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HRCI: Surprised by SHRM Plan to Offer HR Certifications

Questions emerge regarding what SHRM’s move means to those with PHR, SPHR and GPHR credentials, as well as the relationship between the two organizations. Updated May 16, 2014, with comments from SHRM's Hank Jackson and HRCI's Amy Dufrane.

May 14, 2014
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SHRM HRCI logos combined May 2014

The Society for Human Resource Management’s announcement that it is launching its own HR certification program took some in the HR community by surprise, including the president of the HR Certification Institute, the profession’s leading certification organization.

“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.”

However, in an article on SHRM’s website, President and CEO Hank Jackson said that he was “puzzled and disappointed” by Dufrane’s assertion that HRCI did not know that SHRM was launching its own certification. And in comments emailed to Workforce, Jackson said that the two groups have been working together for months on the certification issue.

“Our boards have been meeting with HRCI in good faith over the past several months to reach a consensus about our future relationship and what our vision is for certification,” Jackson said. “But at this time, we’ve 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.”

Cert on High Alert

Check out our continuing coverage of the SHRM-HRCI certification story:

• Kris Dunn explains the nine people who got hurt when SHRM decided to start its own certification program.

• James Tehrani says let's not forget the humans in human resources.

• Rick Bell has the Last Word, but it's undoubtedly not the last word.

SHRM’s decision to launch its own certification program was based on three years of research examining the changing role of HR, Jackson said.

“This is not a new pursuit for us,” he said. “Our global research findings, which included outreach to major corporations, universities and over 30,000 members of the profession, are clear — in addition to technical knowledge, a successful HR career will also be determined by behavioral competencies.”

Dufrane reiterated on May 16 that HRCI was not consulted about SHRM’s plan and emphasized that HRCI’s certification exams also assess HR competencies.

“HRCI was not given any notice about SHRM’s plans to announce a new certification program, nor their plans to phase-out and discontinue test prep, nor their outreach to grandfather in our certificants into their unnamed and undefined HR certification program,” she said. “HRCI’s independent, accredited certification programs have always been competency-based; any implication to the contrary is patently false.”

The original announcement has triggered questions and confusion about what SHRM’s decision means to those with HRCI credentials, as well as the relationship between the two organizations. Although they are legally separate organizations, the two groups have close ties and even share the same Alexandria, Virginia, headquarters. Although SHRM is not involved in developing the HRCI exams, it does sell study materials for the test.

Dufrane said that she hopes HRCI and SHRM will continue to have “a collaborative relationship.”

Jackson said in a letter to SHRM volunteer leaders that a competency-based certification is the new standard for HR professionals around the globe.

“The SHRM competency model is the culmination of over three years of research and was built and validated by more than 30,000 HR professionals around the world,” Jackson said in the statement. “These HR pros identified the skills needed to grow and succeed in HR careers and we validated that individuals who demonstrate these skills positively impact business outcomes. This is what will separate SHRM’s assessments from others on the market.”

Dufrane declined to comment on any potential dueling certifications, saying that her focus is on serving the needs of HRCI certificate holders. She added that the institute will continue to offer its professional certifications, which include the Professional in Human Resources, or PHR, the Senior Professional in Human Resources, or SPHR, and the Global Professional in Human Resources, or GPHR, among others. 

“There is some confusion and concern among certificate holders, but the announcement has no impact on HRCI certifications,” she said. “We want to make it very clear for the 135,000 individuals that have HRCI certificates that we will continue to provide them with the brands that they know.”

The new SHRM certification is based on its “HR competency model,” which outlines a set of behaviors and measures that demonstrate proficiency in several areas, including leadership, ethics and communication. SHRM plans to release more information at the 2014 SHRM Conference & Exposition in Orlando, Florida, in late June.

Jackson said that the organization will start converting HRCI certifications to the new SHRM certification on Jan. 1, 2015, at no cost. SHRM will provide study materials for the new SHRM certification on Dec. 1, 2014, though the statement did not offer details on cost. SHRM will continue to sell test preparation materials for the HRCI exams that will take place December 2014 to January 2015, according to the statement.

The fact that SHRM will be selling study materials for a test that it administers strikes some, like former SHRM board member Gerry Crispin, as a conflict of interest and an obstacle to its success.

“Certifications need to be independent; otherwise, there is a vested interest,” said Crispin, founder of CareerXRoads, a staffing agency. “There is no professional certification that I know of that is run by the people who train you. You don’t get your law certification from the school where you get your law degree. You sit for the bar exam.”

Crispin said he supports the idea of a SHRM certification program based on demonstrated competency, but was surprised that HRCI is not a part of that decision. 

“They need to have a partner like HRCI that is independent to assess that competency,” he said.

Former SHRM board member Kathy McKee also supports SHRM’s efforts to establish a certification program based on its competency model, which will help boost the profession, she said.

“This is reflective of the changes in the profession over three decades,” McKee said. “Indeed, we have moved from planning picnics and keeping records to sitting in the boardroom and facilitating organizational change. Identifying and measuring knowledge and related behaviors will provide practitioners and other business leaders with a higher degree of capability and professionalism.”

Wayne Brockbank, director of the Center for Strategic HR Leadership at the University of Michigan and author of several books on HR competencies, said that there is a need for such an approach to measuring performance, but he questioned whether SHRM and HRCI are the right organizations to lead the way.

“SHRM and HRCI are the two key players in the world of HR, and I find it quite bizarre that these two institutions, which have a common legacy and a common purpose, can’t find a way to collaborate,” Brockbank said. “We’ll see if people nestle up to this or not.”

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