2006 – Training the professionals
If you work in corporate management it is quite possible
that you may have moved smoothly from grade to grade without
ever feeling the need to consider the concept of continuing
Indeed it is just possible that you may never have heard
of the phrase or, if you have, that you dismissed it as
some trendy jargon for what most of us call training. In
which case, you’d be wrong. Continuing professional
development is a distinct concept, rooted in the professions
but spreading fast like a kind of training evangelism.
Training providers love CPD because it keeps them in work.
Whether everyone else should love it quite so much is debatable.
Firstly let’s be agreed about what it is and what
it is trying to do since it often tends to be confused with
general training for the workplace. Continuing professional
development is post-qualification learning administered
by professional bodies to ensure their members retain and
develop their skills in line with the changing demands of
A recent report by the Institute of Continuing Professional
Development* described it as “a fundamental part of
the system that underpins and ensures the reliability of
the service that professionals offer to the public.”
It has manifested itself in the practice of maintaining
professional skills by attending lectures, seminars, reading
and attending training courses. Most professional bodies
administer simple points systems that measure the amount
of CPD work that is being undertaken. Your CPD points are
totted up every now and again to monitor the extent to which
you are keeping up to date.
But practices are changing so fast in almost every workplace
that it makes sense to introduce some formal way of encouraging
continuous learning. Problems arise, however, when the system
becomes overzealous, pushing forward change that may seem
professionally desirable but which fails to acknowledge
Take pharmacy, for example. My wife, a pharmacist for more
than 30 years, has been trotting along to lectures and taking
various qualifications in line with new requirements in
CPD. One of these equips her to consult with patients about
their medication. Some pharmacies have created special rooms
to hold consultations.
The problem is that many pharmacies today, particularly
those attached to doctors’ surgeries, have become
pill-dispensing factories, churning out prescriptions at
a rate that allows no time for the luxury of consultations.
Pharmacists might want to elevate themselves professionally
but in reality they are stuck in the trenches on the frontline
of medical dispensing.
Another problem is the CPD itself. “I know lots of
older pharmacists, women like myself who do locum work,
who are turning their backs on CPD. They can’t be
bothered with it so they’re going to be lost to the
profession,” says my wife.
It is difficult to avoid the impression that much CPD is
akin to passing scout badges, surmounting that big hurdle
on the day of the test and walking away with your certificate.
This is why the best CPD must also account for experience.
What price the paper qualification against years spent doing
a job in all its intricate detail?
Little wonder that some veteran practitioners are resentful
of CPD, railing against taking some qualification that might
not make a ha’p’orth of difference to the way
they carry out their daily work.
The way that some professional bodies have dealt with this
issue is to fudge it. Take the words “obligatory”
and “mandatory” attached to CPD learning, depending
on the stance of respective professions. To some of us they
may amount to the same thing but, for those who administer
such programmes, they have different meanings.
In CPD, if a piece of training-related work is described
as “obligatory” it means that your professional
body would like you to do the work but if you don’t,
well nothing is likely to happen to you. If the work is
mandatory, then your professional overlords may get tough;
but only after long deliberation and many second chances
to put things right.
Everyone gets rusty. Long ago I had shorthand training
that equipped me on a single day, with a favourable wind
at my back, to attain a certificate that said I could write
at 100 words a minute. Could I write so quickly today? Not
a chance. But if my job depended on it, you bet that I would.
The choices in CPD, however, are rarely so stark. It hates
to get tough with backsliders and professional exclusion
is rare. As the institute’s report points out: “The
ultimate sanction of removal of membership status directly
affects the profession’s income stream, so has an
Perhaps the biggest criticism that can be levelled at CPD,
however, involves the training benefit. How do you measure
it? You can attend a seminar, accumulating CPD points, but
you could sleep throughout every presentation. After listening
to some of these presentations, I would forgive you for
Providers know there is a captive market for training.
The provision of points-related lectures dilutes the incentive
to sparkle. It’s money for old rope. In the same way
there is little incentive to learn either when you are measured
principally on your attendance.
You could read a book or an article and not understand
one word. It doesn’t matter. You get the points. All
you need do is turn up and get your card stamped. But it
is possible that you might have learned more doing your
job. So simply totting up the hours spent on courses is
a poor measure of job-related learning.
Programme administrators have tried to tackle this issue
by relating training more closely to individual needs. Some
CPD therefore, now expects a degree of self-assessment,
reflecting on what kind of things you need to learn, planning
a learning exercise then evaluating the outcome and recording
the lesson. If this sounds a bureaucratic process, accounting
formally for what people do naturally in work then you begin
to understand some of the frustrations endured by today’s
The Institute of CPD has urged better monitoring and compliance
in professional learning. But is this the answer? Do seasoned
professionals, steeped in the practical demands of their
work, really need to be nannied in this way?
The bravest of them might question whether “new”
necessarily means “better”? But the change merchants
in every walk of life rarely step back long enough to consider
whether what they are proposing is a genuine significant
improvement for the common good. If fashion or – too
often – the desire to economise demands it, then everyone,
it seems must toe the line. To question new practices is
to be resistant to change. “New is good,” has
become the over-vocal mantra of change that ignores good
sense and reason.
If a genuine need to upgrade a professional skill exists,
then professionals should be tested on their competence
but what should be the sanction for failure? There is little
stomach for a testing regime that risks professional revolt
and dissention. Ultimately the argument comes down to the
role of professional bodies. What are they there for: the
members of the profession or those of us who rely on their
*Regulating Competencies: is CPD Working, is published
by the Institute of Continuing Professional development,