Why don’t more HR professionals get recognised for great work?

HR certification
Steve Packer


written on November 4, 2016

Think HR doesn’t get the recognition it deserves? You’re not alone. We spoke with two senior human resources professionals about why these misconceptions irk them, where they see the profession going, and why they think HR certification can get the profession out of the back room and into the board room.

Joining a professional community has led to networking opportunities, as well as raising their profile, say two recent graduates of AHRI’s senior leaders certification pathway. They share the reasons behind their pursuit of HR certification/

Georgia Siabanis FCPHR

HR Director, The Turning Lane

Georgia Siabanis sees HR certification as a win, win, win, win situation. She says the initiative has major benefits for individual HR professionals, the HR profession as a whole, employers and their organisations, and AHRI itself. Siabanis has the added benefit of hindsight.

“I’m Canadian, and I gained certification under the Canadian model – which is similar to the Australian model – when I started working for the Royal Bank of Canada 20 years ago,” she says. “I’ve seen certification mature and seen the value of it. It professionalises HR by providing a solid foundation and developmental path to follow. Organisations start to look for it.

“It’s common to hear people say they are getting into HR because they ‘like people’ and are good at administrative tasks. Those are important, but there are so many others when you are dealing with leaders and trying to influence business strategy. It’s a career path to aspire to, and certification is at the heart of that.”

Siabanis went on sabbatical from the Royal Bank of Canada after working for it in Australia for seven years. But it’s misleading to describe her break from work as ‘time off’. She has been completing an MBA and is engaged in career coaching for the women’s employment charity Dressed For Success. She has also become a nationally accredited mediator and sits on the board of the Australian Dispute Resolution Association.

For her AHRI certification, her Canadian equivalent didn’t directly apply in the way UK certification would have, so she was required to present a case study, answer prescribed questions from her assessors and do a one-hour phone interview.

Knowing that she needed a case study that aligned to the competencies required by AHRI, she chose a multi-million-dollar project to re-organise her employer’s local business operations. Following certification, she applied to become an AHRI Fellow.

“I’ve been doing a lot of networking in recent months, and I’ve asked people if they are doing their certification. They’ve said ‘Not sure’ or ‘I’ve heard about it, but haven’t given it much attention.’ I think there’s work to be done to promote it, and I’d like to help in any way I can, because I firmly believe in making the professionalising of HR more formal.”

Baseline for the future

Siabanis says employers should start requesting certification because it provides a baseline to make sure their HR people know certain things and have the behaviours that come with them.

“Employers are getting away from the traditional stereotypes of what HR was and looking at the new and more contemporary practices they are going to need.

“As an HR person, the biggest issue is having business acumen and knowledge of the market you operate in. [It’s about] predicting the future and making sure employees are ready to deliver on the goals.”

Through AHRI’s certification program, “You start to get a more professional community of people,” she says. “In two to three years, AHRI will have an even bigger connectivity and networking role with HR practitioners.”

Connie Kuhlman CPHR

Field HR Lead, ANZ, Accenture Australia

Connie Kuhlman says she thinks of her career as a marathon, not a sprint, and she likes to “refresh at the water stations to get the energy and motivation for the next few kilometres.”

Submitting her case study as part of the senior leaders pathway to HR certification was a refreshment that Kuhlman took without breaking stride.

“The case study made me think through my HR experience and the qualitative and quantitative contributions I’ve been able to make to our business,” says Kuhlman, Melbourne-based field HR lead for Australia-New Zealand professional services company, Accenture.

Kuhlman worked for Accenture in the US for 20 years before moving to Australia three years ago. In the US she is a certified management accountant, and she worked in change management before making the switch to HR.

She values certification for two reasons. “One is that it’s an indication to my team members of the professionalism and high standards, experience and education that’s expected of somebody working in HR.”

She notes that a young member of her team, who came to the profession via another path, recently recommenced university study, specifically to build towards AHRI certification.

“The other reason is that it demonstrates to business stakeholders my HR experience, knowledge and skills, so that they can identify that someone meets certain standards.”

Her case study looked at a 15-month period when she was brought in as the first HR lead for a business unit that had grown rapidly in terms of financial and headcount measures.

“It had all sorts of HR needs. For a talent plan, an overall talent strategy, a sourcing strategy, a leadership skills program … In a still fast-growing environment, I was able to set up processes and programs, and create the HR team that went on to keep the business unit going.”

In the business of business

Certification has also prompted Kuhlman to consider where she’s at in her career and how AHRI can help her, and the profession, to progress. Inevitably, AHRI’s list of certified practitioners will continue to grow as a knowledge and networking base, she says.

“My personal ambitions at this point are to be as impactful as I can for the team I lead, the employees I serve and the broader company, to help achieve our business goals. I view myself as much as a business professional as an HR professional.

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