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To CPD or not to CPD? – the saga continues

Prof David Manning

David Manning, Professional Secretary, unburdens himself as he prepares to step down from high office…

Geoscientist Online 7 February 2011

In an earlier article in Geoscientist, I wrote about the importance of CPD, and my mailbox was full for days afterwards. This is an emotive subject, with opinions ranging from ‘I’m too senior to do CPD’ to ‘Where do I get started?’ All grist to the mill of the Professional Secretary’s life.

My time as Professional Secretary is nearly up, and I want to leave the CPD ship in good shape for my successor. With that in mind, this article builds on all the feedback that I have received, from Fellows, European Geologists, Chartered Geologists, Chartered Scientists, Scrutineers and others. Let’s not make a meal of CPD, but let us move forward to make it a normal part of our professional lives.

Why bother with CPD?

We never stop learning. The beauty of being a professional geologist is that there is always something new that comes along, and there are always new challenges. Our clients count on us to be sufficiently competent to cope with the unknown, and we are. So why don’t we record our growing competence for all to see – using the labels CGeol, CSci and EurGeol to give clients confidence that we are professional about keeping our skills up to date.

If you are working towards chartership, and if you are a CSci or EurGeol, you already face a requirement for the compulsory recording of CPD. For new CGeols, from 1st Jan 2011 it is a requirement that you also record CPD, bringing you into line with CSci. Obviously many CGeols already have the self-discipline required to keep their CPD records up to date, and that is commendable, and we hope that more will do this as time goes on.

What is CPD?

Well, it isn’t just attending courses, far from it. We have adopted the ‘plan-act-reflect’ approach that many encounter as part of an employer’s performance review process. The important thing is every year to think about what you want to achieve with the next 12 months, then to record activities that lead to those goals, and finally to reflect on what has been achieved. This iterative process allows each person individually to plan the development of their own career, taking into account personal ambition and circumstances.

How do I record CPD?

The Geological Society uses a web - based recording system. It might drive you mad at first, but it is what we have and what we use when validating the CPD record of CSci and EurGeol (this is an annual requirement of our licenses to award CSci and EurGeol). It isn’t as bad as many make out – even I can cope with it and my kids have written my IT skills off as antediluvian. So I am quite sure that you will be able to cope.

Once you have logged in (and make sure you remember your user name and password precisely – that’s what fools me!), you are guided through a points based system. We don’t want you to count the points like you might count those on your driving license – they are there as a guide, and if you fall short that is not an issue as long as your CPD aligns with what you have planned.

The first thing to do is to put down a brief plan for the year, depending on what you have in mind for your development. You can always come back to it and edit it – only you will read it until the CPD period is closed.

Then, the categories and activity types:
  1. Professional Practice: this is for those landmarks in your work that you can stand back from and say, yes, I gained something special from that. Perhaps it was your first experience as an expert witness. Perhaps the first time you had led a bid for a tender, whether or not successful. As an academic, I typically include work done on commercial projects, as these extend well beyond what is required in my day job and relate more closely to life outside the ivory tower.
  2. Formal learning, tested or untested: this is where courses are recorded. They might be technical, or they might relate to the development of management skills. They might include health and safety courses, off-road driving skills or other learning that builds ability to do a job.
  3. Informal learning: this includes attending talks and conferences, often not a requirement of the job but fully justifiable in terms of building knowledge.
  4. Self-directed study: this might include reading specifically about areas of geology that you know you need to keep up to date.
  5. Non-work activities: this category includes all the work that you do for the profession. You might be a member of the committee of your Regional Group or a Specialist Group, or you might be a Scrutineer. This is where you record service that keeps the professional alive and vibrant.
  6. Contributing to knowledge: here, you would record (for example) presentations that you have made, or papers that you have written or reviewed. The cap on the number of points means that academic researchers can’t use this for their entire CPD portfolio!

The aim of having the six activities is to give the opportunity to accumulate a diverse portfolio of CPD. It is best to record reasonable chunks of activity, rather than a long list of small items (for example, 1 hour a week spent reading one of the Society’s journals, with 52 entries at the end of the year – not the best use of the CPD system).

Finally, at the end of a year, you have chance to look back at the plan you set out when the year started and to reflect upon what has happened over the 12 month period. You can edit the plan as the year proceeds, but it can be useful to keep it as it is.

What about other performance reviews?

In your job, you might well already record material that could go into the Society’s record. That is fine. Use the workplace review as the starting point, and draw from that. It doesn’t take long to enter activity into our on-line system (an hour every three months in my case), especially as it is sufficiently intelligent to learn and remember repeated activities (so, if entered once you simply have to choose a specific activity from a pull-down menu).

What happens to my CPD record?

Well, it is there for you to use. You can keep a copy at any time, and it is useful for your own career development, for example when applying for promotion or a new job. The CPD record is confidential. We audit the CPD records of CSci and EurGeol, and they form part of an application to become a Scrutineer.

The key point about CPD is that we all do it and we as a Society want to be able to say that it is what our Fellows do. We want to demonstrate to the world that we are professionals. No-one is criticized about the content of their CPD record. The process is private to an individual, and is designed to help raise the game of the profession. Like many, I find a sense of pride when I look at a completed stint of my CPD activity – it is an opportunity to reflect on achievement, and to pace myself through my career.