The certainty of certification

Paul Begley


written on March 20, 2015

The first cousin of the word ‘certify’ is the word ‘certain’ and we all know that if something is certain it’s been reasonably determined to be true. We can be certain, for example, that on past experience the sun will rise in the morning and set in the evening. 

On that sort of thinking, to certify a professional person is to vouch for or confirm with a high degree of conviction that the certified individual can reliably perform in accordance with a set of standards that have stood the test of time. 

From time to time members call on AHRI to lobby government to regulate entry into the HR profession so that practitioners cannot practice unless they are certified. While AHRI has been open to looking at self-regulatory mechanisms, the institute has in the past and continues in the present to resist calls for government regulation.

On that issue, AHRI’s national manager of professional development, Angelina Pillai, puts this question: “What do we expect of electricians, train drivers, medical practitioners, airline pilots? What we require is an assurance by law that the person flying the plane, for example, has the required practising certificate, and that the certification itself requires the pilot to keep up to date with technological advances and contemporary aeronautical knowledge.” 

It’s true that HR practice is not widely perceived as being at the business end of the life-and-death threshold where airline pilots sit. That said, HR practitioners contend with large workforces and operate at times within unforgiving workplaces if they get things wrong. And these are places where their fellow citizens and colleagues spend a substantial proportion of their lives, so a great many people have a stake in the HR space.

“HR professionals are charged with the responsibility of finding ways to assist in creating a culture that maximizes the engagement and productive capability of the people in the business. While doing that, HR practitioners must also be mindful that they are often working within highly charged litigious and risk-prone environments. Keeping these balls in the air requires the application of a sophisticated and multifaceted set of skills,” says Pillai.

Raising the bar on certification

Against this backdrop, the AHRI board and AHRI’s council of state presidents returned last year to the issue of professional HR standards, and looked hard at the pros and cons that touch on certification.

AHRI’s counterparts in other parts of the developed world are undertaking similar self-analyses. Last year the US Society of Human Resource Management (SHRM), which represents 275,000 members, cut its ties with the US Human Resources Certification Institute (HRCI), which itself has 135,000 members. The announcement by SHRM that the two bodies were going their separate ways turned on issues related to control of standards, competence and certification. 

In a forthcoming US book, AHRI chairman and national president, Peter Wilson AM (FCPHR), has written a chapter that includes this statement about the Australian position:

“AHRI’s governing philosophical approach on this matter can (therefore) best be summarized in the following simple formula: Competence = Knowledge + Skills”

The formula seeks to articulate the difference between the two elements by distinguishing knowledge as representing ‘what you know’ and skills representing the application of this knowledge in workplaces.”

While the AHRI chairman was stating Australia’s certification principle in an international setting, the AHRI professional development team at home was developing a certification model that goes to the core of the principle.

It takes the form of a new offering called the AHRI Practising Certification Program (APCP). Angelina Pillai explains: “Unlike its predecessor, this program ups the ante considerably on rigour and robustness. Practitioners will study three core units focused on what they need to know. Those units are followed by a fourth ‘capstone’ unit that will test, in the workplace, what they are able to do.”

Students taking the APCP’s capstone unit should have worked in a HR-related role for at least five years before they can attempt it. Satisfactory completion of the full APCP will qualify the graduate for the upgraded AHRI post-nominal of CAHRI, the ‘C’ signifying ‘certified’.

Because current CAHRI members have not been required in the past to undertake such a rigorous certification program, those who remain AHRI members will be ‘grandfathered’ until 1 January 2017. Any member who is not a CAHRI at that time will be required to meet the new standard.

The APCP is intended as a form of self-regulation, with a medium-to-long term intention of preventing government intervention.  There are a number of ways in which governments can intervene. They include practitioners being required to be listed on a register in order to practise.  The Australian Securities and Investments Commission has initiated just such a register for financial advisers.
The question remains: could HR be next in its sights?

Visit AHRI’s website for more information.  

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