Posted by Robert Half on 05 June 2014
In a rapidly evolving IT sector, where new solutions and techniques are emerging all the time, professionals cannot afford to take their eye off the ball for a minute. Unless they remain up-to-date, learning new skills as they go, IT workers can quickly find themselves out of favour with prospective employees.
IT professionals need to be innovative thinkers, have current knowledge and technical capabilities, enabling them to harness the latest generation of products and solutions arriving on the market. So for ambitious individuals targeting the next opportunity, a firm commitment to continuing professional development or known as CPD, is absolutely vital. Anything else is potential career suicide.
What is CPD for IT professionals?
Continuing professional development is the organised continuation, improvement and broadening of knowledge, understanding and skills, as well as development of personal qualities necessary for professionals to maintain their working competence. As BCS, The Chartered Institute of IT, notes, this is "an essential component" of candidates' professionalism, rather than merely an add-on.
"To achieve your career ambitions in today's fast-changing IT world you need to commit to continuing professional development," BCS states. "You need to identify your development needs and then plan your development activities. Once you have completed these activities, you need to understand how you have benefited and reflect on how this has enhanced your capabilities and competencies."
Are IT pros receiving enough support?
IT professionals recognise the importance of updating their skills and knowledge, but they need to be supported in this aim by their employers. While it is the ultimate responsibility of each worker to further their own continuing professional development, this can be difficult without the necessary time and other resources. As they pursue training, coaching, mentoring opportunities, and target the necessary industry qualifications, IT pros need a certain level of support.
As such, the results of a recent BCS study are somewhat concerning for IT professionals. The institute found that 90% of employers and 91% of individuals see the value in continuing professional development, but many organisations are devoting fewer resources to it than in the past. Some 68% of survey respondents said they had seen a drop in the level of funding made available for continuing professional development- potentially jeopardising individuals' development programmes.
Is there a perception gap over CPD?
David Evans, membership director at BCS, suggested there is a growing gap between what employees and employers expect in terms of continuing professional development. Not only this, but responsibility for professional development is becoming increasingly blurred. He said this is being seen in the employer/employee scenario, but also in the freelance world. "Businesses often now ask for to contractors to have specific professional qualifications as well as relevant experience," Mr Evans noted.
This has implications for IT professionals seeking interim jobs in areas such as project management. With the number of highly-skilled professionals entering the freelance arena growing, candidates must be able to demonstrate an ongoing commitment to continuing professional development in order to compete for the best roles. As self-employed professionals, it is even more important that they are proactive - there is no permanent employer to encourage training and development.
The need to be proactive on CPD
Mr Evans said the IT profession is facing "a huge challenge", as short-term goals are driving a longer-term change in development behaviours. "Traditionally companies have given their employees time and resources to undertake continuing professional development-related activities, but this year 61% of employees have experienced a drop in the amount of time made available to them," he noted.
As BCS warns, continuing professional development can "all too frequently be pushed to the background in the busy workplace". IT professionals have a responsibility to themselves to make provision for professional development, but they do need support from their employers. With heavy workloads to content with, it can be difficult to make the time needed for CPD unless this is specifically ring-fenced.
Being proactive, in terms of requesting time and other resources to assist with continuing professional development, is the starting point. Having this conversation with an employer ensures that both parties are on the same page, and at least understand each other's attitudes and expectations. From here, it should be possible to develop a tailored plan which delivers continuing professional development, without creating an undue burden for their organisation.