David Clarke BCS

We invest an incredible amount of money and time in hiring the best possible people but do we actually invest enough in retaining them?

Human capital is a horrible expression, the talent and capability of a workforce is a massive competitive advantage for every company, and if we want to keep this advantage, we need to nurture employees. We all know that recruitment costs are high; involving more than just the price of the advertisement and the time spent interviewing. If you get it wrong, you’re also going to have to bear the cost of the lost business opportunity.

Therefore employing top IT professionals isn’t only about drawing them through the door. Your brand and reputation may well do that for you, but you have to ensure that employees have the opportunities to fulfil their immediate role as well as stretch to reach their potential not only for the benefit of the business but also their individual development too.

Encouraging your employees to see themselves as professional individuals and treating them as such is key to creating productive employees. An individual will be far more effective in an organisation if they feel valued, have the opportunity to stretch their skills and they remain interested.

If we’re really going to get the best for our business through our employees, then we need to invest in our people and rescue professional development as a concept.

So why rescue it rather than just continue?

Although our survey on attitudes to professional development showed that there is a definite interest in the subject, the nature of it is changing. The majority of people working in IT recognise that continuing professional development is an important factor in terms of building on skills and growing potential. However, barriers to and practices surrounding development are changing. There is a trend towards personal responsibility for development where previously employers may have dictated and funded more. The shift towards personal responsibility is positive, but individuals still need support.

There are differing views regarding which activities constitute valid CPD activities. Traditionally time away from the office, such as courses and seminars, have often been considered as the totality of CPD, and not positively.

However, good professional development is about outcomes and progress rather than method. CPD is about the wider sphere of any activity that develops your competencies and capabilities.

Measurement is a good starting point and something that individuals can easily get to grips with. However, we need to be careful about thinking that measurement of time equals professional development. Hours attending a conference or reading a book are only valuable if there is a clear learning outcome that is translated into action or progress otherwise it is simply a measurement of time. I believe that there are many more important things you need to manage that can't be measured in this way.

What is essential is to identify the benefit as a result of the CPD activity, and to place this in the context of career aspirations and goals. To measure this, there is a need to reflect on what has been learnt and the benefit it has brought, as that is the true measure of worth.

One of the most important things we can do is to set a culture where development is both valued and understood. This is means that as senior managers we also need to walk the talk and set an example by ensuring that we have a personal professional development in place and are seen to be implementing it.

One of the more bizarre results that our own research into attitudes into continuing professional development has revealed is that people in more senior positions don't think professional development applies to them. There is a real danger in this. Senior people who decide not to continue with their development may find that their effectiveness potentially suffers a half-life.

It may be true that a training course isn't the right thing for a senior person, but whatever profession, it is clear to us that professional development is still needed, but it may just take a different form - hence the need to rescue the concept. No matter what the activities undertaken, or the types of activity, it is the benefit identified upon reflection that is the real measure of successful investment. There may be benefit in attending a training course, but there may also be benefit in reading a book on the way to or from work, watching an online video presentation/interview, or indeed take on a work assignment that stretches thinking and introduces new challenges that are overcome through learning and adaptation.

Leaders should take this seriously on a personal basis, and talk about what they do - and by so doing encourage their managers and their teams to do likewise.

David Clarke MBE, group chief executive cfficer, BCS, The Chartered Institute for IT