The concept of lifelong learning is a compelling one, but often hijacked by images of retirees learning to build a website. Continuing professional development is different. It is largely driven by the individual’s motivation to keep up to date with the knowledge and skills needed to stay at the top of their profession.
The story of the high school dux who decades later is still a checkout operator at a local supermarket is a cautionary tale for people who believe that one-time achievement is the be-all and end-all of their career. I have some good news and I have some bad news about this.
First, the bad news. One-time achievement can get you a good way along a career path. It can get you into a degree program, or it can get you into a wonderful first job, it can get you a promotion, it can get you a pay rise, it can get you an award. What it can’t do is get you all of these things throughout your life.
Here’s the good news: life is full of chances. Didn’t do well in high school? Vocational or higher education gives you another chance to learn. Screwed up your diploma? Take a job, get some work experience, come back to it or change careers completely. Continuing professional development is about taking every chance you get to sustain and enhance your skills and knowledge to support your career.
What is continuing professional development?
Broadly, continuing professional development (CPD) is an individual process, that is, you decide the skills and knowledge you need to keep up to date. More formally, however, CPD is a mix of activities that combines practice with attaining and sharing knowledge to ensure you are well rounded in your role.
Professional and industry associations often make CPD compulsory so members must maintain a certain professional standard while practising. Members/practitioners earn CPD points by undertaking a minimum number of hours of activities in addition to their normal working hours.
As mentioned above, activities range from practice to attaining and sharing knowledge. This takes the form of volunteering, attending or presenting at conferences and seminars, undergoing additional education or training (training that is above and beyond what is required to stay at the same level, not for renewal for certifications, for example), mentoring, reading and writing about the profession and even networking.
The key to a good CPD program is variety. Associations put a limit on how many hours doing a certain kind of activity you can count towards your development; for example you can’t maintain your CPD level on attending conferences alone. This ensures that you uphold a good cross-section of skills throughout your practice.
Not a member of a professional or industry association? You can always create your own CPD program. The foundation of a good program relies on:
- Activities that will enhance your professional standing, that is, your peers must regard the activities as worthwhile additions to your role.
- A variety of activities to keep in practice the breadth of your abilities.
- Measured development; you may spend two hours reading an industry publication but you need to demonstrate the knowledge you’ve acquired, for example, by writing a review.
- Continuity, hence the name. Being up-to-date is a continuous process; evolution doesn’t stop for you just because once upon a time you were at the top of your game.
- Lifelong learning, activities that don’t just tread familiar ground but offer new skills, new knowledge.
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