CPD – What is it good for?

Last week in Scotland, many parents were like my wife and I, waiting for the delivery of exam results. We were waiting for Jan’s Higher results and not sure what to expect as her studies had been disrupted by glandular fever and tonsillitis. We needn’t have worried, she got great grades and more importantly, in the long run, learnt a huge amount about how to cope with adversity.

The event though got me thinking about how ready education makes our young people for work and about how we support professional development once we are in work. I’m not going to open up the education debate today, I’ll leave that rant to Donald Clark and others better qualified, but I do want to think about professional development and the value of Continual Professional Development (CPD).

CPD is based on the notion that professionals need to study for a minimum of 35 hours per annum or X number of credits in order to maintain professional competence. In some cases this study needs to be based on a personal development plan to make sure it is linked to needs.

This arrangement strikes me as being totally back to front in today’s world. We are pushing learning with very little thought about the performance needs and outcomes of the individual and most importantly the person or organisation they are serving.

Surely, a motivated professional will develop their knowledge and skills in order to perform at their best? Good performance feedback systems and the opportunity to learn when they need to, are fundamentally more important and in this environment professional development is part of the job, rather than learning for its own sake. Perhaps part of the issue here is that a number of professional bodies act more like a union to protect members rights and shield them from true performance feedback.

I would much rather consult with a doctor who was motivated to learn as they needed to, have my children taught by teachers who were always seeking to improve or consult an accountant or marketing professional who I felt was genuinely up-to-date with their knowledge in my area of need. There is also a  good case to be made that many professional institutes who promote CPD are not at the forefront on knowledge in their area. By their nature, they tend to be conservative.

In the last 9 years, at GoodPractice I’ve lost track of the number of conversations I’ve had with managers looking to top up their CPD portfolio to make sure that they hit their target of 35 hours learning. This is not productive.

Telling me that your  CPD is up-to-date means nothing, it is input focused and we need to find a way to focus on performance and outputs. In 1988 I stopped being a banker, in a traditional sense (I might not have owned up to this last year). I’ve passed all my professional exams and maintained by membership of the Chartered Institute of Bankers in Scotland and because I’ve continued to develop myself I’m allowed to call myself a Chartered Banker. Despite the last year of financial meltdown, I’m very proud of my training and the Institute, but there is no way after 21 years away from the work that I’m a competent banker, whatever my qualifications may tell you.

Peter Casebow Chartered Banker.