This is the Canadian way? Pity (Guest commentary)

HR community should focus less on provincial associations, more on national

In the Jan. 14 issue of Canadian HR Reporter, Claude Balthazard, director of HR excellence at the Human Resources Professionals Association of Ontario (HRPAO), wrote a a guest commentary about why the Certified Human Resources Professional (CHRP) designation isn’t standard across the country.

He argues that every province is different. That that is, in fact, the Canadian way. He is right, of course. Canada has 10 provinces, each trying to invent new ways to write the same regulations so they will look unique. Ten employment standards laws. Ten sets of health and safety regulations. And pretty much 10 of everything else too. Or 11 if you count the feds.

So our governments don’t seem to have figured it out. Does that mean HR shouldn’t?

“In all matters that fall under provincial jurisdiction there are always differences from one province to another,” said Balthazard, and each province has the latitude to develop its own processes and requirements.

Lest we forget, Human Resources and Social Development Canada (HRSDC) — that’s you and I, the taxpayer — gave heavy financial support to HRPAO and the rest of the provinces to create one national standard through the Canadian Council of Human Resources Associations (CCHRA). And hundreds of volunteers from across the country spent thousands of hours to discuss and determine a national standard that tested knowledge and competence without being affected by provincial differences.

“A provincial association would want to ensure that its CHRPs are competent in interpreting the legislation that occurs in its jurisdiction,” said Balthazard. How do we do that? Is he suggesting Ontario will begin a test separate and apart from the two national exams?

Because, despite what Balthazard is saying, we do have standard national exams. Regardless of where you write those exams, you will write exactly the same ones. The National Knowledge Exam (NKE) and the National Professional Practice Assessment (NPPA) do not allow for provincial differences. They are specifically designed in such a way that provincial differences do not come into play. And that is great — it sets one national standard.

While many HR people may practice only within their home province, I suspect a large and growing number, perhaps even a majority, do not. Many companies operate in multiple provinces, the United States and abroad.

Presumably, once endowed with a nationally recognized CHRP, most practitioners will be able to look beyond the borders of their home province and understand the variances in the multitude of similar laws in Canada. And once well versed in provincial and Canadian law and practice, they can look outward.

After all, although apparently focused on Ontario CHRPs knowing just Ontario law, HRPAO seems satisfied that a U.S.-based Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) global certificate is perfectly okay to qualify you to work in the great, wide world.

If I were a non-HR person managing a company, would I want an HR professional who could only operate in her home province, or would I expect a true professional should be able to cope with employment-related laws in any jurisdiction? Can any of us doubt the manager would want the latter? Should the Ontario-competent but Canada-ignorant HR staff be fired in favour of a more broadly trained option?

I find it extremely disappointing that HRPAO, and many of the other provincial associations, seems so ready to defend its own turf at the expense of HR excellence. Why do we in HR put so much focus on the provincial associations instead of our federal association, CCHRA?

Yes, the right to confer certification or license is provincial, but so what? Every other profession functions under the same Canadian umbrella as HR. And while they may have to handle the details provincially, they don’t act like 10 squabbling siblings with parents quivering at the end of the table, afraid to act. They act in unison, with their differences hidden away from the public eye.

Accountants. Lawyers. Engineers. Doctors. Each of these professions focuses on its national presence. And it works. Each has only one image to present instead of 11. Each represents the profession countrywide and carries the weight federally — and provincially — that one national voice can command.

Why must the HR associations act so independent and so fractured? If that is the Canadian way, then I reject it. But it’s not. The more I consider that question, I suspect the answer about this situation lies in politics — the efforts of big fish in small ponds to stay in charge.

HR should have one national voice. And the CHRP process, while far from perfect, represents a terrific start.

Many years ago, HRPAO was the primary reason we achieved that national standard. With 50 per cent of the HR population, it agreed to “one association, one vote,” recognizing the importance of achieving national status was worth the effort and loss of power. Those in charge had the vision to see the future and the courage and tenacity to act on their beliefs.

I see no reason why we can’t be one national association acting with one voice, while being flexible enough and strong enough to deal with provincial governments when it comes to provincial legislation. Maybe with one voice we can even sway provincial governments to work together to make the legislation more harmonious and more standardized. That would be an effort the entire business community would applaud.

Will it be easy? No, of course not. But it is right for HR professionals who need to deal with an ever-shrinking world. It is right for the well-being of HR in Canada. And it is right for a business community demanding excellence in HR staff provincially, nationally and globally.

A turtle, head withdrawn into its own shell, is unlikely to see where it needs to go. As the largest HR association, HRPAO can and should provide leadership. But that requires vision and should be accomplished with a sense of fraternity and goodwill.

While it is clearly Canadian to embrace diversity, it is not the Canadian way to emphasize our differences.

Ian Turnbull is managing partner of Laird & Greer HR Management Consultants, a firm specializing in HR, payroll and time system selection and management. He is co-author of HRMS: A Practical Approach, published by Thomson Carswell. He can be reached at (416) 618-0052, (877) 653-0422 or [email protected].

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