Turning HR from a job to a profession through certification

Amanda Woodard


written on July 15, 2015

With many HR professionals already holding tertiary qualifications, members may question AHRI’s drive for a new certification framework. Amanda Woodard spoke to the HR team at Santos, Chris Wood (FCPHR) and Joanne Fox, about why they believe certification is long overdue.

CHRIS WOOD (FCPHR), MANAGER HR: HR is such a broad and deep label. The fact is that the quality of HR provision is uneven. I can meet a director of HR that employs 25 people and the quality will be very different to someone working in HR with 20,000 employees. But currently there isn’t a quality benchmark that helps me understand that.

JO FOX, Group Manager, Remuneration & HR Operations: The current professional recognition framework of FAHRIs and CAHRIs, while demonstrating commitment to an HR career, isn’t much assistance to professionals if they want to know how to gain credibility into the future. Today, you’ve got to be able to flip in and out of what an organisation needs you to do. In my own job, I spend 50 per cent of my time working on what is in my ‘job description’. The rest is spent doing what the company needs me to work on. Last year it was public affairs and this year it’s organisational strategy. A lot of roles in HR aren’t as fixed as they used to be. You have to work with uncertainty and to be confident with that. There are goals that need to be articulated by HR so that the rest of the organisation knows what needs to be done. This isn’t learnt at university. A lot of learning occurs once you are in the workforce and that is the key thing that certification will do. It will help people be clear about what they need to learn, and help their organisations think about what they really need.

CW: HR has moved from hands on to a business partner model that requires an increase in capability. Does HR have a seat at the table when it comes to organisational requirements? Yes, it does after 10 years of argument and aspiration. What hasn’t kept up with that development is how to certify what is good HR. Certification is about saying; ‘We know what it takes to get us to that point, let us now articulate that in a quantifiable, certifiable framework.’ Somebody who comes out of university with a law degree doesn’t automatically become a partner but it gets them an entry into the law firm. In the same way, certification doesn’t automatically mean the HR practitioner will become a director of HR, but it does mean they have an agreed standard of entry or development into building their HR career.

JF: I believe all organisations would benefit from knowing about what good HR looks like. To do that, you need professional standards. If the industry has certification for HR, then it can be used in much the same way that accountancy uses CPA. It fills the gap in HR development to ensure it is more of a profession than a trade. To achieve this shift you need education standards, an enforced code of conduct and regulated ‘entry’ and ‘acceptance’ levels.

CW: I believe one of the key success factors will be how you view certification. If you are a doctor, lawyer or accountant but you are not accredited – you cannot practise. If you do not follow the code or regulations you can be delisted. It will be up to HR leaders to drive this in their organisations. There’s no point having a certification program if no one asks for HR professionals to be certified.

Santos supports certification because it will help in recruiting and developing, in forging career pathways and developing confidence, capability and credibility for the Santos HR gene pool.

JF: Chris and I both have 15 plus years of experience in HR and we have learnt that a key enabler is a strong leader. Our chief HR officer, Petrina Coventry (FCPHR), has international experience with large, diversified companies around the world and she uses this to create knowledge and confidence in HR – a leader that develops and ‘backs’ you is also critical to the success of HR in organisations.

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