Saturday, January 21, 2012

ATR: Changing the Way We Certify

I've been thinking a lot about certifications lately. On my goals for this year, I'll probably try to get a CISSP via the "boot camp" method, as that certification is more relevant to what I do now than the CRM or the CIP. I'm now 20 years a CRM and I plan to mothball that certification. Records Management isn't my primary job responsibility and the annual dues and hassle of doing certification maintenance paperwork isn't necessarily yielding a benefit to me at this stage of my career. I suppose some will rail against me for this stance, but with my job much more focused on information risk and information security, the CRM doesn't quite measure up. Be that as it may, I'd like to throw into the wind some thoughts that I have about certifications.

You've seen some of my concerns about the CIP. I also raised some issues earlier about the CRM. For the former, the bar is probably too low. For the latter, too high. And that got me to thinking... what about a gradated series of records management certifications. It would be an interesting change, but would provide some differentiation for candidates.

I think the CRM is the best candidate for some disassembly.

Level 1: We'll call this the "RRM" or "Registered Records Manager". Candidates who successfully complete the five multiple choice sections of the CRM exam would have this status conferred upon them. This would reduce cycle times and enable candidates to walk away with a designation more quickly. In some respects, this is like the "ABD" (All But Dissertation) that a PhD candidate can post to a CV. Ideally, the candidate would move on, but some might find it a comfortable stopping point wherever they are in their career. This is still differentiated from the CIP by the number of questions and the depth of the questions, but it enables the candidate who isn't ready for the essay exam to walk away with something after a fair amount of work to pass exams one through five.

Level 2: The existing CRM.

Level 3: I'd call this "FRM" or "Fellow in Records Management". That probably needs work, but it is a higher level distinction. It's also going to be very hard to judge. My thinking is that, in lieu of the essay portion of the CRM exam, the candidate would need to write a proper scholarly research paper on some aspect of records management. That means a minimum page length, proper citations, and so forth. It would have to be juried by records managers with advanced degrees and, like a dissertation, I think it would also need to be defended. Probably not as rigorous as a dissertation, but we'd want to see that the candidate did the work. Perhaps the defense could be a session at ARMA where the candidate defends his or her research for an hour with a distinguished panel, and then the audience gets an hour. I'm not sure there are many folks who would run that gauntlet, but I think it would be interesting to try out. I would also suggest that given the rigor of the process, this level of designation would be permanent. The benefit here would be advancing the profession with proper research that would be published.

In addition, the CRM process needs additional specialty designations. At present, there is only the "/NS" for candidates working with records relating to nuclear energy. I'd suggest that there needs to be a "/LS" for the legal profession, "/FS" for financial services (mainly to cover the specialized regulatory environment), and perhaps a "/DP" for a round of questions dealing with Data Privacy. While the last designation would not substitute for the CIPP, I think it could be a nice warm up or even something that the IAPP and the ICRM collaborate on.


PeterK said...

I agree with the idea for an RRM level designation. The FRM is also intriguing. and most definitely the CA exam needs to expand 100 questions is nothing

I think the RRM designation would be doable. require them to do the same maintenance requirements.

designations like the NS are definitely needed, the problem is getting individuals from those areas to volunteer to develop the test bank.

Larry Medina said...

Where to begin?

I don't disagree with the spirit of your post, however, as you and I have discussed many times in the past I question the value of certifications in a profession that lacks a solid framework and supporting educational structure.

If someone with sufficient 'in the trenches' training and experience can have as much (or more) knowledge of the practices in the field and what is demonstrated by those who carry the designation of CRM or even an MLIS or MARA, then is there a need for it?

Most of what is in the exam is subjective, and grading of the Golden Ticket (part VI) is TOTALLY subjective- if the individual assigned to evaluate isn't suitably impressed, then you are sent off to pay and perform again until you get a grader that is of a similar mind to the submitter.

Depending on the industry segment you are in, or if you're in the public or private sector, much of what is contained in the exam may have no practical application to you or your employer. And yes, I DO understand that the intent is to demonstrate that the applicant can tread water irrespective of WHAT industry or sector they work in... but the concept of adding 'specialist' suffixes indicates that one size truly DOES NOT fit all.

I can also appreciate the idea that if someone DOES have the designation, it SHOULD demonstrate to others they have the background knowledge of practices in the profession and can function at a high level regardless of industry or sector. But the types of basic questions asked by many who carry the CRM on the RM Listserv over time clearly indicates this isn't the case.

So should an RRM or an FRM be added? If the desire is to create new revenue streams for the organization that generates them, I'd guess so. Otherwise, ask hiring professionals outside of strictly RM environments to first tell you what a "CRM" is and see what answers you get about how well it is recognized. Then ask them if they would be more or less likely to consider candidates with an RRM or an FRM. I think you'll get your answer.

I know strong proponents of the designation will say "there are good and bad CRMs, just like there are good and bad MDs or JDs", and they will cite the increased number of positions being offered including the phrase "CRM desired" or in rare cases, "required". This doesn't mean these employers won't consider those without the designation and still make their hiring decision on the applicants ability to match skills and show experience that makes them equally, or sometimes more qualified.

As for the CIP, I think it will remain in the category of an "also ran" to the "CRM" for a long time in this field/profession. I don't understand who thought there was a need for such a designation. A bit of research on the title "Information Professional" indicates there is a wide range of things people seem to think this includes. The vast majority of them already have either educational requirements associated with them that result in degrees, or testing requirements issuing 'certifications' or 'certificates' of their own recognized by the industries they are associated with.

Just the thoughts of someone with 40 years experience in the field who many think is 'certifiable' at times, but doesn't have any certifications.