Gaining Momentum: SHRM Certification Training Is Popular, Appreciated, Say Major Organizations, HR Execs

Mar 18, 2016

Is SHRM Certification gaining traction? What effect has it had in the HR and business communities? How are individual organizations’ HR departments responding?

To get an impression of SHRM Certification’s reception—and potential—we decided to talk to a few recent bulk purchasers of SHRM cert preparation training programs. We identified five large organizations that provide HR services to populations (of employees and others) ranging from the several hundreds to the tens of thousands:

  • Two corporations: Fairchild Semiconductor Corp., with corporate offices in California and Maine, and locations worldwide; and Meijer, a multi-billion-dollar, privately held retailer based in Grand Rapids, Mich., with stores across six states.

  • Two health care-related entities with multistate operations: the Mayo Clinic, based in Rochester, Minn., with major locations in Arizona and Florida, and satellite clinics nationwide; and Kaiser Permanente, based in Oakland, Calif., whose integrated system includes hospitals, medical groups, and a health plan with 10 million-plus members in eight states and D.C.

  • One educational institution: New Orleans’ Tulane University, where HR is responsible for faculty, staff, students, postdocs and medical residents.

All of the selected organizations hosted one or more three-day on-site SHRM cert prep training courses for about 25 participants each (outliers were classes of 10 and 81 participants), between September 2015 and February 2016. SHRM Learning Systems were purchased for each participant. Some organizations held multiple sessions at different times in the same location, or at different locations. One organization experienced a hybrid training over a three-month period, consisting of a three-day on-site course followed by seven virtual/online sessions.

We contacted the HR executives who ordered these programs. Their job titles included director of HR services, senior vice president of HR, associate vice president, HR research advisory director, corporate trainer for U.S./multinational, and director of talent development and organizational capability.

Our discussions focused on why they decided to pursue SHRM certification and training. What were they hoping to accomplish for participants and for their organizations, and were those goals achieved? We also asked whether their HR job postings listed SHRM Certification as “required” or “desirable.” Finally, did they anticipate further involvement with or impact from SHRM Certification?

Please note that no endorsement of or by SHRM should be inferred or implied.

The initial motivations of these decision-makers to pursue HR team training varied. In one organization, senior HR staff were “discuss[ing] opportunities for development.” Another entity is in the process of transferring from site-specific to enterprise-wide HR, and “realized the need for more educational training” for all staff. A different organization responded to the results of an internal culture survey (in which respondents said the HR team “was not doing enough”") by offering a group “the opportunity for training.”

One important deciding factor to go with SHRM was recognition of an alignment between SHRM materials and an organization’s own research into HR standards. As one respondent explained, staff members had already “thought up their own competencies” when they found the SHRM Body of Competency and Knowledge online, and discovered the two sets “matched up. . . . We were very impressed.”

Another decision-maker “looked at the skills and abilities of our most capable HR business partners” and “saw a very close match with SHRM’s Competency Model.” They asked SHRM for a presentation to explore it further, and since then “have been promoting this model . . . to our entire HR team worldwide.” One commenter felt that SHRM’s materials were “a good baseline for us. We really liked the strategy component [and] global approach.”

Participants in the SHRM programs included staffers who had already obtained their SHRM-CP or SHRM-SCP via the online tutorial pathway, but “wanted additional training.” Some participants possessed designations from other certifying bodies. Only one of the HR executives to whom we spoke joined their colleagues in the SHRM training. Two respondents hold the SPHR credential; none of the five are, at present, SHRM-certified.

SHRM certification training made “very positive impressions.” One commenter “checked in with our HR team going through the SHRM training and it was very well received.”

Participants at two organizations preferred their instruction from the in-classroom facilitator who could “answer questions and provide lots of detail.” They thought in-person training more “important” than online, although they considered the latter useful to reinforce the former. This group “enjoyed comprehensive instruction and appreciated the opportunity” from their organization as well as from SHRM.

Not all cert prep participants signed up to take the SHRM-CP or SHRM-SCP exams, but of those who did, studying created “lots of excitement.” At one organization, a “very collegial, elite club” got together for “flashcard Fridays.” Not all participants passed the exams: “"We are still in testing mode.” Another HR respondent said, “I hope more will continue. Several have signed up for the Spring window.” For training participants who became SHRM certified, the experience “has been exciting.”

What is the future of SHRM training and/or certification at these organizations? “A significant number of our team members will pursue [it] over the next couple of years,” according to one HR leader. Another organization is “committed to training 30 to 40 people a year,” starting with its 100 HR generalists on staff and eventually reaching all 500 HR employees in payroll, benefits, compensation, recruiting and other areas. “The only decision is on-site or online.”

None of the entities we spoke to list SHRM certification as “required” in their HR job postings. One already lists it as “desirable,” and is “encouraging every new HR hire to pursue SHRM certification, either through training or examination.” Another commenter already considers a job candidate’s certifications in the context of individual assessments and interviews, but allows that the organization may eventually “add it” as a requirement.

For one HR executive, in addition to SHRM training, SHRM itself offers “many other benefits for the HR professional, so we have been encouraging and supporting membership as well.” Combined with that organization’s “internal process improvement efforts” for its HR department, “we expect to make the transformation . . . to a much more strategic partner with our business colleagues. . . . [O]ur work with SHRM will help accelerate progress.”


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