Graduation from the tertiary studies that enable you to begin your career as a professional is a major learning milestone. It is also the start of another learning journey – your continuing development as a professional. ‘Continuing professional development’ commonly abbreviated to ‘CPD’ refers to the work-related learning and development that should continue throughout your career. Professionals in some fields must complete mandatory CPD requirements in order to maintain their registration. For others it is entirely discretionary but no less important. CPD is one of the key mechanisms by which high standards of professional practice and the relevance and currency of qualifications and experience are maintained.
CPD covers a wide range of professional development options. ‘Formal CPD’ involves activities such as participation in short courses that enhance or add to your skills. It includes activities such as work-related courses and attendance at conferences. ‘Informal CPD’ includes learning new skills on the job and being mentored by somebody with more experience in your field. Informal CPD can also take place away from work settings – for example when professionals learn about leadership by volunteering in their their local community.
Being a new graduate or young professional in the early stages of your career presents an opportunity to set the course for and to drive your own CPD rather than allowing it to be something that is imposed on you or undertaken in haste when you have a pressing need. When you take control of your CPD you are well positioned to ensure that it satisfies you personally easily meets any professional registration requirements and allows you to contribute to the standing of your profession.
CPD: an investment for you and your employer
Whatever your chosen field continuing professional development (CPD) involves maintaining enhancing and extending your knowledge expertise and competence. It includes:
v keeping up-to-date with technical developments in your area(s) of specialisation;
v extending your knowledge into other relevant fields;
v honing existing skills and developing new ones;
v developing an understanding of the practical application of new skills and knowledge;
v applying your learning and accumulating experience.
It’s useful to think of CPD as an investment – an investment by you in your career and an investment in your development as a professional by your employer. Both parties (you and your employer) can contribute to the investment. Whilst you might be contributing time and effort your employer might be supporting you in a range of ways including accessing CPD/study leave and covering or sharing the cost.
Applying a ‘return on investment’ mindset to planning your CPD is important because it focuses your thinking on the potential return in terms of career benefits from an investment of your time effort and possibly funding. When your employer is contributing by way of footing the bill or allowing you study time they will expect a return on their investment – for example that you will be enabled to take on more responsibility.
To apply a ‘return on investment’ approach to CPD it helps to ask yourself the following questions about the potential value of each CPD activity you consider:
1. what are the intended learning outcomes from this activity? (f the activity is a formal course this is a good question to ask the course provider);
2. what it the relevance of this particular activity to my current work role?;
3. how will my employer benefit when I achieve the intended learning outcomes?;
4. how will others (for example – clients patients colleagues) benefit from my learning?; and
5. what are the longer-term benefits?
A smorgasbord of choices
There is a smorgasbord of continuing professional development (CPD) choices available to professionals who are willing to think creatively and analytically about their current role and career aspirations. There are three broad categories to think about:
1. formal CPD;
2. informal work-related CPD; and
3. activities external to your work that contribute to your CPD.
Formal CPD includes:
v full and part-time tertiary study including both accredited and non-accredited courses;
v donferences and seminars;
v undertaking research;
v writing papers and delivering work-related presentations;
v in-service education; and
v formally arranged mentoring which can include a ‘learning contract’.
Informal work-related CPD
Informal work-related CPD refers to other activities associated with your work which contribute to your development as a professional but are not necessarily designed as CPD. Informal CPD can include:
v discussions with colleagues;
v sharing knowledge and information at meetings;
v participation in work-related committees;
v internet research;
v participation in activities associated with a professional association of which you are a member; and
v active involvement in a professional association such as Professionals Australia.
There are many opportunities to enhance your CPD through activities external to your workplace; for example:
v volunteering can help develop your social skills capacity for leadership and/or project management skills;
v putting your hand up for a committee role associated with your involvement in a sport as a parent or in service or other club for people with shared interests;
v learning something new that is likely to help progress your career – for example learning a foreign language; and
v engaging in an activity that develops you as a person. From martial arts to debating and from visual arts to yoga the choices are limited only by your imagination.
For professionals with a ‘CPD hours’ requirement to maintain their professional registration or ‘chartered’ status to achieve CPD choices must take into account the registering body’s criteria in terms of what counts. These are usually published online. However no professional association or registration board sets upper limits on how much CPD you can do. Also keep in mind that some of your career aspirations may go beyond your technical accreditation – for example if you aspire to move into management – and your CPD planning should be shaped accordingly.
Making the most of your investment in CPD
Making the most of your investment in CPD involves three complementary activities:
1. maintaining a professional development portfolio;
2. commitment to reflective practice; and
3. taking control of your CPD.
Your professional development portfolio
A professional development portfolio is your personal record of CPD activities and the value derived from them. It includes but goes well beyond keeping a record of formal learning activities such as the short courses and conferences you have attended. A comprehensive professional development portfolio should include:
v a record of attendance at formal learning activities including details of the scope of your learning and the relevance to your work;
v evidence of your ongoing learning and development for example copies of any papers you have delivered;
v evaluation of your learning – for example how those around you at work – colleagues customers patients and the like have benefited from your investments in CPD;
v supporting documents such as certificates from accredited and non-accredited courses you have attended; and
v a record of your reflections on your learning.
Whist many professional associations provide online facilities for members to track the time they spend on CPD and the activities undertaken those systems are not generally designed to provide the portfolio facilities outlined above. The benefits of maintaining a detailed portfolio include:
v a ready source of detailed records that help keep your resume up to date and evidence your achievements;
v the basis for planning the next stages of your CPD;
v a focus for reflecting on the return on your investment in CPD; and
•v evidence of your career progress as inspiration to maintain your commitment to CPD.
Reflection and CPD
Reflection is about giving careful thought to your experiences at work to help ongoing improvement in your performance. In the context of continuing professional development it includes thinking about your performance at work and the ways in which you can improve. It also involves thinking critically about the professional development activity you undertake in order to evaluate what you have learned its application in your current work role and its value to your employer. CPD-related reflection includes asking yourself questions about:
v aspects of your work performance that could be improved;
v how new knowledge or a new skill could be applied in your current work role;
v who would benefit from your doing so;
v what you would need to do differently in order to successfully apply what you have learned;
v whether you found anything challenging; and
v if you have any habits that would need to be changed in order to apply what you have learned.
Reflection should also involve an examination of your own subjective experience. For example you learned a new skill on a course you tried it at work and it felt very awkward. You felt tempted to revert to how you did things before. You evaluate the benefits of persisting. By applying reflective practice in this way many professionals have been enabled to deal competently with their own resistance to change.
In some fields such as teaching reflective practice is an integral part of professional practice. But for many professionals it is an unfamiliar skill. The article ‘Reflective Practice‘ provides a more in depth explanation about what it is the value for professional practice improvement and how to go about using it.
Taking control of your CPD
Regardless of whether they have mandatory CPD criteria to satisfy or their investment in CPD is purely discretionary the most satisfying results are achieved by professionals who drive their own CPD rather than waiting till there is an urgent need to satisfy professional registration requirements or until their manager points out areas for improvement. Over time the following activities help you to be proactive and to drive your own CPD.
v Reflecting on your strengths and areas for improvement in your work.
v Listening to and acting on feedback from your manager and from colleagues.
v Being alert for CPD opportunities and assessing their relevance to your professional development needs.
v Devoting time to career planning.
v Ensuring that you have discussions with your manager about CPD your interests and the organisation’s needs. This can lead to useful discussion about the level of support possible; i.e. the extent to which your employer is willing to invest in your CPD.
About the Author
Dr Janet Fitzell is an independent organisational consultant and facilitator specialising in organisational leadership and management development through her company FourLeaf Consulting Pty Ltd (http://www.fourleaf.com.au/).