Professional development builds a better workforce

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Having extra skills in your employment arsenal has never been so important. Here are some arguments in favor of ongoing continuing education that go beyond the need for meeting annual licensing requirements. This article is reprinted from our UK sister site, TrainingZone, but contains much information that is relevant to the U.S. audience.

Against a backdrop of rising unemployment and fierce competition for the jobs that are available, it is important that individuals stand out from the crowd and are able to prove the positive impact that they make to an organization. To ensure you are able to impact on an organization's performance you need to constantly look at how you can develop and improve. A key way of achieving this is by undertaking professional qualifications. After all, individuals have a responsibility to keep their knowledge and skills up to date.

Professional development should be accessible to anyone, no matter what the previous level of formal qualifications; everyone has the opportunity to build the transferable skills that organizations are looking for. So, it is worrying that just one in five managers in the UK is professionally qualified. How are we supposed to successfully emerge from the recession with organizations full of accidental managers?

These are people who are leading a team as a result of meeting targets, not because they have the skills and knowledge to manage effectively. While there are elements of management that can and should be learned and developed on the job, for managers to be successful in the long term, this experience needs to be complimented by continuous professional education.

Obviously the recession is hugely negative, but if we are to draw a positive, it is that it can provide the perfect opportunity for professional development and it seems that managers are beginning to recognize this. Research from the Chartered Management Institute (CMI) published in late 2008 shows 74 percent of individuals think qualifications are growing in importance and 35 percent are planning to take up a new qualification to help them survive the recession. A further 22 percent have resolved to build transferable skills, move jobs or prepare for redundancy. This means that, despite the economic conditions, it is clear that individuals are not only prepared to move if the right opportunity presents itself, but are increasingly realizing the benefits of continuously developing their management skills.

Transferable skills and the portability that they offer are of huge benefit to both individuals and the organizations they work for. Individuals with management qualifications have a broad base of management knowledge, applicable in a wide range of contexts. This means that they are able to transfer their skills between different jobs and challenges both within and across organizations. This proves to employers that individuals are adaptable and capable of taking on broad new roles. So, it is unsurprising that such qualifications are becoming a fundamental way in which employers choose between candidates. After all, managers with professional qualifications are more likely to be noticed by potential employers because of the positive impact on business they are able to demonstrate.

The benefits of Continuing Professional Development

The benefits for individuals of Continuing Professional Development (CPD) are huge. Not only does it provide a career passport because of the portable skills developed, but is also has substantial financial rewards. UK Labour Force Survey data from 2008 shows that individuals that hold a professional qualification can expect to receive £81,000 (US$126,000) in additional earnings over the period of their career. The same data also found that those with both professional membership and qualifications are 9 percent more employable.

Another reason CPD is extremely worthwhile is it goes a long way to recession proofing individuals. This is because professional qualifications are not just about learning in isolation. They focus on the practical application of the skills learned to enable the skills to be taken straight back to the workplace. However, it is not just individuals that benefit, CPD can play a vital role in an organization's talent management program. Those organizations that offer professional development are more likely to retain their top talent and build for the future, which in the current climate is of great importance.

Further CMI research found that one in five managers describe themselves as not very motivated, with 37 percent blaming this de-motivation on the lack of opportunities for progression within their organizations. It is also worth noting that 23 percent are dissatisfied with the training offered by their employers. So, by giving managers the opportunity to undertake recognized professional qualifications, organizations will be helping to motivate their staff. CMI research has found that 60 percent of employers think that giving employees the chance to study will improve motivation. This ultimately translates into improved efficiency and productivity. Also, because managers are being exposed to best practice techniques, their confidence in their abilities will increase, which again will have a positive impact on organizational performance and their standard of management.

It is clear that continuously developing management and leadership skills reaps numerous personal and professionally rewards. Employers also stand to gain by encouraging CPD among their staff members. Professional development makes an individual’s working life more interesting, which in turn increases job satisfaction, meaning that the organization benefits from highly motivated and productive staff members. This is something that is priceless, especially during times of recession. Yes, there is an issue of financing qualifications as CPD is an expensive commitment, but wider research shows that professional training is a valuable addition to remuneration packages. Organizations have a key role to play in helping manager’s up-skill and if they can help these individuals dig deep and develop skills, it will drive productivity. Now, more than ever is the time to invest wisely, especially in professional development, because if organizations think the cost of competence is expensive, then they should consider the cost and implications of incompetence.

Ruth Spellman OBE is chief executive of the UK-based Chartered Management Institute

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