Details on SHRM’s controversial new competency-based certification program have begun to emerge, but experts suggest it could still be a while before the program’s impact on HR is clear.
By Mark McGraw Monday, December 29, 2014
In May of this year, the Society for Human Resource Management’s announcement that it was introducing its own human resource certification program was met with a flurry of questions from all corners of the HR universe.
For example, would already-credentialed HR professionals have to give up any of their current credentials in order to obtain the new SHRM certification? Which of the two new certification paths (SHRM-Senior Certified Professional or SHRM-Certified Professional) should non-certified HR professionals follow? And would certifications sponsored by the Human Resource Certification Institute—the organization SHRM previously partnered with to offer HR certification for nearly 40 years—be discontinued?
For that matter, many observers were befuddled by SHRM’s decision to even offer its own certification pathway, and wondered aloud whether the organization’s competency-based model—which stresses teaching and testing practical, real-life HR-related information, knowledge and skills—was really what HR practitioners wanted or needed.
And while SHRM has recently revealed more details about its two new certifications, and has sought to clear up the confusion surrounding it, experts say it could take some time before a true picture of the program’s impact on the HR profession becomes clear.
For instance, the Alexandria, Va.-based organization has developed its Body of Competency and Knowledge, which documents the nine behavioral and technical competencies—leadership and navigation, business acumen and ethical practice, for instance—that serve as the basis for the SHRM Certified Professional and SHRM Senior Certified Professional program.
More recently, SHRM announced that its new certification program will launch on Jan. 5, 2015, when HR professionals will be able to apply to take exams for the SHRM-CP and SHRM-SCP certifications, with the first testing window open from May 1 to July 15, 2015.
(The SHRM-CP designation will be available to those already holding senior- or advanced-level certification, while those with an existing generalist- or professional-level certification will be eligible for the correlating SHRM-CP credential.)
SHRM revealed the program’s launch date at its Nov. 20 Volunteer Leaders’ Summit in Washington, during which 495 volunteer leaders from SHRM chapters and state councils completed a certification pathway process. In addition, more than 1,000 HR professionals sat for a pilot exam in October, the results of which they will receive in the first quarter of 2015, according to SHRM.
The organization has also begun offering an online tutorial pathway designed to present HR professionals with competency-based information. The online tutorial will include a series of questions at the conclusion of the program, and provide participants with “the opportunity to answer the questions in order to demonstrate their mastery of the concepts covered in the tutorial,” according to SHRM.
The “core difference” between the new competency-based certification program and other available certifications is that “this is about how you practice the craft,” says Jon Decoteau, SHRM’s divisional director of the West region.
For HR leaders, the new competency-based certification provides “another indicator of knowledge and level of competencies to select from” in sizing up candidates for HR positions, he says.
“Among most HR professionals—and among HR executives, particularly—there’s really no disagreement on the importance of competencies. What [this certification program] does is take that body of knowledge and applies it to a certification.”
While acknowledging SHRM’s efforts to provide “continuing updated information” on the program, and its attempts to clarify the new certification’s impact on members’ current HRCI-sponsored certifications, “there is certainly going to be a period of confusion as HR professionals try to grasp what this new certification means for them, and what employers will require,” says Melissa Fleischer, founder and president of HR Learning Center, a Rye, N.Y.-based human resource consulting firm.
“Although SHRM alleged that this decision [to create its own certification program] was in the works for years, the fact is that few if any HR professionals saw this coming,” says Fleischer, who recently presented a webinar on the implications of the new SHRM certification program.
“It appears that, at least for now, the best course of action for HR professionals is to have both certifications, at least until the dust settles and we figure out whether the HRCI certification will continue to be used by employers to evaluate HR professionals.”
The new SHRM program could also help pad the resume of those at the vice president and CHRO level, says Fleischer, as it “will provide them with a way to distinguish themselves as more experienced HR professionals who have attained a certain level in their field by having earned both the HRCI and the new SHRM certification.”
Regardless of their title or career level, individuals pursuing SHRM certification—either independently or along with HRCI certification—will have several factors to consider, says Jim Steele, a member of the HRCI board of directors and associate professor management at George Fox University in Newberg, Ore.
“Those seeking certification need to weigh the decision carefully,” says Steele. “And while there is one more choice in the marketplace, the questions are still fundamentally the same.”
For example, he says, one must weigh whether the new credentials represent his or her professional knowledge and abilities, whether the credential has received independent validation through accreditors such as the National Commission for Certifying Agencies and American National Standards Institute and whether employers are seeking these credentials.
In the meantime, Fleischer advises those seeking certification to pursue both certifications simultaneously.
Ideally, “there should be room for both [HRCI and SHRM] to be able to provide certifications to HR professionals,” says Fleischer. “However, it means a lot of extra work for HR professionals to maintain both certifications, and it seems to be duplicative. With the amount of marketing SHRM is doing, it may just be that they win out and become the new leader in HR certifications for HR professionals, but we will only know if this is so in time.”
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