SHRM Leader to Employers: ‘Don’t Just Prefer—Require’ Certification

Part 2: ‘There’s a science to HR. Not everyone can do it.’

By Rena Gorlin, J.D. June 14, 2018
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​How can business best leverage the talents of the HR profession? Make SHRM certification mandatory for your HR staff, said SHRM President and CEO Johnny C. Taylor, Jr., SHRM-SCP.

Taylor earned his own SHRM designation in 2016, a year before he was named to his current post in 2017. His enthusiasm about the value of SHRM certification has only increased now that he is leading the organization that issues the fastest-growing HR credentials.

"Require it," Taylor said. "SHRM certification is a validation that the professional doing the job has the competency to do it. Treat HR like a profession. Don't just prefer—require!"

Taylor has been a prominent attorney specializing in labor and employment law and a global corporate executive, and he drew on those experiences to clarify HR's essential role: "If an organization takes its financial resources and legal risks seriously, it hires highly competent, certified and licensed finance and legal talent.

"In the same vein, if employers want to ensure that they optimize their investment in human capital, they must hire highly competent, certified HR professionals. Those who expect—and accept—less from their HR experts are not going to be competitive in the new knowledge economy."

HR's primary value to employers is recruiting and keeping talented workers. "It's not so easy to get the right human capital." HR professionals with a SHRM-CP or SHRM-SCP have greater value because they have a thorough understanding of the SHRM Body of Competency and Knowledge and can "help the organization implement a high-impact human capital strategy," he said.

Don't Underestimate HR

Problems in the workplace often arise, Taylor said, because "everyone thinks they understand and know HR—but they don't." He tackled this issue in his book, The Trouble with HR: Finding and Keeping the Best People (Amacom, 2009). Nearly a decade later, however, underestimation and misunderstanding of the HR profession persists.

"There's a science to HR: how people think, what motivates them, how the human brain works," Taylor said. "Because so many people are 'practicing' HR without the requisite knowledge and experience, we found ourselves as a society dealing with situations like #MeToo [the movement to expose and end sexual harassment], expensive turnover, pay disparities and other workplace challenges—all of which make it harder for organizations and businesses to achieve success."

Pay equity, for example, remains elusive, Taylor said, "because people don't understand it. But they would [understand pay equity] if they were SHRM-certified." SHRM-CPs and SHRM-SCPs have demonstrated that they possess the behavioral competencies and technical expertise necessary to resolve such problems more effectively, he said.

Promoting Professionalism

SHRM certification is designed to advance individual HR practitioners, who, in turn, can advance the organizations that employ them, the HR profession and society as a whole. Taylor intends to make the importance of SHRM certification more widely known—not just among HR professionals, but also among employers, educators, the general public and other constituencies.

That goal dovetails with SHRM's new campaign to promote HR as a positive social force and change engine: "Together Forward." "It's another way for the world to see HR as a profession," Taylor said. "HR has to build a perception of professionalism. It has to be more than just a perception—but perception does matter. If we want to be seen and treated as a profession, we have to act like one."

He is encouraged by the rise of certifications in other fields. Many computer-related jobs, for instance, now require the CISSP designation (Certified Information Systems Security Professional). "One definition of a profession is that not just anyone can do it," Taylor said. "There have to be some barriers, such as an independent certifying body that says, 'You're safe to practice.' The public can be protected with good HR."

A technical advisory committee, the SHRM Certification Commission, is responsible for ensuring the quality, impartiality and integrity of every aspect of the SHRM certification program.

Getting and Maintaining the Right Credential

Having two certification levels is smart, Taylor said. "There is real value in taking the SHRM-CP and then the SHRM-SCP. What one experiences from zero to seven years of HR practice is very different from what senior HR professionals experience."

The work of those new to HR is "more individualized and focused on day-to-day details and decisions," he said, whereas senior HR practitioners "take a more strategic, big-picture view" of the organization's approach to human capital. "You're looking at human capital and the consequences of investments, long-term or not," Taylor said. "It's a bigger challenge."

Taylor urged HR novices to obtain their SHRM-CP within a couple of years of entering the workforce. And he encouraged all HR professionals to "embrace certification and renewal. For HR professionals, that means revitalizing the profession. For SHRM-certified individuals, it means maintaining your credential."

Recertification is vital to ensure that HR professionals keep up their competencies and knowledge, Taylor said. "Things constantly change. HR has changed significantly in my two decades of practice. You can know HR today and not know it five years from now. The use of artificial intelligence in HR applications is just one example. We also have a multigenerational workforce, and they all think differently. HR must be able to think differently too."

In Part 1 of this profile, published in the previous issue, SHRM President and CEO Johnny C. Taylor, Jr., SHRM-SCP, discussed his motivations for pursuing SHRM certification and his experiences studying for and taking the exam.

Rena Gorlin, J.D., is an independent writer and editor in Washington, D.C.

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