HR Administration

SHRM-HRCI Split One Year Later: Less Testy, More Testing

By Mike Prokopeak

Jul. 3, 2015

One year after a messy breakup, the HR industry’s largest membership association and its largest provider of professional credentials appear to be getting on, if not quite getting along just yet.

The 275,000-member Society for Human Resource Management and the HR Certification Institute, with 145,000 certificate holders, ended their relationship under disputed circumstances in May 2014.

That breakup, spurred by SHRM’s decision to launch its own SHRM-Certified Professional (SHRM-CP) and SHRM-Senior Certified Professional (SHRM-SCP) credentials to compete with HRCI’s Professional in Human Resources (PHR), Senior Professional in Human Resources (SPHR) and Global Professional in Human Resources (GPHR) certificates, dissolved a nearly four-decadelong partnership that dated back to 1976. Since that time both organizations have been busy charting an independent path forward.

Speaking at a press briefing June 28 during the SHRM 2015 annual conference in Las Vegas, Alexander Alonso, SHRM’s vice president of research and certification exams, called the process so far a “resounding success.”

Since SHRM began accepting applications in January, more than 46,000 people have signed up for the society’s pathway to certification, while several thousand have completed the certification exam, he said. SHRM is in the process of applying for accreditation of its new certificates through the National Commission for Certifying Agencies, a review process that can take up to a year.

As evidence of acceptance from the business community, Alonso said employers such as AutoZone Inc. and Wal-Mart Stores Inc. are using the competency model underlying the SHRM certifications in their own HR development practices.

SHRM also formed the 11-member SHRM Certification Commission chaired by HR heavyweight Wayne Cascio, management professor at the University of Colorado Denver and former chair of the SHRM Foundation, to oversee development of the certification exam, eligibility requirements and recertification.

The certification exam costs $300 for SHRM members and $400 for nonmembers.

Cascio compared becoming SHRM-certified to getting a driver’s license while speaking at the same media briefing. Applicants must know the rules of the road but also have to pass a driving test. For SHRM-CP, the entry-level certification, the exam consists of approximately 35 percent application and situational judgment, i.e., the driving test, with the remainder knowledge-based. At the higher level, the SHRM-SCP, is about half application-based and half knowledge-based.

“The certification process is hardly static,” he said. “It’s dynamic. … It’s going to change over time.”

HRCI Holding Steady

Unlike 2014 when SHRM prohibited HRCI from attending the conference and exposition, the institute had a small booth and several staff members on hand on the exhibit hall floor including Kerry Morgan, HRCI’s new chief marketing officer.

Morgan, a veteran of Booz Allen Hamilton, United Way of the National Capital Area and several telecommunication firms, was hired in January to spearhead the institute’s marketing and communications. HRCI also hired a chief business development officer, Heather Combs, to develop corporate and institutional partnerships. Pre-split, the institute depended largely on SHRM for those operations as well as certification preparation.

“Our task is to clear up the confusion in HR and the business community, in particular that HRCI certifications are based on both knowledge and competency and have always been,” she said, calling the PHR and SPHR the “gold standard” for HR credentials.

HRCI, which until last year shared an office and administrative systems with SHRM, has been forced to build from scratch in the past year, setting up telephones and computers on the one hand and building entirely new corporate functions such as marketing and business development on the other.

The institute employs just over 50 people now and has set up its own call center and a team of recruiting specialists.

“We weren’t going to let anything get disrupted,” Morgan said. “We have to keep moving and keep serving our certificants. We’re getting better than ever and not going away.”

Although she didn’t provide specific numbers, Morgan said the number of people recertifying through HRCI has dipped slightly this year but not to a degree that has them concerned.

“We expected that based on the confusion that SHRM has put into the HR market by abandoning the HRCI certifications after promoting them for nearly 40 years,” she said.

The institute recently launched a Build Your Own Bundle service with the opening of the May application window, which allows people to select from three of HRCI’s 114 certification preparation providers for a discount. It has also created a $100 “second chance insurance” option for test takers should the person not pass the test the first time.

Morgan said there are more than 7,000 courses, conferences and organizations that are now part of the approved provider program and the institute has focused on making it easier to submit courses and conferences for approval and speed up turnaround time.

By all accounts, the two organizations have no relationship or plans to work together in the near future. HRCI is moving ahead with plans to further grow the organization and for its part SHRM, which according to Alonso has spent “several millions” to develop its certification program, shows no sign of slowing down.

“We hope at some point to be able to agree to work together,” Alonso said of HRCI, but like Morgan, he admitted there is no plan to do that in the near future.

Mike Prokopeak is Workforce’s editor in chief.

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