Filling in your continuing professional development form used to be a chore, a requirement necessary to ensure you weren’t kicked out of your professional body. What courses had you been on during the previous 12 months, how could you fill up any shortfall in your CPD requirements?
At its worst, CPD was seen as a tick-box exercise that wasted a competent professional’s time just so that a small number of the least competent were forced to raise their game. A cynic might have felt that it was a neat way for the professional bodies to avoid the adverse consequences of an individual’s negligence.
But that view is now widely accepted as somewhat dated. “Perhaps there are broadly two types of people: those that are open to learning new things and those that think they already know everything worth knowing,” suggests Viv Cole, an e-learning consultant who specialises in the professional services sector. “My belief is that everyone should be open to learning new things, the world is changing pretty rapidly, and the only way that people are going to stay competitive is by learning new things.’”
As one accountant based in Gloucestershire says: “I’ve found CPD relatively painless, thanks to the large organisations I have worked for having good training programmes. I know some accountants at small practices have to make more of an effort to fulfill the requirements but are usually glad to be ‘forced’ to keep up to date and maybe broaden their skills.”
This effort – carried out willingly or “forced” – is now recognised to be a real benefit for both the organisation and the individual. So what has caused this change in attitude? One of the key developments has been a move away by some institutes from a points-driven system to a more holistic review of professional development – the acceptance that professionals will be learning every day through all areas of their work.
“CPD is something that we all do on a day-to-day basis,” says Debbi Francis, policy and regulatory manager at the ICAEW. “For a professional, the fact that we make it mandatory is telling the public that we know our members are fully up to date with what they need to know to be competent in their roles.”
At the heart of the ICAEW’s CPD policy is the belief that an individual is the best judge of how much development they need, and which activities will be most beneficial in meeting those needs. It should be proportionate and relevant.
Indeed, the institute recognises that there is no need for individuals to keep up to date with all areas of accountancy, only those that are directly relevant to their role.
By way of example, the institute says CPD can include a focused discussion with colleagues, online research, reading (yes, Accountancy Age counts), study of regulations and standards, researching a particular type of issue related to a particular role and researching relevant legislation. There is no need to attend a certain number of courses or seminars.
There may be times when, having reflected on their particular situation, individuals decide they already have the necessary skills and knowledge to carry out their roles and that any further CPD would be unnecessary.All that is required is that each member should complete an annual declaration, and have the necessary backing material should the institute ask for evidence.
But members must be clear about the impact and effectiveness of these activities and consider whether their learning and development objectives have been met.
“It is up to our members to keep up with their ongoing development. If you don’t feel competent in a particular area it is up to you to keep yourself competent,” says Francis.
Other institutes take different approaches (see box), but whichever institute and whatever method you follow, the key is to remember that CPD is an investment in your own career.
“You can never overstress the need for continuing development in any profession,’”says Chris McCarthy, director at recruiter Hays Senior Finance. “It is critical for any finance professional to take charge of their own career, identify where they want to go and use these mandatory schemes to get to where they want to be.”
McCarthy also points to the importance of developing softer skills such as presentation and communication skills. “The biggest demands that employers are making are on whether you can network around the business on your own two feet, and have a constructive input at an operational level,” he says.
The impact of the recession should not, however, be forgotten. Training budgets have been squeezed, along with other business costs. But McCarthy believes now is a good time to focus on development again.
“Talk to your boss, talk to your HR function; the market has turned now and the internal machinery [of training] is now working again,” McCarthy says. “The biggest issue can be getting that dedication from your company, but you need to emphasise the long-term benefits it will have for both you and the company.”
The flipside is that many will feel uncomfortable if they are seen to be spending too much time on their training needs, rather than focusing on the job in hand – how many times have you heard a colleague saying that they could do without having to attend a half-day seminar that they signed up to a few months previously.
McCarthy emphasises the positive aspects here: “You can be more valuable after spending a day out of the office, enhancing your value internally.”
This in part explains the growth of e-learning – you can be sat at your desk, and interrupted if needs be, while ‘attending’ a course.
“There is a sense that people don’t want to spend time traveling to courses and conferences, and that there is a real benefit in being able to learn while in the office,” says Cole. “You can learn at your own pace and zero in at a far more granular level on what is most relevant to you.”
So, while CPD may be mandatory in principle, in practice, the flexibility available should dispel any negative notions, which has to be a positive development.
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