UK: IM SOUNDING BOARD - IT'S TIME TO LEARN TO HELP YOURSELF. - Much of what I was brought up to believe in my formative years - the concept of the job for life and the notion that one key qualification would stand you in good stead for future employment

by Roger Young, Director general of the Institute ofManagement.
Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

Much of what I was brought up to believe in my formative years - the concept of the job for life and the notion that one key qualification would stand you in good stead for future employment - has been consigned to the history books.

As organisations have delayered and restructured, individuals can no longer rely on employment with one company for their entire working lives. Careers will inevitably include periods of unemployment in between periods of stable employment, self-employment and self-development. To survive in today's changing employment market, individuals have to maintain their employability.

Training and development needs to be a lifelong process. Individuals wishing to ensure their employability no longer have the option of sitting on their laurels, counting on the value of the degree or professional qualification they obtained at the outset of their careers. The key to success is continuing professional development (CPD)and those who fail to act and react will only have themselves to blame. Now is the time for those who care about their future employment to do something about it and help themselves.

Continuing professional development is the process of planned, continuing development of individuals throughout their career. It involves a commitment and the necessary resources from the individual, the employer and professional institutions. It includes the elements of planned professional and personal development, the acquisition of knowledge, the enhancement of skills and their assessment. The advent of portfolio careers, as envisaged by Charles Handy, has served to emphasise the need to maintain and improve upon current levels of competence and to keep up-to-date with change - ranging from technological advances, environmental factors and economic conditions to legislative demands and increasing competitive pressures. Individuals need to be prepared to change direction during their career. They may have to undertake several roles at the same time, on a part-time or contract basis.

he lM's research on long-term employment strategies, published in October, confirms that flexible employment, with particular emphasis on the use of part-time, temporary or contract staff, is now integral to organisational strategy. Almost nine in 10 major employers now use part-time or temporary workers with 70% contracting out non-core operations; this clearly confirms the trend away from the traditional patterns of full-time core employment towards a wholly flexible employment market.

Clearly there is a need for professional bodies, such as the Institute of Management, to prepare individuals for the challenges that lie ahead. Managers need to anticipate change, learning to thrive on it, not fear it. The IM can guide people in the right direction, but cannot make them do what they don't want to do. Managers can be their own worst enemies, failing to practise what they preach - too many fail to consider their own developmental needs, while insisting that their staff undergo regular training and development activities.

As an institute, we have consistently encouraged the concepts of lifelong learning at every level of management. If the UK is to keep within sight of its competitors, it needs to encourage CPD within its organisations.

To adapt a well known adage - you can lead a manager to a business school, but you can't make him study. The essence of CPD cannot be forced on anyone - it has to be undertaken on a voluntary basis. Managers must take responsibility for assessing their own development needs. Clearly, individual needs will vary greatly according to personal circumstances; some will arise through changed job roles, others, for example, will become known through appraisal or self-assessment.

A variety of activities can be undertaken to satisfy individual needs. One of the most common misconceptions is that CPD is all about inputs of study - attending lectures, courses and meetings. Professional development can, of course, involve intensive training courses, but informal and on-the-job activities are often equally, if not more, effective.

ome professional bodies have chosen to define CPD based on the input concept of learning with points allocated for attendance. However, course attendance does not demonstrate development; it provides no evidence of increased knowledge. The IM believes that a wider range of developmental activities should be undertaken, with emphasis placed on the outcomes, which can be quantified and assessed. The precise content and pace of development can only be decided upon by individuals, often in conjunction with their employer. A standard prescription cannot effectively be used for everyone - it is like saying that proprietary medicines will cure all ills.

Organisations must create learning environments, giving employees the opportunity for development. In the IM's annual submission to the Chancellor of the Exchequer, ahead of this month's budget statement, we stressed that if the UK is to achieve and sustain world-class standards, greater emphasis should be placed on lifelong learning, with a partnership approach between employees and organisations.

The Government also has a significant role to play in encouraging individuals to invest in their own development. The introduction of career development loans is a step in the right direction but it is simply not enough. Three-quarters of managers recently surveyed by the IM believe that individuals should be eligible for tax relief in respect of all vocational and career-based training provided by accredited providers. Despite having national training targets, the skill levels of our workforce continue to lag behind those of our competitors. Almost 60% of managers see skills shortages as the biggest threat to the economic prosperity of UK businesses.

Training and development needs to be viewed as an investment and not a cost. We all need to develop our skills continually, to update and improve our knowledge and understanding. Continuing professional development is the passport to employability for which we are all eligible. My message to you all is crystal clear - if at first you don't succeed, your successor will.

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