With the rapid pace of change, many people may find that their skills and knowledge, acquired over the recent past, are outdated. In order to update their members, many professional groups have introduced the concept of Continuing Professional Development (CPD). (Foot and Hooks, 2002).
The Royal Town Planning Institute (2001) holds that CPD is the means by which members of professional associations maintain, improve and broaden their knowledge and skills and develop their personal qualities required in their professional lives. A guide for employers of the Institute of Marine Engineering, Science and Technology (IMarEST, 2001) states that CPD is the term that describes how employees maintain their competence in the workplace.
CPD comprises of updating particular areas of competence, developing personal and management skills and broadening experience leading to new opportunities. The challenges and opportunities of the work experience provide the central mechanism for maintaining CPD and professional and other organizations should encourage and support their members to maintain their CPD. Here, CPD can be organized so that it can be carried out almost automatically. It is a continual process of planning, completing activities, assessment of those activities and review/feedback to the plan.
A system that encompasses these four stages must be set up. Many employers have a system in the arm of the Human Resource Department and professionals should be encouraged to include their employers in the CPD process, as ideally, it should be a partnership that will benefit employee, employer and the company. The annual appraisal interview is the ideal time to plan development targets and assess progress. The details of CPD are very much the property of individuals and one should not rely on the company’s personnel system. If not maintained properly, it may be of no support to an employee if he no longer works for that particular company.
The planning stage is the most important of the four core aspects of CPD. There should be an analysis of the current job, concentrating on knowledge and skills. Then, the same thing should be done for the job/position targeted. Consultation with a mentor at this stage may be helpful. A skills and knowledge gap analysis will identify appropriate learning and development activities. Available opportunities and personal constraints, such as money availability, should be taken into account and targets should be high, practical, achievable and challenging, bearing in mind that the plan will change regularly. (Porter 1998).
Relevant information such as technical subjects, foreseeable career opportunities and in – house or external development courses should be gathered. An outline plan stating objectives, priorities, target dates and appropriate activities must also be developed. If suitable, the plan should be agreed with interested parties such as colleagues, employer, and mentor or development specialist. The outline plan should be developed into a structured detailed plan to include such information as targets agreed resourced, agreed support, agreed control and responsibility.
To meet development need and to achieve targets, a wide range of activities may be chosen and support of the employer may sought. Activities may be formal and structured, for example, as in courses, distance learning, conferences, presentations or research. The advantage of formal activities is that they will often offer tangible evidence that can be incorporated into a record of CPD, the disadvantage being that the employee may feel some of the cost, especially in the cases of external courses. CPD will be a combination of this formal structure as well as less structured activities such as work experience, assignments, on the job training or mentoring. Advantages derived here are the unexpected challenges and the professional contact leading to better learning. Successful development usually requires that learning activities be matched with practical applications.
An important outcome of activities is the compilation of a detailed record of activities undertaken, which should show what activities have actually occurred and with what consequence. A suitable log/record book should include certificates of attendance at events, training syllabuses, completion certificates, performance appraisals as well as a personal development record.
The review against the CPD plan must be measured in terms of new/improves levels of competence. Some useful questions to ask at this stage include ‘ What added value was gained from this activity? What can I do now, do better, that I could not do before? How do I plan to use my new abilities? Am I making progress towards achieving my learning objectives? What lessons have I learned and what should I do next?’
As stated previously, CPD is a continuous process of planning, completing activities, assessment of those activities and review/feedback. Having completed the review and feedback stage, the plan must now be amended to start the process again. The benefit derived here is the regular updating of achievements, which will act as a useful historical record and a powerful document when in discussion with a current or potential employer.
In terms of CPD, professional associations are particularly helpful in conducting a skills audit gap analysis, determining the knowledge and skills required for a particular job, setting development objectives and assessing learning experience. They also aid in deciding the next necessary steps and may offer encouragement and provide motivation to persist with a CPD activity, as well as suggesting other CPD activities.
Advantages and disadvantages may arise from choosing professional associations from within and external to an organization. Benefits may include a structured plan being presented, mindful of deviations and credible certification. A downside from an internal association may be the training to a specific and specialized field, as in the case of Information Technology, thereby limiting employees.
The advantages and disadvantages of CPD in relation to professional associations, employees and employers may best be shown by how CPD obligations affect those particular groups.
CPD is important to employers because it involves the competence and efficiency of the workforce. Professionals aged under 30 ranked career development opportunities higher than salary, while those over 30 still place it high on their demands. (IMarEST 2001). Today, technology is changing at such a rapid rate that individuals must keep up to date in order to remain competitive and employable, and, businesses must invest in their workforce in order to remain competitive and profitable. The crucial role played by people in a company is now widely recognized and now many firms are becoming involved with initiatives such as ‘ Investors in People.’
The employee who maintains his competence through CPD will be a highly valued member of the workforce, giving assurance to the truism that ‘ the investment in people appreciates, whilst investment in equipment depreciates.’ (IMarEST 2001). This investment by employers may be double edged, as people in the U K change their employers every 4.5 years on average, either voluntarily or compulsory, for example as a result of redundancy. Thus, one employer after investing in an employee’s CPD may find that he has prepared his employee for another employer.
Investment in employee development provides a benefit to the company which result in ‘ bottom line profit.’ Even in the short run, payback can significantly exceed the outlay because when employees understand the processes they are working with, and appreciate the business objectives that they are working towards, their productivity and creativity improve. Individuals also gain greater job satisfaction which lead to a greater commitment to the company’s performance and therefore a lower rate of staff turnover, an advantage to employers.
Employees should be encouraged to take a proactive role in deciding what training and development activities they should undertake, whilst employers should be helping and guiding such decisions to ensure that corporate goals are met. Individuals have a responsibility to themselves and their employers to consider what might be required in the future and to prepare themselves to be ready when opportunities occur and when changes are necessary. At the same time, employers have a responsibility to their company and their employees to provide an environment where people can develop the necessary skills and knowledge to take on new responsibilities as the need arises. (Christopher 1998).
The days when we did a three to four year course and thought we’d been trained for life have gone. Evolving technology, faster rate of product development and the need for employees to work across several disciplines, require everyone to be aware of the need to regularly update their skills. CPD offers a well recognized mechanism for all to update their technical competence, communication and management skills, and an appreciation of the commercial aspect of their industry. CPD will allow a person to spot opportunities and exploit new ideas effectively.
From the point of view of not performing CPD, we can highlight some inherent disadvantages to all concerned parties. Clients are becoming more involved with their investments in terms of scrutiny. Vocal groups of shareholders may be ready to arm themselves with litigation, lobbying powers and letters whenever they feel professional standards may have slipped. CPD will be the proof of continued development and reviewing of professional standards, reducing an organization’s vulnerability to its professionalism being brought into question. Correctly maintained CPD will also have the benefit to review and explore one’s career and to discover strengths and weaknesses, holding to the adage ‘ to learn now ensures that you earn later.’ (Evans 1997).
Every company need some form of career development program to produce a succession of motivated upward moving employees. Even employees who are destined to remain at the same level may need career development as their job change or become obsolete. Employers may invest in the CPD of their employees by some transparent actions. They need to clarify how business objectives may best be met by the investment in employees, and should use opportunities like annual appraisals to discuss individual development. They should listen to employees’ ideas and encourage them to consider personal goals, and setting realistic expectations, as there will be limited resources of time and money. Employers should persevere in CPD of employees, with regular review progress reports, as it will lead to tangible improvements in productivity and in the competitiveness of the business. A mentoring scheme should be established to assist in setting medium and long-term career goals.
The wide ranges of activities that take place, daily, in the workplace provide many of the most important learning skills. People should be given the chance to experience different situations and develop a wide range of skills. In specific instances, formal, off the job training may be required. Employees should be encouraged to read widely to gain an appreciation of the wider issues related to their job. (Beer 1985).
The professional development of staff should not be confined just to technical competence but should include the wider issues of environmental protection, health and safety, interpersonal skills, management techniques, and legal and financial knowledge, where necessary.
Employers should actively encourage their employees to attend events organized by local groups of professional institutions and similar relevant organizations. These meetings offer both technical updating, by means of formal lectures, and the opportunity for discussion with other professional people working in related fields. Encouraging staff to network in this way is a key means of increasing competitiveness.
It is of great benefit to employees to have help in reviewing their progress and guidance in choosing which routes to follow. Managers within a company should be aware of the importance of individual development and be able to guide those for whom they are responsible. They should be aware not only of development goals, but also of the different types of training requirements that different people have. (Bernardin and Russel 1993).
It is strongly recommended that, where possible, a fellow professional act as a mentor to facilitate the CPD of employees, as helping individuals improve their performance will improve overall business results. There are no hard and fast rules for the amount of time to be spent on staff development. It is the benefit of an activity to a particular employee rather than the activity itself that is important and all learning opportunities, however informal, should be seized when they arise.