Learning and development budgets are being cut, people are under pressure, but real and meaningful personal development is a major part of being a professional. BCS Membership Director David Evans MBCS asks, how do we reconcile this?

Maintaining currency in our sector has always been challenging, and it is so important to our Institute that it is enshrined in the code of conduct that all members sign up to.

However, our research shows that the professional development of our members is being squeezed more than ever by financial and time pressures, and by changing attitudes amongst employers.

Over 50 per cent of respondents found time pressure a barrier to continuing professional development (CPD), with one in three stating they have less time in their working day for CPD activities now than in previous years.

There is a silver lining, however. For many their employer was the main instigator and driver of their personal development, but ideally this is something that the individual should really be in control of. The challenge is to make that a transition to individual ownership and control rather than just a rugby pass into the void by the employer.

Historically, professional bodies have not always managed to provide the structures that support meaningful personal development. Systems of points or hours done won’t reflect benefit; we all know that a ten minute conversation or article can be an epiphany while the wrong training course at the wrong level can be a waste of valuable time. What matters is the outcome.

Our survey last autumn highlighted that many IT professionals struggle to identify both personal goals and the activities to support them. As it happens this was particularly the case for software engineers and service team leaders.

The IT profession clearly needs help with this; help that recognises how people work, what their needs are, and what really makes a difference. That is the challenge we are taking on in the membership team.

A new view of CPD

Our understanding of CPD needs, we believe, to evolve a bit. We need to widen our gaze to include a lot of the activities and encounters that naturally occur, such as reading a blog article, conversing with a colleague or mentor, or taking on a project with some new elements. People may be developing themselves more than they think.

A simple way to shore up personal development then, is simply to reflect on what is already being done; developing a mind set of recognising development helps bed in the outcome, and can build a habit of looking for more.

Reflection on outcomes at the time when something took place helps, and also over a period that makes sense to the individual. That makes it easier to identify what is making a difference and any obvious gaps.

If on top of those habits a person goes that little bit further and sets some goals and plans some bigger activities to meet them, we have some momentum! I personally believe that simple habits of reflection and light-touch planning will for many lead to a new level of freedom and control over working life and career. Even for those who already plan and do a lot of CPD these habits can help shape personal development, enrich it, and increase the benefit.

Our response

Having spent time looking at good practice (and issues) in other professions, talking to members, and doing some specific research, we have attempted to present our new vision for CPD in some guidance material and templates.

The Institute is by no means the only place to find development resources, but if you look through a CPD lens at what we do you’ll find a huge variety of resources that are available to members.

Each year there are around 700 opportunities for members to come together physically to network, share good practice and ideas, and work together. We have articles, blogs, forums, webinars, videos - including recordings of group meetings - reports and good practice notes, free books, discounted books, professional certifications and career tools.

This week I myself have logged in and used the Browse SFIAplus tool available to members in our secure area, and watched an interview with Jose Casal, Chair of the Agile Methods Specialist Groups, as he talked about some of the challenges organisations face in adopting agile methods.

All of this can be found at www.bcs.org/cpd, which is a sign-posting page we have put together containing our new guidance material and a wide range of resources that are regularly updated to show what is available or coming up in the Institute that might provide a development opportunity.

Everyone’s needs will vary, but hopefully there will be something for everyone. Since putting this together we have seen an increase in traffic of 400 per cent compared with what was previously there, and people are staying 57 per cent longer. That’s good, but we want a great deal more.

It is also worth mentioning that SFIA, the Skills Framework for the Information Age, is a vital underpinning for our standards as an Institute, and a fantastic map of the skills and competencies in IT. If someone is struggling to set goals, this can really help, and we have some high value tools and information in the secure area that members can access.

With the CPD portal established, our next focus was on how IT professionals record their CPD. Our research showed that there were three core elements that an effective CPD recording tool needed to address: convenience, flexibility and relevance.

IT professionals need a solution that can be accessed as close to the point of need (especially close to the point of delivery of CPD activities) as possible. A cloud-based solution that can be used on a PC, tablet device or smartphone, at a desk or on the move, is the obvious choice. A tool that will actually be used needs to facilitate the recording and maintaining of CPD activities as they are being planned and executed, and the recording of development goals as they are identified.

A flexible solution that allows the user to create their own fields for data storage (in addition to standard fields supplied), prioritise the data entry fields they will use, and is not overly restrictive is needed, so ensuring the solution can be tailored for specific user needs.

The solution also needs to be relevant to the IT profession and how it will be used, allowing the SFIA framework to be followed (if desired by the user) and allowing the output of data recorded within it to be exported or output via a report.

This solution, the BCS Personal Development Plan, is planned to be launched in April and is being tested now. In addition to the above features, it is also designed to help individuals follow the reflective learning approach, prompting them to reflect upon achievements and how they have brought benefit.

The BCS Personal Development Plan will offer a portable development record that belongs totally to the individual; staying with them as they move contracts or employers. The tool is aimed at recording throughout a career, and can be used to present what the individual wants for appraisals and reviews to gain recognition for commitment to CPD.

Keeping the individual in control while facilitating interactions with manager, colleagues and clients is a key principle of our design. We look forward to telling you more about this exciting new facility in the next edition of ITNOW.

The response we want

We want members to develop themselves; at the risk of melodrama, the world needs us to. We also want members to encourage others to develop themselves. As well as undertaking personal development, tell others about it, show them what you have learned and how, spread the vision; model and spread the values we share of professionalism. Also, tell us what you think and what you’re doing.

Find out more at: www.bcs.org/cpd