, all applicants across the country will have to write two tests and recertify their Certified Human Resources Professional (CHRP) designations every three years.

Currently, the provincial HR associations each have their own criteria for granting the designation. Some emphasized knowledge testing over experience while others did the opposite. In Ontario and Quebec, recertification is a brand new requirement.

Anne Charette, president of the Canadian Council of Human Resources Associations (CCHRA), says they want to continue to raise the bar for the profession and intend for the CHRP to be viewed by the non-HR business community as important as designations given to accountants and engineers.

The underlying premise of this philosophy is that there is a body of knowledge, no less specific or important than what accountants and engineers need. Employers must know HR professionals have that body of knowledge and the CHRP tells them that, says Charette.

The first step for aspiring CHRPs will now be the knowledge based exam. Applicants will write an exam on the major HR functional areas such as recruitment, organizational behaviour, finance and accounting and labour relations.

Then within five years they must complete an “outcomes” exam which will test candidates on the application of HR capabilities in a real-world setting.

While the knowledge test is completed, the outcomes test is still being finalized.

The CHRP model is probably most similar to the U.S. model, says Monica Belcourt, president-elect of the Ontario association, HRPAO. But what makes it truly unique is the second outcomes-based assessment.

Members of the CCHRA went out and talked with other HR professionals about real-life challenges they have faced. A series of possible solutions are being developed but for each challenge there will be only one right answer, says Belcourt.

South of the border, HR professionals have had a professional designation since 1976 when a HR body of knowledge was established and tests created. Initially, there were four different levels; today there are just two, says Cornelia Cont, director of the Human Resources Certification Institute (HRCI).

About 57,000 people have either the Professional in Human Resources (PHR) or Senior Professional in Human Resources (SPHR). The HRCI figures about 450,000 to 500,000 qualify for one of the two designations.

Those trying for certification in the U.S. write just one exam, says Cont. The questions are structured in such a way that experience becomes an important contributing factor in success on the test. “A lot of it comes from on the job experiences versus just studying for the exam,” says Cont.

It is up to the candidates to decide which exam to write but the HRCI recommends candidates for the PHR have two to four years of HR experience, while those going for their SPHR have at least six years.

Typical PHR candidates have tactical or logistical responsibility while reporting to another HR professional. A SPHR candidate focuses on big picture issues and runs the HR department.

One of the big differences between Canada’s certification and that offered in the United States is that PHR and SPHR holders do not have to belong to the Society for Human Resources Management, says Charette.

While some people may bristle at the idea of having to join an association, she says membership in an association is an important part of maintaining the integrity of the standard and ensuring it is awarded and overseen with the appropriate degree of rigour a professional designation requires.

For example, if an employee feels his human rights are being violated he can file a complaint under the human rights code but he could also file a complaint with the provincial HR association. Disciplinary committees can then review the claim and if necessary revoke the designation. It hasn’t happened a lot but it has happened, says Charette.

If someone doesn’t belong to an association there is no regulatory body to guarantee the CHRP will meet the ethical and professional standards expected of holders, she says. “It would be like a lawyer not belonging to the bar or a CA not belonging to the chartered accountants association.”

Meanwhile, work has also been ongoing to finalize the requirements for recertification.

The model being used is very similar to the requirements already in place in some provinces, says Regina Delovitch, registrar with HRPAO. “We are not reinventing the wheel or anything like that.” Recertification will be required beginning in 2006.

There will be categories of work and activity for which CHRP holders will receive points and 100 points will be required over a three-year period to recertify. The intention is to give CHRP holders as much opportunity as possible to get points.

Professional development activities of almost any kind will get holders some points and being involved with a major initiative on the job — putting in a new job evaluation system or an HR information system for example — will be worth points.

Volunteering for an association, giving lectures or writing articles will all go toward recertification. The more involved the professional is the more points they will receive, says Delovitch.

And even as the details are hammered out for the national CHRP, one important change has been made in Ontario; this too was with the stated intention of raising the bar for the profession.

In late September HRPAO announced that starting in 2010, all CHRP applicants will need to have a university degree.

Here too, HRPAO is taking at least some its cues from other professional certifications. If chartered accountants need to have a degree then HR should too, says Debbie Bennett, chair of the HRPAO professional standards steering committee and vice-president of HR and finance for the Ottawa Citizen.

Members were also surveyed and asked when hiring someone for HR, is it necessary for the applicant to have a degree, says Bennett.

A slim majority said people with a CHRP should have a degree for an entry-level position. But more than 80 per cent said they wanted to see a degree for anyone they would hire other than entry level.

The clear message was that anyone wanting an opportunity to progress to senior levels, should have a degree. “We weren’t doing our members any favours by letting them think that without getting a degree you could get a career,” she says.

The certification knowledge exam

A small sample of some of the questions on the national CHRP knowledge exam. See page 19 for the answers.

#1 Which of the following regarding the purposes and uses of the interview in the recruitment and selection process is true?

A) Interviews are usually conducted early in the selection process to screen out unqualified applicants thereby reducing the need to administer other selection instruments.

B) Interviews are often used to sell the job to the applicant.

C) The main purpose of the interview is to review and validate information provided in the resume and application form.

D) Interviews are best suited to assess job knowledge and cognitive ability.

#2 Which of the following is not an advantage of the point method of job evaluation?

A) High degree of precision in measuring jobs.

B) Allows jobs to be clustered into pay grades more easily.

C) Relatively easy and simple to develop.

D) Large numbers of “ready-made” plans offered by compensation consulting firms.

#3 “Halo Effect” when experienced in appraising employee performance during the performance appraisal review refers to which rater behaviour:

A) Tendency to rate all employees high.

B) Tendency to rate weaker employees as average to avoid confrontation.

C) Tendency to allow rating of one trait to bias rating of other traits.

D) All of the above.

Knowledge exam answers

#1 (B) Option A is incorrect because interviews are often conducted later in the process after unqualified candidates have been screened out by tests, work samples, etc., thereby reducing number of interviews needed (interviews are costly and time-consuming).

Option C is incorrect because interviews are often used to collect information not provided in the resume or application form.

Option D is incorrect because interviews are better suited to assess non-cognitive attributes such as social skills, initiation, teamwork and so on. Job samples and tests are better suited for knowledge and cognitive assessment.

Option B is correct because interviews provide applicants with the opportunity to ask questions about the job and organization to help make a decision whether both are appropriate for him or her.

#2 (C) All are advantages for reasons stated, except C. Point method job evaluation systems are in fact relatively difficult and complex to develop.

#3 (C) Although all the rater behaviours listed here are ineffective, halo effect means the rating of an individual on one trait (such as “gets along with others”) biases the way that person is rated on another trait (such as “quantity of work”). This problem often occurs with employees who are especially friendly (or unfriendly — this can work in reverse) towards the supervisor.

Latest stories