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Life-long learning

Continuing professional development is embraced across all of the major professions as the career-long systematic acquisition of knowledge and skills. IMechE members will soon need to keep a record of their CPD activities

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Continuing professional development is a fundamental part of being a member of the institution, and the rules concerning it are to change in less than six months. From

1 January 2017, you could be asked to submit your CPD records for assessment by the institution, which will review them and provide feedback. The requirement to monitor CPD records was announced by the Engineering Council in 2015 and applies to all engineering institutions which will be required to sample a percentage of their registrants every year.

The aim is to ensure that all registrants are planning and reflecting upon their professional learning and development properly. The scheme affects registered engineering technicians, incorporated engineers and chartered engineers.

Rob Smith, chair of the institution’s Qualifications and Membership Board, says: “It’s incumbent on all of us as engineers to maintain and extend our professional competence. CPD is the mechanism by which we do that. It’s not only for the benefit of the profession that engineers are up-to-date, but also meets our duty to protect the public by providing the confidence that members are maintaining their competence. CPD extends knowledge and capabilities to be a more competent engineer and maintains professional excellence.”

Continuing professional development is now embraced by all the major professions. It’s widely understood to be the systematic acquisition of knowledge and skills throughout your career. According to the UK-SPEC for engineers, CPD has several purposes. As well as assuring competence, it enables you to move jobs more easily, supports longer-term career development, and enhances your overall professionalism. To put it simply, doing CPD properly will help progress your career.

So what counts towards CPD activities? The Engineering Council makes a distinction between informal and formal learning. The difference is often blurred, but Smith says a delineation can be made.

“The obvious CPD activity is to go on a training course,” he says. “But CPD should be more than that. It’s attending lectures, reading PE, taking part in extra-curricular activities. If you’re doing it to meet a specific requirement for your job, such as a training course to understand a new version of software, or self-learning about a new aspect of vehicle dynamics for instance, it’s formal CPD. Informal CPD may be things that don’t directly relate to your job, like attending a talk about a field unrelated to your own – or taking part in a school’s outreach programme.”

The overhaul of CPD is a result of work conducted between the Engineering Council and the institutions over several years. Although the research showed that most professional engineers believed they were ‘doing CPD’, they often weren’t planning their needs, recording what they were doing, or considering the learning outcomes. “The Engineering Council’s work shows that we are behind the curve. That professions like doctors and lawyers are more advanced. We’re playing catch up here,” says Smith.

Members will naturally already be fully aware that the by-laws of the institution stipulate that they have a responsibility to maintain their CPD, and, as Smith says, from a member’s viewpoint, there’s no change there, in 2017. Specifically, the change is that the Engineering Council will require each institution to sample a percentage of its registered members and review, assess and provide feedback about their CPD. The institution has also determined that it will sample 5% of its registered members.

Keep a record

The impact for the member is that they therefore need to keep a suitable record of their CPD, so that it can be audited.

The vital components of your CPD record are that it has to contain information about your CPD needs, what you’ve done to meet these needs and what the learning outcome of the activity was. The registrant will be asked to provide a year’s worth of CPD records. Unlike some other institutions, the IMechE is not mandating a quantitative system for CPD.

“The Engineering Council’s guidance is clear that CPD should be about reflective learning,” says Smith. “You undertake a piece of CPD and afterwards reflect on what was learnt and how it meets your needs or even identifies further needs. There’s no requirement for a points or hours system. Some institutions do, and that’s fine. But we think reflection is more important. Hours and points can be a narrow and misleading indicator of CPD.”

It may be the case that you already fulfil the CPD requirements through your company’s existing appraisal scheme and can simply provide this to the institution as your CPD record. “The Engineering Council and institution are keen that the recording of CPD is not an additional burden on top of training that engineers are already undertaking in work-based schemes,” says Smith. So, if you already keep your own CPD personal record, the institution can use that for the audit as long as it has the necessary components.

However, if you’re considering a refresh of the way you record your CPD activities, in light of the incoming changes, you may wish to use the latest version of the career developer online tool, which will be available on imeche.org later this month. The tool can be easily updated and also makes it easier for the institution to audit the records. The IMechE ran a pilot scheme in 2015 with 50 people to test the general principles, and later this year will run a more substantial test with 1,000 people, during which the online tool will be available to ensure that the institution is prepared for full implementation in 2017.

There are some situations where opting out of the monitoring will be possible. For example, if you’re not professionally active, retired, or if you’ve only become a member within the past two years. But perhaps the most pertinent question for an IMechE member is frequency. How often does the CPD record have to be updated? There’s no prescribed requirement.

Smith says: “The individual has to work out what works best for them. For someone who has significant development needs, it may be fairly frequent. For someone whose needs are fairly well-developed, it would likely be less.”

Get the habit

He adds: “The philosophy of reflective learning means it’s better to complete the record in a reasonable time after the event so you don’t forget the learning outcomes and any subsequent needs.”

Perhaps the best approach, suggests Smith, is to try to form a habit around completing your CPD record, so that it becomes routine. That could be doing it after you do your monthly expenses, or on the last Friday of every month. Whatever fits in best with your schedule and pattern of activity.

Anyone who isn’t recording their CPD should understand that this an issue that’s not going away. The Engineering Council has already stated that it wants to see mandatory recording of CPD in the near future, and work is ongoing to implement this. Implicit with mandatory recording will be sanctions, including potential loss of registration.

In this way CPD will become regarded as more than just a small requirement of being a professional engineer, and not meeting that requirement in the future could have consequences.

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