Continuous professional development is becoming a more personalised affair, but organisations should provide support for their employees to take responsibility for their progress.

Virtually everybody agrees on the importance of continuous professional development (CPD).

People working in IT need to carry on acquiring new skills not just to keep up with changes in technology, but in the broader business environment, to further their own careers and ensure they can help their organisations respond to a changing world.

It is clear from the survey conducted for the BCS’ new white paper on the subject that the IT community takes the issue seriously.

91 per cent of more than 700 respondents agreed that CPD is important in building skills and increasing their potential, with consultants and IT managers being the most likely to strongly agree.

It was also notable that 70 per cent thought it was important at this stage of their careers. It is also becoming more of a personal matter.

In the past it has been tied closely to organisational training, but tighter finances have led to cuts in the resources available for CPD.

There has been a cultural shift towards people taking responsibility for their own development, encouraged by rapid changes in the demand for skills and increased mobility in the job market.

Employers can see this as a healthy attitude among employees, but people face barriers and need support.

A crucial finding of the BCS survey was that 69 per cent of those who committed time to CPD thought it was not enough with lack of time and financial constraints providing the biggest problems.

Organisations have to provide support for their employees to overcome the barriers.

It comes down to creating a supportive culture. Acknowledging that staff are entitled to some learning time at their desks can encourage a positive attitude towards CPD. Activities may include:

 - Reading relevant articles
 - Listening to podcasts
 - Watching short videos

It is also important to give them opportunities to work on different projects, pick up experience in new areas and acquire the skills that come with learning on the job.

This encourages the employee to feel they are making progress, and adds to the organisation’s pool of expertise for future projects.

They can also encourage an approach highlighted by the BCS on its CPD Portal, the idea of reflection. 

This encourages an individual to consider what they have learned, how they have put it into practice and how they can ensure their development is effective.

It can help to record what they have done, asking themselves questions about career aspirations, what they have gained from a specific exercise, what types of development have provided the greatest and least benefits, and what they should include in their next development planning cycle.

Setting goals and keeping a record of achievements and shortcomings can do a lot keep an individual focused on his or her progress.

An organisation can encourage this by incorporating it within staff appraisals, with a light touch to ensure the employee stays in control of the process, but making clear that it supports their professional development.

It can also ensure that the more informal approaches are adopted, such as cross-training between teams and mentoring for individuals from more experienced staff.

These cost little but can do a lot to help employees become more confident and acquire new skills.

But employers cannot withdraw completely from the more traditional methods. Any organisation that does not invest in some formal training, or gives its employees occasional opportunities to attend learning and networking events, sends out the wrong messages.

It has to make some financial resource available to make it clear to staff that it is serious about their career development, and is willing to take a share of the responsibility.

It can state clearly that its people are ultimately responsible for their own CPD, but making some time and money available will do a lot to create a positive environment.

It is important for employers to take this seriously; the balance may have changed, but professional development benefits both parties, and it will help to provide a highly skilled workforce that will be equipped to respond to changes in technology and business.

Supporting the individual’s CPD will help to future proof a business.

 By David Clarke MBE, Group Chief Executive Officer, BCS, The Chartered Institute for IT

Pic: Karen Eliot cc2.0