Continuing Professional Development – a tick-box exercise?

shutterstock_252965023 jpegThis post covers some of my long-held concerns about formal Continuing Professional Development (CPD) programmes. It was prompted by discussions currently underway in the UK’s Chartered Institute of Personnel & Development (CIPD) on their support for ongoing professional development in HR. It finishes with an ask of regulators and professional bodies to review their thinking on how they setup and assess CPD programmes.

From early in my career I have been required to undertake CPD. This was often delivered by my professional trade association or regulators, by my employers and sometimes by suppliers.

This post focuses on this narrower, better known definition of CPD as learning undertaken as a requirement to maintain an accreditation or license to trade. Lawyers, accountants and financial services advisors are examples of professionals required to undertake this formal CPD. It is typically expressed as a need to complete a target number of hours per year engaged in CPD activities.

Content is most often focused on keeping knowledge up to date as legislation, case law, regulatory requirements or products evolve and emerge. Occasionally, skills and mindsets are the subject matter of CPD events, but this is rare.

This imposition of what seems an arbitrary number of hours and the focus on knowledge over skill, are partly where my issues with formal CPD requirements are focused.

Let’s take the target number of hours first. This takes no account of the actual development needs of the individual and in my experience leads to a tick box mentality. People simply turn up, get the form signed and log their hours. Whether any learning takes place is inconsequential.

Wouldn’t it be better to focus on actual development needs? These might be focused on a mix of ongoing changes to regulation, practice or products, combined with developing core skills required to undertake the role (for example, recommending the most appropriate financial products). There may even be a need to build in customer service skills or develop risk management, operational management or leadership skills. This approach would drive an outcomes (development needs) approach to CPD rather than the input (hours study) approach, which is currently the norm.

This brings me to my second issue with CPD; that of favouring knowledge over skills. Given the issues we see in our failed organisations are rarely anything to do with a lack of technical knowledge, but more to do with a lack of leadership and a need for culture change, a focus on these two areas in our formal CPD programmes might be a change that is long overdue.

It is time we started assessing the quality of CPD interventions in terms of their alignment with the individual’s and organisation’s most pressing development needs, not the number of hours spent ticking boxes. I wonder whether the professional bodies I’ve been most associated with, the CIPD and the newly created Financial Conduct Authority, might rethink their approaches to CPD?

Demanding more meaningful CPD programmes for individuals and organisations as a whole would be a good place to start.

In my next post I will pick up a third area of discontent with CPD programmes; that of recording learning outcomes and impact in the workplace.

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