How to get the best out of continuous professional development

Working in the 21st Century, its important that we keep our knowledge and skills up-to-date so that we are able to compete in the job market and to ensure we continue to be competent in our jobs. CPD is therefore something that everyone in the workplace should be doing. From a personal perspective, CPD is both something I have to practice in my professional life and that I teach annually on our professional HR courses.

In addition to employees and their employers considering CPD to ensure workers have the skills, knowledge and experience to perform in the workplace; professional bodies require their members to maintain CPD on an ongoing basis as part of their membership. It is also the case for some professions, that it is impossible to practice without membership and therefore CPD – such as doctors, lawyers, teachers etc. Personally, I’m a member of two professional bodies – one as a HR professional and one as a lecturer.

Generally I also believe its something that students would be wise to think about as they prepare to transition from study to employment, making sure they have the skills and knowledge that employers will be looking for.

Why is CPD Important

As outlined above, CPD allows us to be a member of professional bodies and in some cases to practice (in my case as a lecturer), cpd also allows us to ensure we keep up-to-date with the knowledge, technologies and practices etc required to carry out the duties associated with our work. For example, I try to be aware of recent technological developments – such as AI/ChatGPT and teaching practice as well as HR practices, emerging case law and trends in the field. In addition to these reasons, building up our skills and knowledge puts us in a competitve position if we wish to progress in our career, seeking advancement and promotion.

What does CPD look like

We will all have our own ideas of what kinds of activities and learning experiences will count as CPD. For some, and certainly some professional bodies, CPD will be made up of accumulated hours from formal, structured learning which can be clearly identified – maybe receiving a Certificate of Attendance at the end of the training course, seminar etc. But for others, including myself and my own professional bodies, we consider a wider range of learning and development opportunities which can include informal learning, such as reading blogs, watching documentaries, attending networking events etc. A more recent approach is that of reflective practice, where we are expected to take time to think about our practice; the experiences we have encountered and how we can use those situations to further develop our skills and knowledge.

Despite all of these different approaches to learning, a range of diverse approaches is the best way to gain a rounded learning experience. Our own desire for learning, and how we learn, may be best served sometimes through more informal approaches, but keep in mind the requirements of your own specific professional body’s requirements, particularly if you have a quota of hours to evidence that needs to be done through formal development approaches.

Benefits of CPD

Regardless of whether you belong to a professional body or not, being committed to lifelong learning is a good idea.

  • Keep skills and knowledge up-to-date
  • Awareness of new/emerging trends – eg how AI could impact on you in the workplace
  • May give you an edge against colleagues and other potential employees
    • both in current job
    • if you’re made redundant and need to find a new job
  • Enhance employment and promotion opportunities

From experience, I know sometimes people don’t want their employers to know about any professional development they undertake personally, but in today’s economic climate, you need to think about ensuring your own job security. You should ensure your employer is aware of all your skills to increase your employability. If companies are considering redundancies, they are more likely to retain multi-skilled employees who can be more versatile.

How to evidence CPD

Its great to go along to various learning and development events – attending courses, conferences, networking events etc, but the paperwork around CPD is also important. Any professional body (and employers nowadays) will want us to plan out what our learning will be across the coming year and then to keep a record (evidence) of our progress as we go.

A typical approach for CPD paperwork would be to create a plan of your learning and development needs – areas that you need for your current role but also consideration of areas where you might like to develop, particularly if you’re thinking about your own career progression. Once you have a plan in place you should be keeping a record of some form – this could be a reflective log – to record your experiences. Good practice would be to include some reflection in your record or log, thinking about how you got on, what worked/didn’t work and why; what you might do differently in the future, how you can use and apply your learning in the future. The final stage would be to identify, from your reflections the additional learning and development required and to then carry that forward into your next plan.

CPD is a cycle – you make a plan, you implement the plan and reflect on your progress and identify future learning needs and update your plan, allowing you to move forward. An example I use to illustrate this might be a student who is developing their time management skills. When they do their first assessment, they maybe struggle with time management and either feel rushed and unhappy with the work they submit or may have to ask for an extension. Once they’ve submitted their assessment, they should reflect on their time management skills – what worked, what didn’t – what mistakes did they make to mean they fell behind. They should then think about what they can do next time to try to improve and avoid making the same mistakes. When they come to the next assessment, they should test out their ideas. Hopefully they will submit on time and feel happier about their time management, but the likelihood is that they will still be able to see opportunities to develop even further.

You can see from the above example, that the student is constantly learning as they review their progress and work on improving their time management techniques. Their plan is constantly evolving. This is the nature of CPD – we should always be reviewing and updating our plans. There should always be scope to improve and enhance our skills and knowledge.

I’d love to hear your own experiences of CPD, either for work or because you’re a member of a professional body. I would also like to hear if the practices vary across different countries.

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  1. CPD was a vital necessity in nurse practice. It became difficult during the Covid years as you can imagine. Online study was suggested with tests to pass. Alongside that, the e-learning modules both mandatory and chosen subject choices. It was not all tests. How we performed and acted as an inherent Ward team member too. As you can understand the impact of Covid and caring for patients left us drained. If you were unlucky to have to achieve the 3 yearly revalidation exercise too for NMC registration it became very tiring. After retiring in July 2021 I cannot remember specifics. So cannot expand in detail. But it all helped to show commitment and ensure patient safety. Mentorship with taking on student nurses required a 10 day training course. The NHS gave you 5 paid and the other 5 were voluntary. The amount of work applied to become a mentor was phenomenal. So much ongoing learning whilst still working full time. Parkinsons course in order to present tuition workshops, diabetes knowledge training, etc. Update training were always ongoing re: phlebotomy, IV administering, medicine management, basic drug prescribing, catheterisation, giving blood transfusions, giving 24 opioid relief with setting up the delivery devices, etc. What I’m saying I suppose is that to keep patients safe a strict CPD system was vital. There above is a fraction of what was involved of my experience with development as a professional. Cheers Brenda.

    • Thanks for going into what is required for CPD in the nursing profession. You really illustrate the need for CPD and highlighting the knowledge and skills through formal training, but also the focus on reflective practice. I know from my research for course development, nursing is one of the areas setting standards of reflective practice elsewhere.

      • Thank you. Very true. Your insights are spot on in all the areas you highlight in your blogs concerning the importance of how to get learning on track. Education requires much focus in professional development and balancing both work, reflection and learning is difficult at times. A social life is also important too. All the best Brenda.

  2. Great article! I am all about it. Doctors have to complete a certain amount of CMEs (continued medical education) every couple of years to renew their licenses. However, there is no such requirement for the non-clinical staff. While I love to watch, read, attend courses, etc. on a variety of subjects, I find that most of my co-workers do not. If you’re stuck doing the same job for years and years, and don’t plan to switch things up, I understand how there might not be a big reason to grow and develop. Because of that, they are missing out on new potential ways of doing their job. Not that it’s better or worse, but sometimes we learn something we didn’t know and it helps us. The problem is that many are currently overworked. In order to do something extra, they would have to get protected time, which… is a hard sell for the big shots. But, I feel like it’s something I will work on changing. I’ve started by carving out an hour a week for myself to look into additional development resources.

  3. Potential downfalls that are often overlooked is that businesses have one goal above all else and that is survival of the structure to ensure the contraction of security and the ability to live.

    With this in mind we have to keep in mind that professionals are often given such titles with proper merit, but the education alone without the ability take learned information and gain new insights into new ways that are t necessarily motivated by a system that might need to sell off some of their good deeds to ensure that the business can continue to j crease profits, but at what point does this entity whose sole interest is financial security, growth, and such…. The direction that one can be led is pulled into two. One that promotes their continued vision despite it having become less appealing and then the ones that meet some need of another business owner at the cost of our treatment t of said patrons.

    When money is a factor, the truth and underlying messages as well as associations that are formed alongside of it have a direction that is better led than Bobby Fisher’s pieces on a chess board. The end game is long and the diversity and responsiveness of the markets are exceptionally quick at creating trends at the drop of a hat as if they’ve got more than half of the possibilities already mapped out in whatever ways R&D might get down.

    Anyways, always question things, most importantly self. We cannot always be sure, but we can check to be sure that our held beliefs are still valid and haven’t been met with info that refutes any and all claims towards said belief that isn’t false until it has been dropped and accepted as antiquated ideology like drowning after eating, blindness from sitting too close to the TV, watermelons growing out of your ears if you eat a seed. Info changes, we should act accordingly

    • Yes, you’ve highlighted the paradox of modern business and ethical management. Each person has to decide where their lines are drawn.

      • Yes, most definitely. Corporate interest cannot be blamed when they continue to be backed by the countless masses who have zero concern over the implications and detriments that come alongside making the process less expensive and the clean up minimal (can hope for the usual and dump toxic waste or whatever in a landfill that ensures this toxic and oftentimes radioactive containers can break and leak all into the very soil that is needed for plants to take root and our oxygen to come out of their butts or wherever it escapes * deep inhale* ah plant crop dusting <3

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