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HR certification: why it’s time for our profession to break free from fear

Over the centuries, Confucian thinkers have passed down some useful distinctions. One of them is a distinction between the virtuous who are free from anxieties, the wise who are free from perplexities, and the bold who are free from fear. This has lessons for the way we approach HR certification.

On the third distinction, I am told that the issue of HR certification was repeatedly raised at decision-making meetings of the institute over many years before my time. The discussions turned on the same questions we now ponder.  Other professions set entry standards and appoint gatekeepers to jealously guard against unqualified people practising. Why not HR? But when the dust settled on the discussion, the decisive step was always shelved, and the common stopper was always the same: Fear.

There was never a serious argument about whether certification was necessary. Agreement on that was unanimous because it was accepted that without a standard, a profession is not taken seriously. But that understanding was accompanied by the realisation that the journey to certification would be a hard road. The standard would have to be capable of testing professional knowledge, skills and behaviours, be globally recognised, and would also involve setting up a credible certifying body.  It would then be necessary to communicate to the business world that HR had come of age. Each step could potentially be problematic and would involve a considerable investment of time, money and people.

But in 2014 the decision was made and we are now on that journey. We have crossed the Rubicon, and it has been wonderful to witness the clarity of purpose that now exists. No longer will we tolerate anyone off the street saying they can ‘do HR’, and then casually calling themselves HR practitioners simply because they can.

That step, of course, cannot be taken in a day, so we set a timeframe of three years from December 2014 to December 2017. From that date, all new entrants seeking certified status* to practise HR must satisfy the requirements of the National Certification Council that they have met the standard as signified by the new HR certification post-nominals, CPHR and FCPHR.

The decisive step was put off for so long out of fear, so we knew we needed to free ourselves of our fear to take action.

Two years down the track it has culminated in a brand overhaul that is driven by the idea of pride in achieving HR certification and being a certified HR professional. Failing to establish HR as a profession on a proper footing is now unthinkable. It would amount to a colossal setback for the profession. Thus with failure ruled out as an option, being bold and being proud are the only options.

Over the last two years I have found myself referring back to our pioneers of 1992. In an  HRMonthly magazine column around that time, the then national president, Graeme Andrewartha was calling on practitioners to recognise the “larger responsibility in the next 10 years, not just to our members but to the employers in our members’ firms and the wider community”. He was saying that the profession must be accountable. His words remain a reminder to present-day HR practitioners that the issue is bigger than just themselves. HR has a larger responsibility to leaders of organisations, to assure them that if they employ men and women who present themselves wearing the cloak of HR, that they can be satisfied that they are getting people who know what they are doing and are able to perform accordingly.

This year we will be talking to business leaders and talking to the wider community. And when we do, we will be talking about you – boldly and proudly – and your obligation will be to live up to what we are saying about you. 

Consolidate your HR career by becoming a certified HR practitioner. Find the certification pathway that best suits your professional level by using the HR Certification Pathfinder.

*Correction: The original copy in the print HRM magazine (February 2017) indicated that after December 2017, new entrants seeking to practise HR will be required to have met the standards signified by the new post-nominals. The position is that new entrants seeking certified status must satisfy those standards.

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