Debating the merits of a profession

Ontario MPPs sing praises of HR in legislature while discussing Bill 138

By Todd Humber

Watching the debate in Ontario’s legislature on the second reading of Bill 138 — the much talked about legislation that would regulate members of the Human Resources Professionals Association (HRPA) in a manner similar to accountants — one couldn’t help but feel the HR profession was packing on a bit more credibility.

As an aside, debate on Bill 138 followed discussion of a bill about engineers in the province — an interesting paradox in itself.

But regardless of your feelings about the legislation — and at Canadian HR Reporter we’ve heard strong voices from supporters and detractors — there was no denying politicians were giving the HR profession a heady dose of respect in Ontario’s legislature.

Liberal MPP Bob Delaney gave a history lesson on HR during second reading on March 3. HR evolved from the boss essentially using personal intuition in hiring people, to the personnel department to what it is today, he said.

“The function evolved into a profession,” he said. “It was a profession that had a set of core principles and that used a recognizable and, more importantly, teachable body of knowledge, that governed itself through recognized and uniform standards and that moved forward through the evolution and the leadership of its peers. That’s where we are today.”

He went on to talk about the numerous areas where HR plays a significant role, including settings missions and goals, measuring organizational effectiveness, matching staffing needs to the available labour pool, sourcing strategic skills, retaining key employees and developing a fair framework for compensation and proper costing, both present and future.

MPP David Zimmer, the Liberal who introduced the private member’s bill in November, spoke passionately in its defence.

He pointed out there had been nearly 500 convictions under the province’s employment standards act between October 2008 and January 2010, yet not one of those convictions could be linked to an HRPA member.

The message was clear — competent HR professionals know the law and know how to implement it in their organizations. The impact of that on the general population is significant, he said.

“How happy, satisfied and safe we are at work depends largely on how organizations implement the various laws that govern the Ontario workplace,” he said.

He pointed out HR safeguards more confidential and personal information than other professionals, on both employees and the employer. They have access to sensitive medical information and know who’s battling addictions.

And he went on, discussing the financial impact of HR decisions.

“Given all the evidence that shows that HR practices have big impact on an organization’s bottom line, an incompetent or unethical HR professional can do just as much, if not more, financial damage to an organization as a CA, a CGA, a CMA, a lawyer or any other professional,” he said.

MPP Elizabeth Witmer, a Progressive Conservative, said over the last 20 years the HRPA has “developed in scope, sophistication and responsibility to match the remarkable development and influence of the human resources profession.”

She read a letter from Christine Elliott, another Conservative MPP, who couldn’t make it to the debate.

Elliott pointed out that HR professionals are at the centre of a rapid change in how employers conduct business, with economic conditions, demographics and labour law all becoming more complex and interrelated.

She went to highlight the numerous ways HR professionals provide value, including:

•identifying workforce trends and forecasting changes before they happen

•discovering potential problems before they materialize and adversely impact the organization

•identifying key talent for retention and leadership development

•forecasting the changes in “human capital resources” — within the organization and in the changing economic environment.

In short, she said: “HR professionals ‘put the right people in the right place at the right time.’”

It remains to be seen whether or not this bill will make it into law. But HR professionals from across Canada (and beyond our borders) are watching what’s happening in Ontario carefully.

Did HR need validation from some provincial politicians? No. But it’s nice to see they get it, and HR professionals will gladly take another pat on the back in recognition of their hard work, how far the profession has come and the critical role it has to play in the future of business.

Todd Humber is the managing editor of Canadian HR Reporter, the national journal of human resources management. For more information, visit www.hrreporter.com. You can read the full transcript of the debate on Bill 138 here.

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