Continuing professional development, adapting to the demands of a changing work environment

Like workers in any industry, continuing professional development is itself on a continuous development curve.

The world of continuing professional development (CPD) is changing, driven by digital enablement and the changing demands of employers and workers alike. Demand is now generated in part by careerist professionals who see CPD as an extra way to gain advantage in a competitive jobs market, while other trends are turning CPD into a means of validating citizens’ expectations of public sector practitioner standards.

A lifelong process of learning-based professional development has long been a staple requirement of many professions – particularly those governed by chartered or registered status, but CPD is now seen as a career enabler for other occupations. The dynamics of a workplace where many core skills are supported by fast-changing technology, and employers are less disposed to pay for training, means also that individuals assume control of their CPD needs, and therefore want more say in how they meet them.

Today, says Frank Schettini, chief innovation officer at ISACA, knowledge content can be consumed in many ways tailored to the needs of the individual. “How we measure CPD may need to change to reflect this flexibility,” he says. “This puts CPD [consumers] in the driver’s seat of deciding how they want to learn, at what pace, and via what medium.”

The changing technological landscape is a prime factor driving CPD uptake. “It is critical that professionals stay current with their skills and experience,” Schettini says. “Technology used to be centralised within the IT function of organisations. Today, technology pervades all aspects of the enterprise, and now roles that did not require technical expertise, such as lawyers and marketers, find [technological proficiency] a necessary aspect of their remit.”

Jenny Parsons, chief operating officer at ProTech, agrees: “Both employers and professionals now see CPD more as essential than ‘nice to have’. This is particularly the case in the public sector, where there is a drive toward the formal ‘professionalisation’ of roles not previously subjected to this level of rigour – teaching and policing, for example. This also underpins the transparency agenda, where government wants to make it easier for the public sector to engage in CPD activity, and for the public to be able to access this information to validate levels of experience held.”

As the drive towards greater transparency (in public service) develops, government will want to satisfy the public that it has objective measures in place to determine whether standards of professionalism are being achieved, Parsons predicts, and also that only those individuals who can demonstrate this are rewarded in terms of their remuneration. “While this is controversial, and may be unpalatable for some, I’ve no doubt that over the next few years CPD will form a mandatory part of salary review,” she says.

Investing in yourself

New attitudes toward CPD come with some quid pro quos for employers. The responsibility for training has been transitioning from a primarily corporate-driven requirement to an individual one, says Schettini: “Organisations are looking for individuals who are up-to-date, and invest in themselves. Similarly, individuals who invest in themselves are more marketable, and have potential for greater opportunities.”

Individuals are “taking ownership of their careers and actively evaluate their skills to ensure they optimise the value they bring to their organisations and their marketability,” he adds. 

Heightened CPD uptake affects contract professionals as well as permanent personnel, says Louisa Batten, director-EMEA at Singular. “With the growth of the ‘gig economy’, the contingent workforce is no longer on the periphery,” she says. “Their performance has a significant impact on business success. At established companies, most employees have access to a CPD programme. Freelancers, however, don’t have the same level of support. The onus is on contractors to manage their development. As the number of contractors increases, the demand for workers to invest in their own development is on the rise.”

With demand for CPD going up, professionals are calling for more ways to quickly and easily capture CPD portfolio ‘evidence’ (learning and attainment), says ProTech’s Parsons. To meet this demand, organisations are turning to digital technologies and real-time solutions that enable individuals to highlight CPD evidence as part of their day job, and to turn this into a piece of reflective learning.

“Digital technologies enable individuals to submit CPD evidence from any device, at a time and place that suits them,” she says. “We are also seeing an emergence of intelligent CPD tracking, where evidence can be gathered by the digital platform as the individual engages with online content or completes a chunk of e-learning.”

However, CPD-minded employees should not assume that employers will approve any CPD programme, cautions Dr Ben Silverstone, course leader for computing and quantitative business at Arden University, which offers courses online. “Companies are less likely to provide work release opportunities for CPD unless it’s for a funded course or one that covers a specific skills gap,” he says. “Even when they do cover costs, there’s an expectation that employees will organise it in their own time. Distance learning is a solution for them.”

Future prospects

As well as enhanced expertise, both contractors and staff are looking to CPD to gain practitioner knowledge of related fields and extend their employment opportunities.

“The two main drivers for contractors seeking CPD are to increase their field of knowledge and extend their contracting opportunities,” says Batten. “Companies usually engage contractors when they don’t have the skills in-house. Technology develops rapidly, and contractors need to continually hone their skills. This, in turn, increases employment opportunities both within a freelancer’s existing field and in other related roles.”

As more professionals have to engage in CPD, particularly in professions such as policing, where individuals are time-poor and operational demands come with erratic working schedules, the demand for innovative models of CPD delivery is high, says Parsons.

“As organisations become leaner the working day becomes longer, and individuals want to enjoy their leisure time,” she says. “Organisations are seeking better ways to gather and assess a CPD portfolio of evidence that is more than just a tick-box exercise, and which minimises the amount of time this takes. This is where digitalisation comes into its own.”

According to Batten, this is one of the reasons why definitions of CPD are changing. “Companies, employees and contractors are turning to a combination of webinars, online training, work-based applications and one-to-one coaching to develop and hone their skills,” she says.

CPD is now “not just about technical skills – it’s about a broader range of business, management, leadership, and organisational knowledge, which engineers require in their toolkit to keep a competitive advantage for themselves and their employer”, says David Cartwright, founder at OBD Academy. “For example, engineers who manage projects not only need to demonstrate technical competence, and identify the same in their team, but also need to know how to manage people and budgets across countries and cultures.”

Of course, as technology changes the way business is conducted, it also affects the way CPD is engaged with, Schettini points out. “Individuals expect the same instant access to information and knowledge that they see in their day-to-day job. They want instant access wherever they are, and the flexibility to accommodate their work schedules. We are seeing the use of ‘micro-training’, where individuals need to learn and access a very specific area.”

Flexible learning options

Organisations with a mobile and multi-site workforce can benefit greatly from being able to deliver CPD in a flexible form, as many engineers work off-site and across countries. “Bringing everyone back to base for CPD delivery – which is disruptive, time intensive and costly – is, fortunately, no longer the only option” says Cartwright. “CPD can be delivered online, which means learners can access their modules 24/7, no matter where they are. As long as they have access to a laptop or tablet, and a decent broadband connection, it doesn’t matter which county or time zone they are in.”

The addition of a coaching element to online learning, via Skype, can be of particular benefit to off-site learners, Cartwright adds. “A coach can help to really test and embed the learning, acting as a vital support system if an engineer is working remotely and is without peer or leadership support.”

“CPD used to be defined narrowly and included time-­consuming offline activity such as attending conferences or submitting manually collated CPD evidence,” says ProTech’s Parsons. “There is a shift towards making CPD more accessible, easier to collate, and [achievable in] real-time. This avoids the ‘rush’ at the end of the CPD ‘window’ to gather together evidence to meet the criteria.

“These days a CPD portfolio is much more of a ‘living’ thing, where evidence is generated automatically, rather than being manually collated, and where a broad range of activity – particularly online consumption of content – can be categorised as CPD activity, and hence leveraged to automatically generate the CPD portfolio,” she says. “This is far more meaningful, as it is based on what the individual is actually doing in the moment, as opposed to their attempted recollection of an activity.”

Parsons adds: “There is an opportunity for professional bodies to help individuals understand what types of development add value, and to think beyond the boundaries of their own organisation or field. Project management, for example, is a core discipline for many careers. It would be great to see CPD pathways that enable professionals in a broad range of fields to engage in project management career development, and for this to contribute towards their CPD portfolio – even though they may not be a project manager day-to-day.”

An example of this is where professional bodies partner with higher educational institutions to map degree courses to professional qualifications, and offer ‘top up’ learning and development: individuals graduate with their chosen degree as well as a professional qualification, and both are recognised by the professional body and the wider world.

Above all, it is important to remember that technical expertise is now just one strand in the extensive repertoire of skills required in engineering. CPD is an opportunity to ensure that workers can develop broader business skills alongside technical in a flexible format, to ensure a capable, confident, and creative workforce of the future.

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