By Claude Balthazard, Ph.D., C.Psych., CHRL
Vice-President, Regulatory Affairs and Registrar at HRPA
This article considers the following question: ‘What is the minimum amount of formal training required to obtain a designation in Human Resources management?’ However, before we answer that question we need to provide a context for the question.
Why is formal training important?
Simply, higher education has always been associated with the professions. Over the years, the number of available designations has increased significantly. By designation, we mean some kind of protected title usually accompanied with the right to put certain initials after one’s name. Obviously, there are more designations than there are professions. Although all professions have some designation or another, not all designations confer professional status. Human Resources management claims to be, or aspires to become, a true profession—therefore the amount of formal training required to obtain a designation in HR is directly relevant to this claim.
There are many articles and books which discuss the characteristics or attributes of professions—some reference to advanced training is invariably among the list of characteristics or attributes. For instance, Friedson (2001) included in his widely cited list of characteristics of professions that an occupation must have “a formal training program lying outside the labor market that produces the qualifying credentials, which is controlled by the occupation and associated with higher education.” But not all formal training is the same or equivalent. In this regard, an earlier article by Greenwood (1957) made some relevant points.
One of Greenwood’s (1957) attributes of a profession was a systematic body of theory—“The crucial distinction is this: the skills that characterize a profession flow from and are supported by a fund of knowledge that has been organized into an internally consistent system, called a body of theory.” (Greenwood, 1957, p. 46).
From there, Greenwood noted some of the implications of this for the training and education of professionals—“Acquisition of the professional skill requires a prior or simultaneous mastery of the theory underlying that skill. Preparation for a profession, therefore, involves considerable preoccupation with systematic theory, a feature virtually absent in the training of the non-professional.”
And from there—“Because understanding of theory is so important to professional skill, preparation for a profession must be an intellectual as well as a practical experience. On-the-job training through apprenticeship, which suffices for a nonprofessional occupation, becomes inadequate for a profession. Orientation in theory can be achieved best through formal education in an academic setting.”
Experience alone is not sufficient for professions; or putting it the other way around, if experience is sufficient to teach all that one needs to know to work in a given occupation, then it is not a profession. This is not a theory vs. experience argument—both have a role to play. It does means that academic preparation and experience are not interchangeable however. The role of on-the-job experience (articling, internships, and supervised practice) is to transform academic knowledge into professional competence. Experience without the academic preparation doesn’t work (again, if it does that is fine but it does mean that we don’t have a profession). On-the-job experience is not a good vehicle to teach theory. Academic preparation without experience, doesn’t work either. It takes both and in sequence. The bottom line is that allowing experience to substitute for formal training is inconsistent with the claim that a given occupation is a profession.
Professions have been associated with degree-level education offered through the formal educational system. For instance, Sir Alan Langlands’ working definition of professions are those occupations “where a first degree followed by a period of further study or professional training is the normal entry route and where there is a professional body overseeing standards of entry to the profession” (Langlands 2005). This is consistent with the approach described above—the first degree delivers the foundation in theory, this is followed by more advanced or applied professional training aimed at transforming theoretical knowledge into professional competence.
Another angle on the issue is to consider the difference between professions, semiprofessions, and trades. The essence of the distinction has to do with the intellectual or cognitive demands of the work—in short, the amount of theory involved or required.
Compared to professions, semiprofessions have shorter training periods, a less specialized and less highly developed body of knowledge and skills, and markedly less emphasis on theoretical and conceptual bases for practice. Compared to semiprofessions, trades have even shorter training periods, an even less highly developed body of knowledge and skills and very little if any focus on theory.
The much greater emphasis on emphasis on theoretical and conceptual bases for practice has a number of implications for the training of professionals. First, much more time is spent initially in acquiring the theoretical and conceptual knowledge bases. Then, practice is understood as the practical application of this theoretical and conceptual knowledge base. Practice cannot be separated from the theoretical and conceptual knowledge base. For professionals, there is learn-by-doing—but this learn-by-doing must come after having acquired the theoretical and conceptual knowledge base and this learn-by-doing is all about learning how to apply this theoretical and conceptual knowledge base. This theoretical and conceptual knowledge base is best acquired in formal academic programs of study. In professions, on-the-job learning is not used to acquire the requisite theoretical and conceptual knowledge base.
By way of contrast, trades will often use an apprenticeship approach. Apprenticeships are workplace-based training programs involving in-school studies and supervised on-the-job training, during which the apprentice learns the knowledge, skills, tools, and materials of an occupation. Apprenticeships are very different from the supervised practice of fledgling professionals.
Discussions of the level of the formal training are complicated by the fact that different jurisdictions use different frameworks. There are a few benchmarks, however. For instance, the Convention on the Recognition of Qualifications concerning Higher Education in the European Region (Lisbon Recognition Convention) is an international agreement between 55 signatory states which relates to the assessment of foreign credentials.
Some designations require coursework which falls outside the formal education system and which would not be credited by the formal educational system. For instance, many continuing studies programs are non-credit—which means that recognized degree-granting institutions will not recognize the coursework.
The minimum amount of formal training required to obtain a designation
The table below gives the minimum amount of formal training required to obtain a certain designation. Note that the minimum amount of formal training required to obtain a certain designation is not necessarily the typical amount of formal training candidates will have.
|Designation||Granting body||Minimum formal training|
|Certified Human Resources Professional (CHRP)||Human Resources Professionals Association (HRPA)||None|
|Certified Human Resources Leader (CHRL)||Human Resources Professionals Association (HRPA)||Degree + degree-level HR coursework|
|Certified Human Resources Executive (CHRE)||Human Resources Professionals Association (HRPA)||None|
|Professional in Human Resources (PHR)||Human Resources Certification Institute (HRCI)||High school diploma|
|Senior Professional in Human Resources (SPHR)||Human Resources Certification Institute (HRCI)||High school diploma|
|Global Professional in Human Resources (GPHR)||Human Resources Certification Institute (HRCI)||None|
|Human Resource Management Professional (HRMP®)||Human Resources Certification Institute (HRCI)||High school diploma or global equivalent|
|Human Resource Business Professional (HRBP®)||Human Resources Certification Institute (HRCI)||High school diploma or global equivalent|
|Professional in Human Resources – California (PHR-CA)||Human Resources Certification Institute (HRCI)||High school diploma|
|Senior Professional in Human Resources – California (SPHR-CA)||Human Resources Certification Institute (HRCI)||High school diploma|
|SHRM Certified Professional (SHRM-CP)||Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM)||Less than a bachelor’s degree includes: working toward a bachelor’s degree; associate’s degree; some college; qualifying HR certificate program; high school diploma; or GED.|
|SHRM Senior Certified Professional (SHRM-SCP)||Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM)||Less than a bachelor’s degree includes: working toward a bachelor’s degree; associate’s degree; some college; qualifying HR certificate program; high school diploma; or GED.|
|Associate Member (Assoc CIPD)||Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD)||None|
|Chartered Member (Chartered MCIPD)||Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD)||None|
|Chartered Fellow (Chartered FCIPD)||Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD)||None|
|Certified Compensation Professional (CCP)||WorldatWork Society of Certified Professionals||None|
|Certified Benefits Professional (CBP)||WorldatWork Society of Certified Professionals||None|
The table clearly shows that for the most part the minimum level of formal training required to get an HR designation is quite low—certainly below that which is usually expected of professions. For the most part, HR designations accept the substitutability of experience or achievement with formal training in HR.
Human Resources Professionals Association (HRPA)
Human Resources Professionals Association (HRPA) uses different approaches for each of its three levels of designation. At the HR administrator level, the CHRP includes an alternate route—with 10 years of professional experience in HR it is possible to qualify for the CHRP designation without any specific coursework in HR. At the CHRL level, candidate must have a degree and have completed degree-level coursework in HR. There are no alternate routes. At the CHRE level, individuals qualify by documenting that they have demonstrated required competencies. There is no required academic preparation or formal training to qualify for the CHRE.
Human Resources Certification Institute (HRCI)
The Human Resources Certification Institute (HRCI) has partial substitutability of experience and formal education.
For instance, eligibility to write the Professional in Human Resources (PHR) exam is as follows:
- A minimum of 1 year of experience in a professional-level HR position with a Master’s degree or higher, OR
- A minimum of 2 years of experience in a professional-level HR position with a Bachelor’s degree, OR
- A minimum of 4 years of experience in a professional-level HR position with a high school diploma
This means that an individual with a high school diploma could qualify for the PHR designation.
Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM)
Similarly, SHRM also has a partial substitutability. Although less experience is required for individuals with undergraduate or graduate degrees, individuals with high school diplomas can qualify for the SHRM designations.
Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD)
CIPD offers an experience assessment route. CIPD’s experience assessment process is based on a portfolio approach. Candidates are required to demonstrate that their experience and achievements meet the expectation set out for the level of designation aimed for. Formal academic training is not required to qualify by means of the experience assessment route. For those who qualify via the experience assessment there are no further exams or assessments.
WorldatWork Society of Certified Professionals
The WorldatWork Society of Certified Professionals designations were included as examples of specialist HR designations. The WorldatWork Society of Certified Professionals designation require passing exams on a number of topics. Formal academic training is not required to sit any of the exams. Candidates with high-school diploma or even less could be granted the designation.
What about the outcome-based logic?
In its essence, the ‘outcome-based’ approach reflects the idea that ‘it is not how you get there that matters, it is whether you get there that matters.’ In other words, it really doesn’t matter how individuals acquire the requisite competence as long as they do. If one can measure the competence to do HR, there is no need to require individuals to have complete specific coursework. From the ‘outcome-based’ perspective, requiring both the process (e.g., coursework) and the outcome (demonstration of requisite knowledge of the field) is redundant.
The outcome-based approach is sometimes seen as a no-nonsense bottom line approach. Although the outcome-based approach does not state that it is possible to become competent without formal training, there seems to be a tacit assumption that this is the case.
This author is not aware of any licensed or regulated profession that has adopted a thoroughgoing outcome-based approach.
For one, there is a practical Catch-22 for licensed professions. In licensed professions, it is not possible to acquire professional competencies entirely on-the-job. By the time fledgling professionals are learning on-the-job, they have already passed a number of hurdles including formal training. There are two needs: (1) the need to provide developing professionals with learning experience and (2) the need to keep the public safe. In licensed professions, developing professionals are only allowed to acquire ‘real’ experience rather late in the process, after significant amounts of training. It is only in voluntary occupations, that individuals can practice their occupation without any specific training.
There is also a logical challenge to the model outlined by Greenwood (1957). If Greenwood (1957) is correct, it would simply not be possible to become a competent professional without the solid grounding in theory.
All of this can be reconciled if we think of Human Resources management as in transition from a trade to a profession. For instance, many of the certification processes currently in place in HR are based on the trade model (although the word profession is used). Both are possible, it really depends on what we would like to see for the HR trade/profession. It is a matter of choice. We can chose to see Human Resources management as a trade. Here, formal training in HR is de-emphasized and becoming an HR professional is more a matter of on-the-job learning. On the other hand, we could choose to see Human Resources Management as a profession. Here, formal training in HR would be more rigourous and compulsory. On-the-job learning would still be important, but this would only be available to those who have the formal academic foundation in HR.
The outcome-based approach works now because current practice in HR is not strongly tied to theory. Presently, it is possible to be successful in HR without a solid grounding in theory. But if HR were to change and become more firmly grounded in theory, this might not be the case in, say, 20 years’ time.
Right now, Human Resources management has features of both a trade and a profession. There is no doubt that this this is holding Human Resources back in the eyes of those who would want to see Human Resources management as a true profession. Who can take claims that Human Resources management is a profession seriously when individuals with no more than a high-school diploma can get an HR designation?