SHRM Debuts New HR Credentials, Drawing Ire of HR Certification Institute

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By Martin Berman-Gorvine  

June 23 — To great fanfare but a somewhat mixed reaction from an audience of HR professionals, the Society for Human Resource Management unveiled its new certification program featuring the titles of “SHRM-CP: Certified Professional” and “SHRM-SCP: Senior Certified Professional” at the association's annual conference in Orlando, Fla.

“We wanted to make sure that it had an elevating effect, that it would be something you would be proud to achieve,” J. Robert Carr, SHRM senior vice president, said in a June 23 session devoted to the new certification program, which officially debuts Jan. 1, 2015. “We believe this will become the platinum standard,” he said.

Carr faced a number of skeptical questions, such as one from an audience member worried about convincing her company the new certifications are worthwhile. He assured her that SHRM will help persuade corporate management of that. Pricing of the new tests and certifications has yet to be determined, Carr said.

Among the reasons Carr gave for SHRM creating the new certifications were:

  •  to establish certifications that are highly relevant to employers and meets the needs of business;
  •  to grow certification in the HR profession, which has currently plateaued in the U.S. at around 12 percent; and
  •  to elevate the profession and create a universal standard for HR. 
  • Certification Controversy

    SHRM's announcement drew the rancor of the HR Certification Institute. HRCI was founded as a SHRM spin-off in 1976 and has traditionally been the organization behind HR certifications, including the widely recognized Professional in Human Resources (PHR) and Senior Professional in Human Resources (SPHR).

    In an official statement, SHRM President and CEO Henry G. “Hank” Jackson said the new certifications “will have no impact” on any of the HR Certification Institute's “portfolio of certifications,” although SHRM will no longer be supplying the HRCI's Learning System preparation material.

    HRCI Executive Director Amy Schabacker Dufrane defended the institute's certifications in a June 23 statement and accused SHRM of having “launched a competitive certification without notification and terminated HRCI's operating agreement that connected us for decades. Then they barred us from participating as an exhibitor at the SHRM Annual Conference.” She added: “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.”

    “HRCI was never barred from the annual conference,” Elissa O'Brien, SHRM's vice president for membership, replied in a June 25 e-mail to Bloomberg BNA. “I'm not sure how that rumor got started. In fact, several members of HRCI leadership and board were in attendance.”

    Jim Steele, a member of HRCI's board, said in a June 24 interview with Bloomberg BNA that the organization has had to work to “reassure” HR professionals who hold HRCI certifications that they “aren't going away. The initial messaging [from SHRM] really muddied the waters.”

    O'Brien responded: “SHRM has always focused on making sure HR practitioners are seeking and attaining certification. We're not telling our members to give up any of their certifications.”

    History of Certification Schism

    According to both organizations, the dispute began several months ago. “The SHRM Board has been engaged in talks with the HRCI Board for several months in an attempt to build a stronger and more binding relationship because we were at a critical decision point in our development of a competency-based certification,” O'Brien said. “SHRM is committed to ensuring that the certification our members achieve is the best in class and determined that it's best to move forward independently with our vision for a competency-based certification, which is urgently needed for the advancement of the HR profession and HR practitioners. As we said numerous times at our annual conference this week, we continue to hope that HRCI will agree to the work with us in this effort for the betterment of the HR profession.”  

    According to an HRCI spokesperson who spoke to Bloomberg BNA June 24, SHRM asked HRCI during the latter part of 2013 to embed SHRM's new, proprietary competency model in its certifications, and for an ownership stake in HRCI. The institute's board felt this would jeopardize the accreditation the organization's HR certifications have received from the National Commission for Certifying Agencies, the spokesperson added.

    “When the institute was first formed in the 1970s, they felt we needed to be independent,” Steele said. “When SHRM wanted to go in a different direction and made that a condition for working with them, that was a non sequitur.”

    As for the new SHRM competency model, the HRCI spokesperson said, HRCI responded that it could work with it as part of the recertification process, but SHRM failed to respond, and in March, SHRM's Jackson resigned from the HRCI board, citing a conflict of interest.

    “We have spent a lot of time trying to clear up the confusion” that SHRM's statements have caused, Schabacker Dufrane said in a June 24 interview with Bloomberg BNA. “We quickly put together events” for the benefit of attendees at the SHRM annual conference “even though we're not on the exhibit floor,” she added. “We tell them we are continuing to support their professional certifications, and the profession.”

    HRCI also pointed out that its HR certifications have just been re-accredited by the National Commission for Certifying Agencies for a five-year period, while the new SHRM certifications are not accredited by any independent agencies. To this, O'Brien responded that SHRM is working with a consultant to develop the qualifying exams so that they will comply with American National Standards Institute requirements, and that SHRM expects “that we will obtain accreditation of our new program from ANSI within the next three years, which is the usual timeframe for getting a new certification accredited.”

    “SHRM's Annual Conference was an opportunity for us to answer our members' questions directly,” she added. “For the majority of the members that I spoke with, they understand that this is the direction that the profession needs to take. For those that weren't able to attend, we launched an online resource,, that can provide more information to our members and partners.”

    For its part, HRCI says the split with SHRM has created opportunities for new partnerships that may not have been possible before, when the two organizations were so closely entwined.

    A Competency-Based System

    According to Carr, the SHRM certification system focuses on knowledge and competencies around people, organizations, strategy and the workplace, gleaned from more than 32,000 survey participants and more than 100 focus groups in 34 countries. A criterion validation study is under way with leading companies and academic institutions, he said. Additionally, he said, SHRM is now setting up an independent SHRM Certification Commission made up of HR business and academic leaders to oversee all certification activities.

    The certification testing will begin in May-June 2015, with separate tests for SHRM-CP and SHRM-SCP, and will feature “situational judgment” questions to assess competencies with individual test items describing a scenario and providing a variety of behavioral-based approaches to resolving the issue. The test taker is asked to select the most appropriate approach. Several questions may be based on the same scenario.

    SHRM has run into trouble with proposed HR standards before. It announced Nov. 29, 2012, that in response to opposition in the business community, it had withdrawn the proposed Human Resource Indices for Investors standard. The standard was intended to help investors evaluate the worth of a company's human capital. Some HR professionals contended, however, that it would be burdensome to companies and irrelevant to investors.

    To contact the reporter on this story: Martin Berman-Gorvine in Washington at

    To contact the editor responsible for this story: Simon Nadel at