‘Nigeria has one of the world’s highest numbers of certified HR professionals’
Michael McCallum is the Director, Global Markets, Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM). In this interview with BENJAMIN ALADE, he proffered solutions to some of the challenges of Human Resource (HR) managers in hiring the right skill sets, employees and the return of its certification examinations in Nigeria. Excerpts:
Can you give an insight into SHRM’s strategy?
The SHRM is the world’s largest HR professionals association. We have almost 300,000 members in 165 countries. Our mission is to be a global preeminent HR association that exists to advance the HR profession and to serve the professionals. We are happy to be here in Nigeria, we work with about 45 different partners around the world to help grow HR because the profession is at the core of the global economy, and it is through the profession that you really tap talents of your countries. We are happy to work with the Chartered Institute of Personnel Management of Nigeria (CIPMN), and a local authorised partner with the right capabilities in of human resources development work, they have been working with SHRM since 2009.
How does your global strategy work in Nigeria?
Well, for close to a decade now SHRM has been quite local in Nigeria, first through the mechanism of SHRM Member Forum, which is still in operation, and then with Skills-Farm Limited, which SHRM has chosen to work with as an indigenous firm here in Nigeria. Through the SHRM forum, a member-driven independent organisation licensed by SHRM and which operates like a SHRM Chapter, our members in Nigeria get access to some of their membership benefits when they come together for professional development activities. They include seminars and conferences, then network with other HR professionals to grow themselves and to look at what best practices work across organisations that they represent. We have SHRM community here through the SHRM forum. For HR Certification, which requires more integration within SHRM and the provision of more infrastructure by way of investment, we channel those efforts through Skills-Farm Limited, and their focus is to help prepare Nigerian HR professionals who are interested in HR certification. And they have over the years done a fantastic job of that as they currently record very high pass rates for all their intakes. The SHRM certification as you know is the global platinum standard for HR certification and it SHRM made a decision to support Nigerians with access to tutorials and tools for rigorous certification prep. Test takers do a prep course for about 40 hours in order to make sure that they are successful in the examination.
One of the challenges of HR managers is employing the right skillset. How does the shortfall of getting the right skills affect general workforce?
It is a big issue generally because of the way technology has changed jobs with many people finding that they need new skills just to do their regular jobs. Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) are changing the nature of work so rapidly that employers and employees alike need to be abreast of the new waves of changes in order to do well on their jobs. For HR people, they too are not spared, many are increasingly finding that they need to skill-up in order to meet up to the standards of what businesses and organisations are demanding from them. And this is not a patient way of asking because businesses and organisations need results, and they need it right now, not tomorrow. For HR, this is where certification has become so important because as the field of human resources become more developed and sophisticated, practitioners should evolve too. It is risky attempting to use old tools to solve new problems. A lot of companies in the past would just place people in HR because they had nice personalities and could interact well with others.
These kind of nice HR people will struggle today if they don’t have the right skillsets for the kind of sophisticated human resources which is now common in most organisations. A nice way companies can help HR people be up-to-date in their skillsets is to encourage them to go for HR Certification. HR Certification bridges most of the gaps and plugs all the holes of what you didn’t learn even in business school. SHRM Certification has been particularly successful in delivering immediate value to organisations by improving the skillsets of their employees, so they start making changes and bringing value once they are satisfied. Employers like the fact that you can’t just cram the text, take the exam and pass. This is one of the weaknesses of some of the other HR certifications out there. SHRM certifications have done so well that many of the Fortune 500 companies, and some operate here in Nigeria, have now standardised on it for developing HR competencies. SHRM certifications have also done so well in Nigeria. In industries like the Oil and Gas sector, globally and in Nigeria, our certification is especially important for one to progress successfully in a career in HR. We partner with some of the largest companies in the world, and that is why when you look at the profile of our members everywhere there are people at all the strategic levels of most organisations; from Vice Presidents of HR to HR Generalists and even beginner HR professionals, whom we support with a roadmap to make it in their careers.
What is the certification like for the Nigerian market?
About three years ago, SHRM launched a new certification platform. We wanted to create a platform, which will serve HR professionals globally so that if you are working, for instance, in information technology or oil and gas industry, whether working with Nigerian or North American or European oil companies, your HR professional expertise can be applied and rank well with your peers globally. This is what HR professionals, who have earned the SHRM certification, tell us they value most about the impact of the certification on their careers. SHRM has the Certified Professional (CP) and the Senior Certified Professional (SCP). If you get any of these designations as a Nigerian national in any international organisations, you will be graded and compensated the same with your peers and colleagues whether they are in Houston, Texas, London or Brazil.
So, we see efforts by the Financial Services Industry, Manufacturing, Tech, and the extractive industries (including the Oil & Gas sector) being very keen nowadays in making sure their professionals are operating in the same level globally. For this, SHRM Certification is a leveler, makes the playing field level regardless of your age, sex, nationality tribe or any other criteria. Once you have SHRM Certification you are graded at the same level with your colleagues. We launched the SHRM certifications with a lot of inputs and collaborations with many multinational corporations. We have worked with over 15,000 global HR professionals at different stages just to make sure our certifications are relevant across all cultures and are measured with skillset across most countries. We are very proud to say that Nigeria has one of the highest numbers of SHRM members outside North America and we also have some highest number of certified professionals in Nigeria. Nigeria is a very important market to us.
SHRM recently crossed the 100,000 certified professionals’ threshold, what is driving this momentum?
I think what is driving it is that Human Resource professionals desire to demonstrate that they can do their jobs better, and they gravitate to standard bearers like SHRM Certification to help them demonstrate expertise and mastery. We have two markets; we have market for a certified professional from junior level to mid-level certification and we have the senior level certified professionals which are more advanced professionals. At the lower and middle level, you find people who want to make sure they have the skillset in order to do the best within their organisation. Then we have they most senior certified professional and those professionals, we normally have about 100+ people a year in Nigeria certified at that level, and they have more senior level jobs with their organisations and those are typically competing at the top level because they are bidding globally for managerial HR roles and leadership assignments.
Quite a lot of people leverage SHRM Certifications to improve their careers, and as a minimum get a new job. Because once you have that any SHRM certification, it’s kind of a seal of approval that you can compete favorably with other HR professionals globally and you have the skillset to help drive your organisation strategically. In the past 10 years HR has argued a lot about getting a seat at the table, and on the next 10 years it is about setting or influencing the agenda for the organisation, not just having a seat at the table. We see today that Nigerian companies now compete globally in many industries, and so it is logical that the HR professionals looking after the manpower that these organisations compete with should themselves see things from a global perspective. SHRM Certifications provide this global perspective change and we are very proud to say that we have been successful in bringing it to the Nigerian market and there are proof points of effectiveness in many local Nigerian industries today.
When it comes to hiring, why should organisations prefer HR Manager candidates with SHRM certification?
Peace of mind… that is what we hear CEOs tell us that they get when they employ people who are SHRM Certified. That peace of mind comes from people being what they said they are and doing what they said they could do at interview stage. You even get more mileage when you combine SHRM certification with the local alternatives like the CIPMN certification, which we encourage Nigerians to take. Makes you better rounded all the same. SHRM certification delivers great ROI for hiring managers that when you compare two people one with SHRM certification the other without, the difference can sometimes be staggering in favor of the SHRM Certified professional. This is because no other HR certification exam goes to the lengths we have gone to ensure that competency is demonstrated before the ward of the HR certification badge. Even the SHRM Learning System, the material that every SHRM Certification test taker uses to prepare, that material is in use in many HR departments as standard reference material for practitioners.
It is not just a test prepping text book, it is a practitioners handbook and delivers so much value to HR professionals using it, long after they have finished taking the certification tests. We are the only organisation that puts literally thousands of HR tools and materials at the convenience of our members. There is a comprehensive ecosystem behind a SHRM Certified professional, especially when backed with a full SHRM membership, the sheer volume and unique nature of resources is one of the many reasons why most excel at their jobs. SHRM Certification removes the guesswork from hiring HR professionals and SHRM goes to great length to ensure that those that earn the designation can be proud of what they have achieved. SHRM certification has also democratised the hiring of Human Resources professionals such that when global organisations are hiring, they are not necessarily looking at candidates just from a country of origin perspective. They see a talent pool to choose from, and once you hire from that pool you can be sure of what to get. SHRM Certification delivers peace of mind.
SHRM partners with the local HR professional bodies like the CIPMN, how and why do you do this?
We partner with other HR associations because we want to keep abreast of trends and local nuances in HR around the world. For instance, the HR association here belongs to a global body called the World Federation of Personal Management (WFMA), at the moment SHRM is the Secretariat to the WFMA global body.
All of the certified associations within the WFMA collaborate and share best practices; we look at the key issues in the profession and exchange information. We see this as part of our mission to grow the power of HR globally because by doing so you are growing people’s skillset. We work with the associations any way they want with memos of understandings, carrying out research and other activities of benefit to the profession. SHRM has a large research organisation foundation focusing on HR and Workforce management; from the insights we gained, we can take solutions back to the WFMA members. This is why we tell people who ask – we are partners with the CIPMN and not competitors.
Bringing back the HR Certification examination to Nigeria, what should HR professionals expect with the new move?
Currently, the certification examination is a computer-based course test, it holds twice a year, in the 1st quarter of each and in the last quarter. There is a window from December 1st to February 15th, and the second is from May 1 to July 15th, and within that window people are allowed to go into a training centre. SHRM uses Prometrics here, which just returned to Nigeria after about three years’ absence. A new Computer-Based Test (CBT) centre is now up and running. With that, we are eager to let a large number of professionals here who had trained and studied for the examination, whether through taking a course or through home-based training. We are eager to let them know that the computer base training is back open and they would be able to take their tests again in the country. There are a number of African countries where one can go and take their tests as well, but nothing as large as what we have here in Nigeria.
How would you rate HR professionals in Nigeria?
I like the fact that there are a large number of HR professionals here in Nigeria that are SHRM certified. This speaks a lot for the practice of HR, and how that practice measures up to global standards. I will say there is an evolved HR world here. Certainly in SHRM, we rate Nigerian HR professionals high because we see that there is a great demand for knowledge with them, and they keep working harder to improve their performance.
Nigerians also continue to serve within SHRM at very top global levels like at the SHRM Certification Board, and the different HR Advisory Councils. These bodies only accept the best and to have Nigerians serving amongst their peers in the world is a testament of the quality of talent available in this country.
For instance, at the just concluded SHRM conference, we had about 15,000 HR professionals in New Orleans, and the 2nd largest delegation of the world came from Nigeria through our partners Skills-farm. The Nigerian delegation won an award for the best marketing effort. We are very excited to be here; we have been very active in the Nigerian market since we launched, and it has always been a very successful end.
In SHRM, we usually don’t rank countries but I can’t help but point out that Nigeria has been consistent in the development of its HR industry. And I think from SHRM perspective, with the large delegation we have every year from Nigeria at our annual conference in the U.S., we know we are dealing with a highly trained workforce that competes with some of the best workforces in the world.