Attendees at this year’s Society for Human Resource Management conference have been voicing their opinions on the organization’s new competency-based certification system, and its somewhat jarring introduction to the industry it serves.

There’s also been some concern raised about the necessity of an entirely new certification regime as SHRM and its one-time partner, the HR Certification Institute, were unable to come to agreement about SHRM’s credentials and have parted company.

According to Donna O’Steen, a HR consultant with the State of Florida Department of Management Services and holder of HRCI’s SPHR certification, the new SHRM competency-based certification caught her off guard because its announcement was very abrupt. While noting that handling of the certification program was “a little poor” – O’Steen says she feels that SHRM members were not involved in the process – she is still on the fence in considering the certification for herself.

Bob Carr, SHRM’s vice president of membership, marketing and external affairs, admits the split with HRCI – and the timing of the announcement of a brand-new set of credentials available to the benefits community – might both have been handled a bit better, but says he hopes industry professionals will still get behind the new SHRM standards.

See also: SHRM defends professional certification effort

“Could we have done a better job of roll-out? Sure,” Carr notes. “We wish we could have done it a bit better. But frankly, we wanted to control the narrative, so we told everyone in the industry at the same time. We’re also not asking anyone to give up their other hard-earned certifications.”

Carr further clarified the new offerings, explaining that the SHRM Certified Professional (SHRM-CP) will be aimed at benefits and HR managers with at least three years’ worth of experience, and SHRM Senior Certified Professional (SHRM-SCP) will serve those with at least six years’ work experience, plus an HR-related degree or other strategic competencies.

See also: SHRM gives a name to new HR certification

SHRM’s ambitious debut of the new credentials will begin soon with efforts to contact HR directors at nearly every major employer in the United States, says Alex Alonso, vice president of research with SHRM.

“We’ve got to get the word out and try to interact with HR professionals who want to take a leadership role in the future,” Alonso says. SHRM’s certifications program has necessitated the creation of a whole new division in the organization, with 15 staff dedicated to the credentialing process – separate from SHRM’s other operations.

In the meantime, many in the industry are trying to weigh the value proposition of the new credentials versus the HRCI’s six existing competency-based credentials, which include the Professional in Human Resources, the Senior Professional in Human Resources, as well as the Global Professional in Human Resources.

In a statement Tuesday, HRCI executive director Amy Schabacker Dufrane reiterated some of the behind-the-scenes animosity that has put a slight damper on SHRM’s debut of its own certification system. She suggests that HR professionals still have not had the opportunity to review SHRM’s certifications in detail, and notes that nearly 140,000 HR and benefits professionals already hold one of HRCI’s certifications.

“SHRM launched a competitive certification without notification and terminated HRCI’s operating agreement that connected us for decades,” she says. “HRCI exists to support and advance the HR profession, not to support one specific membership organization. With their announcing a competing certification, SHRM’s leaders have clearly chosen to go their own way. It’s a direction that many HR professionals say is harmful to the profession, and we agree.”

SHRM's Alonso says that the process leading up to his organization’s certification model has been in development since 2011 and involved 1,200 individuals in 110 focus groups in 29 cities, plus the input of more than 32,000 benefits professionals surveyed throughout the build-up.

Alonso adds that the tests being created to help guide the certification process are being developed with the oversight of organizations such as the American National Standards Institute, which also oversees “high-stakes” testing in critical fields such as air traffic control.

Meanwhile, Pierre Monice, the director of operations and HR at Florida Hospitals, was more optimistic about SHRM’s certification. “Any certification to expand your knowledge is always positive,” says Monice, a PHR holder and more than four-year veteran at Florida Hospitals, a nonprofit health care provider with 22 campuses in the state. “I think education is always good.”

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