Weekly Wrap: Just How Important Is an HR Certification, Anyway?

So, how important and meaningful IS one of those HR certifications?

This has been on my mind because the Society for Human Resource Management announced this week that it was launching a new “competency-based certification program for human resource professionals.”

According to the press release from SHRM, the new certification is “based on the SHRM HR Competency Model, which consists of nine primary competency domains defined with behavioral proficiency standards across four professional levels – entry, middle, senior and executive. The new certification will be the first of its kind focused on teaching and the testing of practical, real-life information that HR professionals need to excel in their careers.”

Why this is like dropping a bomb on the HR community

HRCIFor anyone not involved with SHRM or not interested in HR certifications, this announcement probably didn’t ring any bells. For those who are SHRM members or certified HR professionals, however, this announcement was like someone dropping a bomb on the HR community. Here’s why:

  • Because there’s no real mention of what will happen with the relationship between SHRM and HRCI. SHRM is launching a new “competency-based (emphasis added) certification program” for HR pros despite the fact that its long-time partner, the HR Certification Institute, has its own knowledge-based certification program that leads to the three long-standing and well known HR certifications held by roughly 135,000 professionals — PHR (professional in human resources), SPHR (senior professional in human resources) and GPHR (global professional in human resources).
  • Because it represents a big revenue stream that could move to SHRM from HRCI. How big exactly? It’s hard to tell and no one I talked to wants to even venture a guess, but if you multiply $350 (the cost for a PHR certification) times 45,000 (certifications must be renewed every three years, and 45,000 is one-third of the 135,000 or so holding HRCI credentials), you get $12.25 million — and that’s a very conservative estimate. There is also money in training courses, learning materials, and other costs that push this figure much higher.
  • Because it eliminates the notion of independent, third-party oversight of the HR certification process. How can SHRM fairly administer a certification that they control and that it is in their best interest to promote, and, benefit financially from? HRCI has operated independently of SHRM’s control (although they both work out of SHRM’s Alexandria, VA. headquarters), and that distinction is an important one if you truly want a credible certification process.
  • Because it makes you wonder how an exam alone can be used to certify HR competency. Demonstrating HR competency is certainly a great goal, but as other professions that have a certification process have found (think medicine, or engineering, or law), you need more than just an exam to get a handle on how someone can competently apply the knowledge they have in day-today situations. An exam alone simply won’t cut it.

Yes, this announcement IS very confusing

SHRM also intends to “grandfather” professionals who current have one of the three HRCI designations into SHRM’s new certification starting on Jan. 1, 2015, at no cost. However, when someone with a HRCI designation does that, they would then have to be recertified by SHRM when their next renewal takes place. That means SHRM gets the renewal dollars, not HRCI.

If you think this is a bit confusing, you would be right. As one person commented on Matt Stollak’s True Faith HR blog, “I have some very concerned students as well who feel like they should just give up. I am frustrated at the lack of information. Any competent Professional knows that you don’t drop a bombshell like this and not have all the answers worked out. Hopefully, more answers will come soon.”

There are many similar comments posted all over the Internet from HR pros and SHRM members trying to figure out exactly what is going on here.

When asked for a comment from SHRM on this, SHRM’s media relations staff supplied TLNT with this response from CEO Hank Jackson:

SHRM and HRCI have had a long and mutually beneficial relationship. We have been meeting with HRCI over the past several months to reach a consensus about our relationship and what our vision is for certification. That goal has always been to continue and expand our work together in order to better serve the profession. Our goal has not changed.

However, SHRM’s Board recently reached the conclusion that it’s best for SHRM to move forward with the development of a competency-based certification, which is urgently needed for the advancement of the HR profession and HR practitioners. We continue to hope that HRCI will join us in this effort.”

HRCI: We would have loved for SHRM to talk to us

HRCI Executive Director Amy Dufrane told Workforce.com (and Dufrane’s staff, when contacted by TLNT, said she was in a Board meeting Friday; we’ll add her comment when she can respond) that she was surprised by the SHRM announcement:

We’ve had a relationship with SHRM for 37 years and we would have loved for them to talk with us about this, but they chose not to,” HRCI Executive Director Amy Dufrane told Workforce. SHRM created HRCI in 1973 to administer certification exams.

We hope that we will be able to have a continued partnership with them at the wishes of our profession and our board.”

HRCI also seems to be digging in its heels in the wake of the SHRM announcement An email this week to those holding one of the three HRCI credentials from HRCI said that, “HRCI is not and was not involved with the development of this certification. We are confident that the range of certifications offered by HRCI will continue to be regarded as the highest mark of professional distinction among HR practitioners.”

This isn’t the way to run a railroad

The $64,000 question, of course, is “How will of this play out?” But also, “Will SHRM and its new certification prevail?” and, “What will HRCI do?”

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I’ve asked these questions of a number of people, and no one really wants to comment for the record at this stage, but as one longtime SHRM member and observer noted, “One of the competencies of HR certification should be collaboration. Has SHRM really tried to collaborate here? And this makes you wonder — does SHRM really have the leadership to pull this whole thing off?”

Here’s my 2 cents: What a way to run a railroad.

Given the complete lack of transparency and openness demonstrated by the SHRM Board of Directors the last few years (see here and here), this seems to be more of the same. It’s a terribly clumsy and ham-handed way to handle such a huge change that impacts so many people.

As one HR pro said to me: “Worst PR ever.”

Yeah, that pretty much covers it.

I’d love to get some comments on this — do you care, do you have a HRCI credential, what will you do with it if you do? If I get enough, I’ll use them in a future blog post.

Holding men to the same standard

Of course, there’s more going on this week than a squabble over HR certifications. Here are some HR and workplace-related items you may have missed. This is TLNT’s weekly round-up of news, trends, and insights from the world of talent management. I do it so you don’t have to.

  • Why aren’t men held to the same standards? The New York Times did a very un-New York Times thing this week and dumped Executive Editor Jill Abramson in a very messy and clumsy way. And, it leads to a good question posed in this HBR blog — Why Aren’t Standards This High For Male Leaders? As Sarah Green writes, “While it’s easy to lament that this isn’t fair – women should be allowed to be just as brusque and bottom-line focused as men, dammit! – what we should really be arguing for is the reverse: more humane workplaces where male bosses, too, have to occasionally remember to ask how their employees are feeling.”
  • Google to make public their minority staffing levels. Google has been famously secretive about the demographics of their staff — but all that is going to change. According to the San Jose Mercury News, “Prodded by the Rev. Jesse Jackson, Google said Wednesday that it will reverse a long-held stance and reveal publicly how many minority workers are employed by the giant Internet company, in a report next month.”
  • Dreadful job prospects for college grads. It’s bad news for new graduates trying to find a job. How bad? Fast Company says, ” You’ve heard the economy is getting better, that companies are hiring again … But don’t get too happy. … The official numbers don’t necessarily tell the whole story. The overall unemployment rate fell to 6.6% recently, its lowest point for more than five years. But the rate for under-25s is more than double that (14.5%) and about a million people aren’t counted, according to a new paper from the Economic Policy Institute. These missing workers are neither employed nor actively seeking work. But if you included them, the under-25 rate would rise to 18.1%, or three times the overall figure.”
  • The best leaders are humble leaders. As another great HBR blog post notes, “A recent Catalyst study … (shows) that humility is one of four critical leadership factors for creating an environment where employees from different demographic backgrounds feel included. A survey of more than 1500 workers from Australia, China, Germany, India, Mexico, and the U.S., …  found that when employees observed altruistic or selfless behavior in their managers — a style characterized by 1) acts of humility, such as learning from criticism and admitting mistakes); 2) empowering followers to learn and develop; 3) acts of courage, such as taking personal risks for the greater good; and 4) holding employees responsible for results — they were more likely to report feeling included in their work teams.”

John Hollon is Editor-at-Large at ERE Media and was the founding Editor of TLNT.com. A longtime newspaper, magazine, and business journal editor, John has deep roots in the talent management space. He's the former Editor of Workforce Management magazine and workforce.com, served as Editor of RecruitingDaily, and was Vice President for Content at HR technology firm Checkster. An award-winning journalist, John has written extensively about HR, talent management, leadership, and smart business practices, including for the popular Fistful of Talent blog. Contact him at johnhollon@ere.net, connect with him on LinkedIn, or follow him on Twitter @johnhollon.


14 Comments on “Weekly Wrap: Just How Important Is an HR Certification, Anyway?

  1. Being newer to the industry, but not to business, I am excited there may be more than one option to choose from when the time for certification is right! It makes sense that SHRM did not consult/collaborate with HRCI, otherwise they would just be repackaging HRCI’s stuff, and this will allow for needed checks and balances! If SHRM did not make this move, then someone else would have! Not a bomb, just a ripple!

  2. As someone who holds the SPHR certification, I am confused by the lack of information and concerned about the value of ANY certification given the rather juvenile behavior of these two organizations in handling this situation. If HRCI certified professionals accept the “free” SHRM certification, what happens to the HRCI certification? Are we then paying both organizations for the privilege of showing the world we know what we’re doing?

  3. Thanks for the article! This actually does clear up some of my questions. Mainly the “why” part and it sounds like financial gain is the clear motivator. But I will say I haven’t been impressed with HRCI at all. It is not well-run or managed and I am always frustrated when I try to contact someone there. Maybe this is SHRMs way of parting ways without outright firing them. But I do agree – as far as setting the standard for good HR practices, SHRM seems to have failed. Did you see that follow up article from SHRM claiming they have been talking to HRCI for months and are disappointed “they are claiming to not know anything.” Very weird.

  4. Thanks for sharing this information. As a long-time SHRM member and SPHR, I’m very disappointed by how this is being handled. As you point out, it’s not the first time the SHRM Board has done something that caused anxiety within the membership. I’m seriously considering not renewing my membership when it expires.

  5. Due to the massive focused effort of converting my 13 years in HR into getting the PHR Certification just recently, this actually upsets me in terms of how it is being handled. On May 1st, the entire HR Division that I oversaw since 2008 was eliminated (as well as three other entire Divisions of our Nonprofit), leaving only the CEO/COO and a Secretary left) so of course the management/reputation of my $ and time investment of a PHR Certification is now curiously in limbo? Or what do you think?

  6. John,
    Great article and thanks for the information. Its obvious that there is a serious problem and rift between HRCI and SHRM. Unfortunately, from personal experience, neither have been very impressive. In particular, I am more disheartened by SHRM. While they have recently been named a Best Company to Work For in Washington DC, they are hardly a Best Company in the spirit of operational excellence. Within the past year, I requested two pieces of information from their research department, and never got a response from either one, even after speaking with a customer service person. Additionally, another request that I had from another department has been open for 7 months, even after the person in charge of the department has personally emailed me 3 separate times informing me that they would get back to me with an answer to my request the following week…I’m still waiting.
    My personal and subjective view is that SHRM has become arrogant and complacent, almost too busy pushing its own cause, rather than maintaining focus on the customer and its stated mission. As far as I know, SHRM is supposed to be a professional association focused on advancing the HR function for the support of its membership, not a money making association seeking to advance its own cause.
    For those of us who have spent years obtaining and then maintaining HRCI certifications, its a little callous and self serving for SHRM to simply make this announcement as if we’re all supposed to jump for joy. Based on my experiences, I would venture to say that the implementation and roll-out of the new certification, and the transition of current HRCI certifications to whatever SHRM will provide is going to be a mess. I have serious doubts, and believe that SHRM’s own behavior and lack of credibility leaves it in a poor position to lead the HR function as our association.

  7. Perhaps SHRM is attempting to condense the seven certifications HRCI offers down to one in order to mirror other professional occupations (CPA, PE, PG, etc.) and be taken more seriously in the marketplace. If that’s the case, I’m all for it.

    I’m an SPHR and plan to take SHRM up on its offer to earn its certification as soon as it’s available. I will also continue to maintain and recertify both.

    1. Rich,
      I highly doubt it. SHRM and HRCI were intimate partners from the beginning since SHRM essentially created HRCI. This is an example of HRCI taking more self-direction than SHRM wants them to, and at the same time, SHRM wants the cash from the lucrative certifications. In them meantime, Hank Jackson remains silent about the real story. Credibility? Example of a great company? I don’t think so.

  8. Well, well, well —- I’ve learned something new. I thought that the PHR, SPHR and GPHR were SHRM certificates — not HRCI certificates. There has been confusion for a long time among HR professionals as to the two oganizations and how they fit together. As far as SHRM —- they are not strategic in the least and have not kept up with the times. They have done a great job marketing but the “real world” has no idea what a sham they are. As far as “body of knowledge” —– forget it. Their rollout of this new program does not surprise me — bungled from the very beginning.

  9. Oops SHRM gives me a feeling of gotten cheated. Marketing yes, they can be called as gurus. It was my mistake to opt from it from India. The curriculum has little or no relevance to India HR or Indian law. Exam cost a bomb. Strategically they keep two right answers, whichever YOU chose is always WRONG. And then pay again and same game is played. The cost of their course materiel is more than the fee paid for my MBA course….

  10. I think SHRM benefitted from those outside the HR community that thought the PHR, SPHR and GPHR were SHRM certifications. I’ve often had to explain the difference to others. Now with SHRM’s handling of this “divorce” of the two organizations, they have actually created a scenario where the HR community are picking sides. I like having both organizations in my life but I do find myself more HRCI leaning now because of the communication.

  11. I’m glad that there is going to be a COMPENTENCY based exam and that non-exempt experience in the field will be considered. Of all professions, HR should know that titles mean nothing. We’ve all worked with “managers or higher who don’t manage squat but they knew the right people or are in a profesion where beefed up titles, regardless of job responsibility and pay, are given… i.e. PR, sales etc. I have always found it strange and a huge turn-off tot he PHR exam an IT, finance, sales, marketing “manager” or higher could take the test over an HR Assistant, HR Coordinator or other HR professional who has broad generalist experience in the actual field but just happens to be non-exempt. So for that competency-based exam, I say great, wonderful, and it’s about tiem the profesion had an actual tool to test what you can do on the job not what you can memorize for a test. What I don’t like, however, is that they’re allowing the PHR certifications to transfer in? Why? Why muddy the water? Start fresh. That’s the goof. They took and passed a memory based knowledge test. Keep them out of the actual “prove you know how to APPLY to knowledge” competency test. I was on board with the new cert but now I’m iffy if you’re going to let people who can pass a test and not really know anything join the party. I’m no trying to offend, but I’ve worked by directors and VPs who were as clueless abotu hr and they were abotu business and life in general, but they spend the $$$$$ to buy every possible testing tool and passed the test. For once in their life they used their brain but after the test was over forgot how to do actual work. Dont’ think I’m beign bitter, here’s an example… the former vice president at my company refused to separate personnal files from medical fiels and I9s. This is the most basic thing you learned in your first entry level job or college course. But this bozo has a ccp, cebs and phr. Go figure. He also un-successfully negotiated benefits that put up millions of dollars in the whole that I now have to fix. Thanks pal. Thankfully, he’s no longer working here but is a classic example of why these test do not always hold weight.

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