New human resource certification framework tests beyond basic HR functions

Office workers crossing the road in front of the CPF building in Robinson Road. A national system to certify the skill levels of human resource (HR) professionals will be piloted at the end of this month.
Office workers crossing the road in front of the CPF building in Robinson Road. A national system to certify the skill levels of human resource (HR) professionals will be piloted at the end of this month. ST PHOTO: JAMIE KOH

SINGAPORE - A national system to certify the skill levels of human resource (HR) professionals will be piloted at the end of this month, before it is fully launched in the second quarter of next year.

The National HR Professional Certification Framework is the first attempt to set out a nationwide standard for the amorphous HR profession.

The framework, which is run by government agency Workforce Singapore, is meant to assess HR professionals for skills that go beyond basic HR functions.

For instance, to get certified, an HR professional should be able not just to do administrative and payroll tasks, but also demonstrate financial acumen, a knowledge of labour law and even a good grasp of data analytics.

Manpower Minister Lim Swee Say called the new framework a "significant development to professionalise the HR community to better support human capital development in our future economy".

Speaking at the Asian Human Capital and Leadership Symposium on Thursday (Oct 13), he said that companies who treat their workers simply as resources, "just another factor of production", will struggle to compete in time to come.

Companies who treat their workers as capital will thrive, however, as they recognise the value of each and every employee and invest in their improvement accordingly.

The new framework, he said, will help HR professionals move "from the backroom into the boardroom", helping their bosses chart business directions.

The framework was developed by a 17-member taskforce with representatives from the industry, academia and the Government, who were appointed in July last year. They consulted more than 500 HR and business leaders to draw up the framework.

About 100 HR professionals will go through the pilot assessment from Oct 24 to 31.

While the certification will not be made mandatory, the taskforce hopes they can get all 43,000 HR professionals in Singapore to undergo it in time to come, starting with at least 5,000 in the first five years.

To be eligible for the lowest level of assessment, an HR professional must first have undergone 150 hours of structured HR-related education or training, and have at least two years' HR experience.

The cost of the assessment has yet to be revealed, but The Straits Times understands it is likely to be hundreds of dollars per person. The certificate will be valid for three years.

The taskforce's head, Singtel group chief HR officer Aileen Tan, said the framework is especially timely given the current structural shifts in the economy.

"We are facing huge disruptions in technology and business models, and this calls for different roles and different jobs," she said.

"HR practitioners now need to think of how they can convert sunset roles and build talent pipelines for sunrise roles."

Taskforce member Nigel Phang, associate professor of strategy, management and organization at Nanyang Technological University, said this was why they had stressed the importance of an advanced grasp of data analytics in the framework.

"This will help them understand business growth plans and perhaps even do predictive analysis, so they will know ahead of time what gaps in the workforce they need to fill."

Some organisations that have already had to go through HR shake-ups say such a framework will be useful.

International heart valve manufacturer Edwards Lifesciences had to rethink its HR policies when it hit its quota of foreign workers earlier this year.

Forced to triple its local headcount in a few months, it started a seven-day boot camp and on-the-job training with the help of the Employment and Employability Institute (e2i) to train unemployed Singaporeans to become heart valve specialists. They also began hiring more older workers and non-graduates.

Edwards vice-president and general manager of manufacturing Rainer Wolf said this would not have been possible without a forward-thinking HR team, and hopes they can continue in this direction. "I want my whole HR department to be certified by this framework as soon as possible," he said.