Continuing professional development: how has it worked for you?

Our research, with members of the Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire branch of the CIPD, sought to investigate members' attitudes to and engagement with CPD, and how these were related to a range of variables

The past decade has seen an upsurge of interest in continuing professional development (CPD) for all professional groups in the academic and practitioner literature. This is hardly surprising given the rapidly changing workplace and, in the case of HR, the changing nature of the profession itself.

Research in the late 1990s indicated that while CIPD members were convinced of the benefits of CPD, they were less convinced of the immediate rewards (such as promotion).

Our research, with members of the Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire branch of the CIPD, sought to investigate members' attitudes to and engagement with CPD, and how these were related to a range of variables.

We found that the value attached to CPD was high, but this did not necessarily translate into levels of participation. There was no strong correlation between the perceived value of CPD and the updating strategies we suggested. The most popular updating strategies were informal, related to job role, emphasising organisational-procedural aspects rather than professional knowledge. Some widely promoted strategies, such as reflective diaries or online media, were hardly used, and there was little emphasis on courses and qualifications. Respondents were more positive about targets and recording than previous research had indicated, but some highlighted challenges in identifying CPD opportunities, especially if self-employed.

Twenty per cent of respondents identified "strategic HRM" as a CPD priority. Only two variables had an impact on the perceived value of CPD: professional commitment and sex. The more professionally committed the respondents – especially women – are, the more likely they will value CPD. Other variables, such as past career success, perceptions of future employability, position in the company, graduate status, and professional membership, hardly had any influence.

So what are the implications of this for the CIPD? The findings relating to the perceived value of CPD and actual engagement suggest that CIPD members need to understand how to extend learning opportunities into the wider professional domain, and to broaden sources of learning. The CIPD needs to consider the extent to which members realistically can engage with CPD, and to incentivise strategies such as e-learning.

Our data suggests that members look for rewards for participating in CPD. The answer could be to sell CPD in terms of professional credibility and employability; to recognise the link to HRD; and to promote CPD as being of benefit to organisations.

Research needs to address gender issues, to include a measure of ambition, and to consider the reflective processes that maximise the value of learning.

We believe that given the increasing complexity of working life, the "push" for CPD is likely to increase, becoming more of a research priority in the future.

Key points

  • Most CPD is related to the immediate job rather than the wider profession.
  • Women place a significantly higher value on CPD than men.
  • Members value CPD because they are committed professionals rather than because they see career outcomes related to it.

Reference

This research was first published in Human Resource Management Journal, 15(3):18-32, 2005.