Continuing professional development: what’s in it for the worker?

Many employers see investment in continuing professional development as a chance to increase skills and impact the wider business potential, but it’s up to the workers to make it count.

Back in January, when the IET updated its continuing professional development (CPD) monitoring scheme, CPD was the hot topic on everybody’s minds. The New Year, and the much-anticipated appraisal season, always brings increased focus on development objectives for the months ahead. But with the year now well under way, it’s important not to let your commitments slide. 

According to IET guidelines, members should aim to carry out a minimum of 30 hours of CPD each year. But it’s worth remembering that CPD isn’t just about technical skills and knowledge; engineers should also be taking the opportunity to develop their business skills in areas such as communication, management and teamwork.

“It’s important to consider the dual aspects of job-specific development and technical training requirements to enable individuals to deepen the knowledge in their own field of expertise,” notes Bosch’s Madlen Strobel, head of training and development UK and Ireland. “However, it is also vital to look at personal effectiveness, for example around giving presentations, developing a leadership personality, and dealing with conflict or different communication styles.”

Make a plan

Appraisals are a great tool to help you decide on the areas you’d like to develop, but don’t feel restricted to setting targets only during your annual performance assessment. New goals can be set at any point, and then it’s simply a matter of planning how best to achieve them and establishing timescales.

This can at times be overwhelming as you’re faced with an array of CPD options. Although structured training courses are an excellent form of CPD, it’s important not to overlook the much wider variety of activities that can count, often broken down into the areas of work experience, academic study, volunteering, events and seminars and self-study.

“There are a lot of different options available, workshops, seminars, online, bespoke courses, coaches and mentoring, courses in specialist engineering schools,” highlights Gary Fuller, programme manager at Festo Training and Consulting.

“In my experience the rules on what constitutes CPD are getting more flexible,” continues Paul Matthews, managing director of training consultancy People Alchemy.  “For example, for some professions learning to meditate could be considered CPD in that it can lead to being less stressed and perhaps getting the job done better.

“Often people just need to record learning experiences that they feel have enhanced their ability to do their job better, or to do more advanced jobs,” Matthews  explains.

Choose what suits you

With so many options available, it’s key to think about your learning style: do you prefer to learn alone or in a classroom, do you like lectures or do you pick things up quicker in a practical environment? It’s also worth considering the time and resources you have available.

“Doing activities that suit your preferred learning style will make it more enjoyable, more effective and easier to motivate yourself to do more,” explains HR consultant and trainer Tara Daynes.

From here you can choose the activities that will suit you best and plan how to work them into your lifestyle. As engineers tend to be linear thinkers, it’s a good idea to develop a schedule and a regular ‘to do’ list to help achieve your goals.

“CPD needs to be actively planned like other tasks and meetings,” says Strobel. “Personal development doesn’t just happen – it takes time and needs to be fitted around day-to-day activities.

“Dedicating time to regular improvement is the only way out of the trap of feeling like you cannot fit it in,” she continues. “The only way to free up time is to set yourself a realistic target and work towards these deadlines.”

It also becomes much easier to manage CPD goals when you keep an ongoing record, logging what you did, when, for how long, what you learned and how you will put it into practice in the workplace. “This keeps you on track and saves having to put it all together at the end of the year,” says Daynes.

Cathy Strachan, HR manager for learning and development at MBDA, highlights some of the ways the recommended 30 hours of annual CPD can be achieved.

“Each day of formal training is about seven hours, so we believe it’s feasible to manage 30 hours of learning each year if they include formal training. Some people can fit in a couple of hours a week into their daily commute; others volunteer to help with STEM activities in schools or local colleges. It depends on lifestyle and inclination as to how people might build up their 30 hours.”

It’s also worth thinking about how many activities you already do on a regular basis that can count towards CPD. It occurs naturally in your day-to-day role; each time you interface with a new product or activity, seek advice, guidance or develop through on-the-job training or work experience you have undertaken a CPD activity.

If watching a technical YouTube tutorial or doing other forms of online research helps you to gain knowledge or learn new skills then they count – as Daynes highlights, YouTube isn’t just about skateboarding dogs!

Even reading technical publications and magazines such as E&T can be factored in. Simply put, if it teaches you something new, makes you look at things a different way or consider different engineering concepts then you may well be able to record it as CPD. If you begin to record and tally up the time you spend on such endeavours you’re likely to find you’ve hit your CPD time requirements easily.

“Make time to read professional journals, go along to appropriate conferences and discuss challenges with colleagues outside of your own immediate work group. Volunteer in projects outside of work, attend training and use the Internet to learn – these are all simple ways to keep up with CPD,” says Strachan.

There’s a lot you can do off your own back to support CPD. However, the majority of engineering and technology businesses provide their employees with extensive internal support.

“Some companies provide a menu of relevant CPD programmes rather than leaving the individual to be responsible for their own training, [and] many agree time off daily duties as a way of emphasising its importance and ensuring the appropriate time is scheduled,” notes David Cartwright, founder and coach of supported online learning platform OBD Academy.

At MBDA, employees are given an average of 3.5 days of formal training per year, and in addition the company offers a wide range of online learning and a virtual library of more than 30,000 business-related books.

“At our main sites we hold ‘technology corners’ over lunchtimes, where our engineers are invited to find out about new technologies or areas they do not specialise in,” says Strachan. “We have also started running free lunchtime learning sessions and we offer lunchtime language lessons for those who need them, which supports CPD for some, depending on their role.”

One of Bosch’s support tactics is to encourage staff to set aside time to go to relevant fairs and exhibitions. The company also facilitates job swaps and shadowing and, as a global business, has structures in place that encourage gaining international experience, which is also an important element of personal development.

Peer support is another way organisations can leverage CPD buy-in from staff, for example by assigning internal mentors to help advise employees.

It is also useful to create an informal support group in the form of your colleagues, perhaps setting up a regular learning group if you are working towards similar CPD goals.

Many organisations offer financial rewards or internal recognition to individuals who have outstanding CPD success and work closely with professional institutions, such as the IET, to hold talks, debates and career workshops.

“We provide support from engineers within the business as well as from the professional engineering institutions who hold events at our sites to advise how best to record CPD, notes Pam Wilson, engineering engagement manager at BAE Systems. “We use our performance development review tool to record objectives and development needs, and this allows CPD to be recorded too,” she continues.

Self-study options

A growing number of engineering organisations see the value of educating their engineers more broadly. As a result they’re also looking at high-quality training programmes away from the workplace. There is encouragement for engineers to undertake CPD outside the work environment through resources such as massive open online courses (MOOCs), which are now available from top universities around the world.

Businesses also actively encourage employees to become involved in professional institution communities as a good way to support their overall development. This can be classed as self-study because you’re talking with other engineering professionals and like-minded individuals, and almost certainly sharing knowledge and experience.

CPD should be fun, exciting and a chance to push your boundaries. It’s important not to look upon it as a ‘tick box exercise’ but rather as an opportunity to gain a greater fulfilment from your job and perhaps take your next step up the career ladder.

Employers understand its importance as a chance to deliver the necessary skills to positively impact the wider business, but in the end the buck lies with you. CPD is your chance to grow, to improve your employability and to gain skills that will allow you to progress and perhaps excel in tomorrow’s engineering job market.

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