Graeme Savage, Managing Director of The CPD Certification Service - the UK's largest independent accrediting body for Continuing Professional Development - explains the historical background, current trends and likely future direction of CPD policies across the public and private sectors.
Tell us a little bit about the history of CPD. How long has the concept been around and how would you define it?
The concept of CPD can broadly trace its roots to the decades following World War II, when institutional bodies identified a need for structured further learning post formal qualification. Up until this point it had largely been assumed that qualified professionals would identify and initiate their knowledge enhancement requirements on a casual or voluntary basis. However, in an increasingly litigious and technologically advancing business and professional environment, the need became apparent for a more disciplined and structured approach to further learning. Over the past two decades this commitment to CPD has spread beyond those affiliated to institutional bodies and is now embraced throughout all sectors.
You founded The CPD Certification Service in 1996. What led you to do so?
The CPD Certification Service originated solely in the UK construction industry. Those responsible for the specification and selection of building products and materials had always been heavily reliant upon the technological expertise of organisations developing and designing those materials. In common with most other industries, the commercial sector invested significant financial resources in marketing the benefits of their wares to their prospective customer base (invariably by means that were unrequired or unwanted by that customer base). Inevitably, these communications and messages carried little perceived value. CPD, on the other hand, carried and continues to carry a strong perception of value and integrity in the eyes of the audience. The CPD Certification Service therefore established a mechanism whereby commercial organisations could convey further learning opportunities in an impartial and largely generic environment and consequently contribute to an individual’s CPD objectives.
Do you think there is enough clarity regarding what counts as CPD in different professional fields?
Most institutional bodies will publish both a CPD option plan and agenda for their members. Generally, however, they will not be particularly prescriptive as to the topics required as the onus for personal further learning is left very much in the hands of the individual. Employers, on the other hand, will often take a more defined approach to the benefits of skill enhancement within their particular business.
Neither group will tend to evaluate or dictate the quality of proposed CPD material and, in many instances, are not particularly well qualified to do so. As a result, it is relatively easy for an organisation or individual to present commercial messages as ersatz CPD. The CPD Certification Service provides a solution to this challenge through a rigorous and impartial assessment process which has been established from the outset. The CPD Service’s Member and Certified symbols offer both CPD provider and consumer alike the reassurance that the material concerned achieves the qualitative standards required by both parties.
Some professions appear to be moving away from the concept of CPD. Solicitors, for example, will be able to opt-out of their existing CPD scheme starting in April 2015. Why do you think this is and what is your reaction to this decision?
The example you raise is to the best of my knowledge an isolated case and is quite contrary to the norm. It is not possible to speculate upon the reasoning for this, but the decision may have something to do with the administrative burden attributed to CPD within the relevant institutional organisation. Anecdotal evidence suggests that solicitors in private practice are not only proactive consumers of certified CPD material, but are increasingly embracing CPD at the forefront of their own marketing strategies. It is also perhaps worth noting that institutional affiliation throughout all sectors is largely in decline and that institutional membership is more often driven for commercial rather than regulatory motivation.
Aside from this example, what are the main trends currently affecting policies and attitudes towards CPD?
CPD broadly has four principal drivers: The institutes (although they are slowly becoming less relevant); less significant again are the pronouncements of the political establishment. They are nonetheless fully signed up to the concept – witness Tony Blair’s over quoted ‘Education, Education, Education’. The two principal and increasingly relevant drivers for CPD in the twenty-first century are undoubtedly the employer and the individual wishing to enhance his or her personal skills and their relevance in an increasingly complex workplace.
How much does the uptake of CPD vary between industries? Are there any that have been particularly fast or particularly slow to adopt and develop CPD policies?
CPD within any aspect of the public sector is pretty much mandatory for all staff in all industries. Health and Education are prevalent but this also extends throughout all sections of central and local government. Private sector CPD is equally embedded within both the corporate and individual psyches. The CPD index on our website contains over 200 industry sectors and sub sectors all including details of certified CPD material available. We would not claim that this is fully comprehensive but it does at least suggest the size, scope and relevance of CPD to all sectors both in the UK and internationally.
How are you developing your own services and where do you see your work taking you in the future?
During the past few years, we have invested heavily in adding value enhancements to services for our members and for the CPD market at large. Our website is firmly established as the central information centre for matters relating to CPD. With this very much in mind, a vastly enhanced website will be launched over the coming months. We see our role to inform and educate as equal to our commercial objectives. Practising what we preach, as you might say.