'You must take what you learn back to your work'

According to research for the Consultative Committee for Professional Management Organisations (CCPMO), people working in HR who hold professional qualifications and membership stand to gain £152,000 in additional earnings over the course of their career.

With more than 135,000 members, the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) is Europe's largest HR professional body. While their qualifications are not mandatory to practice in the field, the CIPD runs a range of courses and conferences across the UK that are designed to further the HR professionals' development. They say these are respected and sought after by employers – and that's a belief supported by the CCPMO's findings.

Vanessa Robinson, head of HR practice development, says: "A CIPD qualification gives a certain status and indicates a standard, but because the world of HR continually moves and changes, we also stress the importance of ongoing continuing professional development (CDP) to make sure skills, knowledge and experiences stay relevant."

Karen Ver, learning and technology manager at the institute, says: "I've been at the CIPD for 16 years in seven different jobs, and I've been actively encouraged throughout to set out a development plan that suits my individual needs, and also fits in with the organisation strategy."

The CIPD currently funds Ver's Masters in blended and online education. "My course enables me to be more creative and effective. It benefits the company because I pass what I'm learning through to the programmes they offer to the public and members," she explains.

BPP Business School also delivers professional qualifications. There's the Masters in HR management and a range of postgraduate diplomas and certificates. Professor Chris Brady, dean of BPP, explains: "We try to provide both the specific skills that companies wants, and a professional qualification, or a step towards one, that adds value for the employee. That means people on our courses get quality, targeted training, but they also get something they can put on their CV."

Wendy Smith, programme leader at BPP, adds: "We're passionate about having ex-practitioners as our lecturers; they can relate to the academia and bring it to life. HR professionals have got to be able to take what they learn as part of their CPD back to real situations in the workplace."

That relevance is crucial for Maya Forrester, HR officer at the Honourable Society of Middle Temple. Forrester has an Masters in human resource management, and regularly attends free seminars on employment law, run by solicitors firms. "My Masters certainly broadened my knowledge and expertise, but I haven't found it practically useful in my day-to-day job," she says. The seminars, meanwhile, are well-attended, useful and enjoyable. "In the best events, you break off into groups after the lecture to discuss it with an employment law specialist. I usually learn a lot and they're a good networking opportunity," she adds.

But Forrester's CPD is broader than courses and seminars. "I read relevant publications and newsletters, and I always keep an eye out for news – even when I'm just reading the paper. I'm part of an email network of HR professionals too, which works like an internet forum. If someone has a question or a problem, they'll email and people from different areas of HR will respond. There are recruitment consultants, employment lawyers, HR consultants and so on," she says.

Robinson agrees: "CPD is about keeping up with what's going on within the profession. For our members, we've developed a new online tool called My HR Map, which helps people at all levels of their career build a picture of where they are and how they might progress. That could be reading books, attending courses, going to conferences; all sorts of things." Some 14,000 CIPD members have explored My HR Map so far.

"To me, CPD is ongoing," Forrester concludes. "It happens through having an awareness of changes and developments within HR, as well as through courses and events."