Certification Watch: Will ISM's and CIPS' New Collaboration Lead to Something More? (Part 1)

Last week, CIPS and ISM announced a new certification collaboration which will enable members of either organization a streamlined pathway to earn the marquis certification credential from the other group. In the above-linked Supply and Demand Chain Executive article covering the news, the story notes, the "new agreement between the Institute for Supply Management (ISM) and The Chartered Institute of Purchasing & Supply (CIPS) establishes reciprocity between the two organizations allowing professionals to apply for the respective professional credentials. The new agreement will allow CIPS members in the U.K. holding the MCIPS designation to apply for and receive the CPSM credential from ISM. Similar reciprocal conditions are also in place that provide pathways for professionals in North America holding the CPSM credential to apply for and receive the MCIPS designation from CIPS."

Curiously, those I've spoken to on both sides of the Atlantic thoroughly contend that the agreement is a first step towards the other party making its own certifying credentials more like the other (naturally ISM members believe their organization has a stronger certification program and CIPS members believe there's to be the better of the two). Those close to CIPS suggest members and management believe that their MCIPS designation is the stronger of the two. There is some anecdotal evidence for those based on the weight I have seen UK hiring managers place on the MCIPS over the CPSM certification in the US (which, while nice to have, seems less often to be an "absolute must" for many roles). The big question I have, though, is not which program is stronger and more appropriate training for today's procurement and supply chain needs, but whether or not this relationship represents the first step towards greater certification collaboration between the two groups.

I had the chance to speak this past Sunday morning with Peter Smith, a former CIPS Chairman and frequent collaborator on Spend Matters, for his take on the relationship from across the pond. Peter and I had been scheduled for a Skype call (which I was about 30 minutes late to thanks to an early morning knife sharpening accident and ER visit ... more on that later). Once the subject turned away from the best ways of recovering from stitches -- "red wine and red meat" was the consensus -- we quickly settled into examining this particular collaboration. Peter questioned whether this announcement was potentially "the first step to merging the education syllabus and process" between the two groups. Especially, given that the application process to apply and earn the other party's credential is a bit nebulous and certainly moderately time intensive, might it make sense to have a single unifying credential? Or, as Peter puts it, "a standard global educational syllabus and training process?"

Peter shared that CIPS has had decent success building international momentum behind its training and certification program, especially in developing markets like China. In fact, he hinted that in recent years, he believed that "much of CIPS growth has been from outside of the UK." Perhaps this international support and recognition might lend some credence to CIPS having a more appropriate global training program relative to ISM -- or it could just be a continuation of the British export of supply chain bureaucracy and imperialism going back over five centuries -- but don't get me started on that one.

Still, one of the challenges of both certification programs is that neither really has much credence from an executive perspective, given that the great majority of people who take either ultimately pass. Unlike, for example, the CFA or the New York bar examination, both of which have surprisingly high fail rates for some of the most educated and intelligent professionals -- equity research analysts and lawyers. The pass rate for the CPSM and MCIPS for native speakers who do not have a language issue is relatively high and almost guaranteed, provided a base level of intelligence and material familiarity (and that the test takers qualify in the first place, based on professional and educational experience).

Will CIPS and ISM eventually team to create a real global certification, like the CFA, that even CPOs will care about on their resume -- and which passing multiple levels of is anything but a certainty? Perhaps. Let's just hope this initial certification partnership amounts to more than a credentializing Barney deal.

Stay tuned for further analysis behind how the CPSM stacks up relative to other options in the market.

Jason Busch

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