No Image Available


Read more from TrainingZone

googletag.cmd.push(function() { googletag.display(‘div-gpt-ad-1705321608055-0’); });

European Professionals and CPD


Europe - Workplace for competent professionals with CPD
(Europa - Arbeitsplatz kompetenter Fachleute mit permanenter Weiterbildung)

by Graham Guest

A version of this paper was presented at the it works symposium with the theme Die Techniker bewegen die Welt…wie machen sie das? (Technicians move the world…how do they do that?) held by Swiss Technologists TS/ET/ST in Basel, Switzerland, on 15 June 2001.

Technological and Organisational Change

It is not so long ago that a person joining a company - particularly a large organisation - could expect a job for life. The way into a company for a professional was through a period of academic study followed by, or combined with, structured training. After this the individual would generally follow a clearly defined path of progression in his or her chosen field of employment. Continuing professional development (CPD) was regarded at best as an optional extra to be undertaken according to the needs or wishes of the individual or to meet some short-term requirements of the company. At worst CPD was felt not to be important and additional training was given at random to use up training budgets or to make staff feel that they were wanted.

It has become a cliché to talk about the rapid changes in technology and business over recent years, but the pace of such changes is indeed breathtaking. Personal computers and mobile phones are commonplace items in the so-called developed world. Video on demand is already a reality, so that we can watch what we want when we want rather than relying on broadcasters to provide us with limited choices. Health services require more and more investment as patients demand increasingly sophisticated high-technology solutions to medical problems. We can access our bank statements and make money transfers while climbing the north face of the Eiger – such is civilisation!

Hand in hand with technological advances goes the introduction of new organisational models: for example the learning organisation (Senge, 1990) or the centreless corporation (Pasternack and Viscio, 1998). Companies or management gurus invent new terms for sacking people: downsizing or right-sizing. And even the very concept of an organisation is being challenged; the latest buzz-word is "networks" (Hutton, 2001), suggesting that individuals no longer have long-term loyalty to a single organisation, but carry out different projects with different groups of people. An individual's first responsibility is to herself and then to the networks of which she is a member. This apparent selfishness has another, more benign, face because we cannot survive alone in the new business environment, but only as interdependent members of mutual structures, however fluid. The "cathedral", with its clearly defined but restrictive hierarchies, has given way to the "bazaar", where we operate in a more chaotic yet freer system (Raymond, 1999).

So today’s key messages are that change is not something we can ignore; there is no longer such a thing as a job for life; learning does not stop after initial education and training; and to survive and prosper in the 21st century individuals must take responsibility for themselves and their own CPD.

Learning and CPD

Different professions have different ideas about what constitutes CPD, but we could start with this definition:

The systematic maintenance and improvement of knowledge, skills and competence, and enhancement of learning, undertaken by a person throughout his or her working life.

(Die systematische Erhaltung und Entwicklung von Wissen, Fertigkeiten und Kompetenzen einer Person sowie die Förderung ihrer Lernbereitschaft während des ganzen Berufslebens.)

It is easy to assume, as I pointed out earlier, that CPD is just a matter of attending training courses off the job. But it is much more than that. The key to CPD is learning and this comes about in different ways. Learning can be formal, non-formal and informal. Formal learning is learning gained through structured courses run by education or training establishments, such as universities or colleges; usually a certificate, diploma or degree is awarded on successful completion. Non-formal learning is learning gained through programmes run by organisations whose prime purpose is not the provision of learning, such as the corporate learning centre in a company; a certificate may or may not be awarded. Informal learning is learning gained in an unstructured way in the course of one’s work or outside it; this is sometimes referred to as incidental learning and is, by its very nature, not usually subject to certification.

A person can demonstrate his formal, and usually his non-formal, CPD with a certificate of some sort, but it is important, particularly in the new networked world where the focus is on the individual, for him to be able also to demonstrate his informal learning. How can this be done, bearing in mind that it is possible to learn in this way without being aware of it? In my role as a coach I sometimes ask a person what she has learned in connection with her profession during the past twelve months. Often the answer is, "Well nothing really; I've been too busy and haven't been on any courses." I might then ask about a project that the person has been involved with and she will proceed to explain how she brought a team of people together, coached them in certain skills, worked out a strategy, dealt with budgets, put in place software to model the project, researched into legal aspects of the project in relation to the client company, and so on. As the person tells this story she begins to realise, with a mixture of pleasure and amazement, just how much she has learned without being aware of it.

Facets of CPD

As well as being able to identify and measure CPD, both for our own purposes as professionals and in order to demonstrate it to others, we need to plan and record it. These issues are being addressed at local, regional, national and international levels, not only by individuals, companies and educational establishments, but also by trade unions, training organisations and professional bodies.

Unfortunately CPD is an area in which there has been much "reinvention of the wheel". Instead of investigating systems that have already been designed, developed and put in place, many organisations have tended to start from the beginning. There is evidence though to suggest that this situation is changing and we are beginning to see more co-operation and more generic approaches to CPD. One organisation adopting a co-operative approach is the European Higher Engineering and Technical Professionals Association (EurEta). EurEta has set out in a leaflet (2001) its role in CPD under five headings:

Provision: It is important for organisations to consider to what extent they are able to provide CPD themselves and to what extent they should work with other bodies on CPD provision. EurEta's aim is to collaborate with other organisations to make available to registrants access to various sources of CPD through a number of channels, not least the internet.

Accreditation and Evaluation: The structures needed to accredit and evaluate informal CPD in particular are complex, and co-operation between professional bodies can save much time and money, helping to avoid duplication of effort. Computerised systems are being introduced to ease the work-load involved in these processes. Ways of accrediting and evaluating CPD are being investigated by EurEta, which is consulting other organisations about developing joint mechanisms for these processes.

Definition and Planning: General guidelines on CPD are being developed by EurEta, in consultation with other bodies, to enable registrants to plan their careers as effectively as possible. The individual can ask himself or herself five questions as part of a learning plan: 1. Where have I been in relation to CPD? 2. Where am I now? 3. Where do I want to be? 4. How will I get there? 5. How will I know when I have arrived? EurEta will assist registrants with more detailed aspects of their planning through a Europe-wide network of CPD co-ordinators.

Recording and Demonstrating: A mechanism to enable registrants to record and demonstrate their CPD in hard-copy form, on diskette and on the internet is a valuable resource, and EurEta is working with the designers of EuroRecord, the European Professional Record of Achievement for the Engineering Industry.

Promotion: EurEta will continue to promote CPD generally and help to make registrants, National Members, National Members in Development and Supporting Members more aware of innovations and developments.

Coaching and Mentoring

The internet is proving to be invaluable in many areas of CPD. It is an almost boundless source of information and knowledge and a key tool for the facilitation of learning. Individuals have potentially unlimited access, but from a CPD perspective this has its dangers. For true learning to take place information needs to be transmuted into knowledge, and knowledge must be combined with skills and competence. People are increasingly less willing to be passive recipients of training or instruction, but if they are to be effective professionals they still need guidance. New forms of guidance are being put in place as old-style hierarchical structures dissolve. Training, management and other "mechanistic" approaches are giving way to coaching and mentoring, which involve dialogue rather than instruction, and where the focus is on the individual professional.

Many professional institutions in the United Kingdom operate mentoring systems for their members. Younger members can be appointed a mentor who offers advice and guidance towards achieving higher professional status within the institution. The mentor can play a valuable role in helping the mentee keep a personal development plan to record what has been achieved and learned, and identify appropriate career routes, including relevant future learning.

A mentor

 is a wise and trusted counsellor

 is suitably experienced

 has usually travelled the mentee's path

 acts as a confidential adviser and guide

 stimulates professional development

Murphy (1995) questions the whole concept of management. He says that even now most managers don't yet understand how manipulative most human resource approaches are and how such approaches invisibly undermine their very purpose: excellent performance. He calls for a change from managing people to coaching them.

The coaching relationship

 involves mutual commitment, trust and respect

 encourages freedom of expression

 is pragmatic in employing useful models

 recognises differences between coach and client

 is process-oriented and avoids "techniques"

 is reciprocal, with both coach and client learning

Lifelong Learning

Another old certainty that is being questioned is the division between work and leisure. Some people feel overwhelmed by their work and in many organisations stress levels are high. There is much talk now about the so-called work/life balance. This is not the place to philosophise about the nature of work, but it is worth noting that some people solve the work/life balance problem not by defining the boundaries between work and leisure more clearly, but by blurring them. So personal development and professional development become interconnected. In this context continuing professional development is part of the broader concept of lifelong learning. This issue is addressed by the working group on lifelong learning and continuing education in engineering of the European Society for Engineering Education (SEFI) (Padfield et al., 1998). It is worth quoting from their report to see how one pan-European engineering body describes essential "lifelong learning skills".

A fully effective "adult learner", it says, is able, fluently and without external direction, to:

 audit and assess what they already know and can do

 work out, at a level of detail that will differ from individual to individual, a career and a learning development plan

 integrate, into their learning, acknowledgement of their need for continuing personal development in the private as well as the professional realms

 understand the qualities of different kinds of knowing, of understanding, and of skills and competences; how the different kinds of knowledge inter-relate and reinforce each other

 reflect upon their knowledge, establishing links between different kinds of knowledge, and formulating relevant theoretical constructs to explain it

 conduct research into elements of professional knowledge, practice and competence that lie within the context of their work, in pursuit of solutions to "problems of the day", personal professional development, and (more generally) the development of their profession.

Die Techniker bewegen die Welt…wie machen sie das?
(Technicians move the world…how do they do that?)

To summarise, we are moving away from hierarchies and traditional management structures, into which the individual was too often subsumed, towards new systems of work and learning, where the individual is at the centre playing a pro-active role in his or her professional – and personal – development. This breaking down of old structures is a global phenomenon and is taking place in politics and government too. Each of us has his or her own view about international organisations in general and the future of Europe in particular.

Some of us are keen on a single currency and others less so. If our country is in the European Union we might want it out, and if it's out we might want it in. Some of us are Europeans first and citizens of a country second, while others are primarily Londoners, Bavarians, Flemings or Catalans. Some of us think that London is a country anyway and that nothing else matters, and others think, like Groucho Marx, that "I wouldn’t join any club that would have me as a member!" But the engineers and technicians of today, whatever their political philosophy, are indeed members of interconnected global networks, one of which is Europe.

So if, as an engineer or technician, I arm myself with a collection of buzz-words and say, "I am a networker who takes responsibility for his own CPD and personal development, supported by coaches and mentors, in an increasingly non-hierarchical global society", my listeners would no doubt be speechless long enough for me at least to begin to move the world!


EurEta (2001) Continuing Professional Development. Zürich: European Higher Engineering and Technical Professionals Association.

Hutton, W. "The Network Economy", ICPD Newsletter, January 2001. London: The Institute of Continuing Professional Development.

Murphy, K. (1995) "Generative Coaching: A Surprising Learning Odyssey" in Chawla, S. and Renesch, J. (Eds.) Learning Organizations: Developing Cultures for Tomorrow’s Workplace. Portland, Oregon: Productivity Press.

Padfield, C. et al. (1998) Lifelong Learning in Engineering Education: A Call to Action. SEFI Document No. 20. Brussels: European Society for Engineering Education.

Pasternack, B. A. and Viscio, A. J. (1998) The Centerless Corporation. New York: Simon & Schuster.

Raymond, E. S. (1999) The Cathedral & The Bazaar: Musings on Linux and Open Source by an Accidental Revolutionary. Sebastopol, California: O’Reilly.

Senge, P. M. (1990) The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of the Learning Organization. London: Century Business.

For further information contact Graham Guest ([email protected]).

Back to ICPD.


Get the latest from TrainingZone.

Elevate your L&D expertise by subscribing to TrainingZone’s newsletter! Get curated insights, premium reports, and event updates from industry leaders.


Thank you!