Professionals who think their initial qualification is a sufficient ticket to a permanent, lifelong role are kidding themselves. Industry currency and continuing professional development are processes that continue throughout the duration of your career, as new research suggests.
Obsolescence is a scary term. It conjures up visions of cathode ray TVs piled on streetside rubbish. Professional obsolescence is the inability of an individual to maintain the skills necessary to continue to perform their role. Industry currency, the measurement of this, is the subject of research conducted by the National Centre for Vocational Education Research.
In the paper ‘Industry currency and professional obsolescence: what can industry tell us?’ the authors track the progression of knowledge and skills required to perform a role in an industry, and the capacity of practitioners in those roles to meet those requirements. In particular, the researchers look at the trades of plumbing, hairdressing and printing, and canvas the thoughts of professionals working in the science, engineering, human resources and health sectors.
“The knowledge required in occupations does not remain static; for example, changes in technology or the development of new products mean that workers need to learn new skills and keep abreast of these changes,” they write. It follows that the vocational education and training (VET) industry must parallel this need and provide training that matches industry currency.
Practitioners in the plumbing, hairdressing and printing industries used a mix of attending industry events, networking and reading up on best practice to benchmark the level of skills and knowledge they needed to maintain currency, while those in the science, engineering, human resources and health sectors tended more towards formal training provided by their employer. When it came to new technology, workers benefited from product manufacturer/vendor training as it exposed them to new equipment, resources and training to support their introduction into workplaces.
The authors found: “In both the trades and the professions there is ready acceptance that for updating strategies to be successful there needs to be a joint commitment from both the individual and the employer.”
A triangular system of upskilling
To me, the findings indicate that the issue of industry currency is a triangular one. Industry bodies such as professional associations are the arbiters of best practice, innovation and new skills, formally through certification and informally through member communication channels such as industry newsletters, websites, magazines and journals.
VET providers take the industry standards and create appropriate training programs undertaken by individuals—either initiated by the individual or the business—in order to ensure workers meet skills standards.
Organisations and individuals look to the industry bodies to find out what skills are considered standard for a role and marry that with organisational requirements. Individuals attain the standard through training, then mould themselves to the workplace they have chosen, adding context to their skills. When organisational requirements collectively outgrow industry standards, the onus is back on the industry bodies to update the standards and encourage the workers to upskill. Often, continuing professional development programs go some way to bridging some of the gap.
Among the findings:
- Individual practitioners need to be committed to the ongoing updating of their industry experience and knowledge.
- VET trainers and assessors must also maintain industry currency.
- Organisations must have an environment where industry currency is encouraged, where it is a critical and expected activity for employees.
- The workplace is also a place of learning, where organisations can structure work in a way that allows informal, peer-to-peer and collaborative learning.
- Client demands and technological and regulatory change will remain issues in the VET environment, meaning that practitioners’ currency will be an ongoing challenge.
Download ‘Industry currency and professional obsolescence: what can industry tell us?’ by Berwyn Clayton, Pam Jonas, Regan Harding, Mark Harris, and Melinda Toze
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