Keep your career moving with Continuous Professional Development

Keeping pace with changes can help you stand out – and the rewards don't end there

Continuous professional development, or CPD, is an integral part of many career paths. Although the requirements vary, there are many professional and personal benefits to keeping up with your CPD, from honing skills to finding a new role.

Whether the aim is to improve within your current position or to give your CV added lustre, truly effective CPD is an ongoing process, explains Carilyn Clements, director of membership at the Chartered Institution of Building Services Engineers (CIBSE). "It is a long-term commitment," she says. "It means systematic maintenance, improvement and broadening of your skills year after year."

You can maintain and improve your knowledge in a range of ways. Organised learning via courses along with self-directed learning and reading within your area are common methods, but there are many others. "A lot of things can count as CPD," says Andrew Williams, head of professional qualifications at the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors. "Things like mentoring people in the workplace, being mentored or learning a new language for business."

Anyone looking to take stock of their level of CPD might want to start with reviewing any mandatory requirements that exist within their profession, as these can vary. Currently, for example, chartered surveyors must complete a minimum of 20 hours CPD a year, while the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons recommend an average of 35 hours a year.

However, the idea of CPD is just as relevant to those not accredited to professional bodies or working within industries where there are no formal requirements. Dr John McGurk, learning and talent development adviser at the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development points out that keeping your skills up-to-date is appropriate for anyone. "It's about making sure you've got the capability to remain effective," he says. "Your field will develop, and if you don't develop alongside it, you'll be left behind."

Keeping abreast with technical advances within your profession is just one of the benefits of staying in touch. "CPD is essential in a knowledge-based industry," says Guy Buckland, head of development at law firm Osborne Clarke. "The main point of differentiation from other firms is the quality of your people's knowledge, both technical and of their clients' industries. We know that our clients value that knowledge when they have to make business-critical decisions."

While self-directed learning can help with those technical skills, it also provides networking opportunities. "Networking is half the reason why people go to the organised courses," says Williams. "You'll get your peers turning up in numbers." Those extra contacts may also help career progression. "It's helpful when changing jobs. It's a competitive world, people are doing more to develop and gain a USP; they're looking for specialist skills to make them more competitive."

Self-improvement can help in other ways too – including reducing your stress levels. "Often staff feel stressed because they find themselves out of their comfort zones," says Claire Lister, owner and MD of Pitman Training Group. "CPD can help to top-up skills and short, flexible training courses mean people can fit this in around work. We've seen many people reduce their stress levels as a result."

Effective employees can only benefit an organisation, which means employers have a part to play in delivering CPD, according to McGurk. "It's a co-responsibility with employers," he says. "If employers want capable people then they must facilitate their development by paying fees, challenging them – supportively – to make sure they're developed and making courses available to them." Real initiative needs to come from the individual, though. "Your employer can't spoonfeed you. You have a responsibility to develop yourself."

McGurk also advocates reading widely, looking at key issues online and following people in your field via social media. To make sure you get the right kind of CPD for you now, Leisa Docherty, people services director at Sage UK, strongly suggests looking to the future. "We encourage our people to think about what they want to do, and find out what skill and experience is needed," she says. Docherty suggests working closely with a mentor, and talking to colleagues to enable you to pinpoint where your ambitions and skills gaps lie.

It's important that you don't stay in your comfort zone. "Choose CPD in an area you feel is not one of your strengths," says Jill Maddison, director of CPD at the Royal Veterinary College. "Consult with your employer and agree on CPD that will not just benefit the individual but benefit the practice." That means aiming for practical courses that challenge, while avoiding "clocking up hours".

As good CPD will help you analyse your performance and help you be more effective, it's worth taking the time to get right, adds Emma Snowden, head of Goldsmiths Teachers Centre. "Prioritise, and take time to explore what is needed," she says. "Then be proactive about communicating ideas to your employers. Be realistic but creative about what is available."

An effective CPD approach might even bring personal benefits, suggests McGurk. "There's a huge amount of self-esteem you can get from knowing that you're continuously learning. And if you're a learner you're more likely to be adaptable." This can only help shore up your career against the tides of a changing professional world and help identify opportunities ahead. "It's about the industry you work in and what it's going to need," says McGurk. "CPD provides a sustainable and more rewarding career."

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