Drawing on experience

Does continuing professional development (CPD) have a purpose for volunteers and people without professional qualifications? Absolutely, says Kate Halliday, who explains how to get started.

Read the full article in June 2018 issue of DDN

What is CPD?
Continuing professional development (CPD) describes the process of documenting the skills, knowledge and experience that we gain as we work, and how we apply this learning. This can include formal learning (a training course for example) and informal learning (observing a colleague or taking part in a meeting). The important aspect of CPD is that the learning is recorded somehow. For many this may be a physical folder of evidence, though increasingly CPD is recorded electronically.

What is the point of CPD?
Recording what you learn, how you learn it, and how you apply it, can help you develop as a practitioner and improve your skills and knowledge, providing a better service for clients. This in turn helps you develop your career, and it helps your employer deliver services.

What is the difference between CPD and training?
The terms ‘training’ and ‘CPD’ are often used interchangeably, but they are different. On the whole, training describes a linear and formal process with the aim of learning a specific skill or area of knowledge. Development is often informal and describes the ability to move from basic ‘know how’ to more advanced and complex application of skills and knowledge. So you may receive training on how to complete an assessment. You can evidence development when you complete a complex assessment, perhaps with the support of a colleague.

Is CPD only important for people with professional qualifications?
No! It is true that many professional bodies (such as the Health and Care Professional Council) require their members to have completed a specified number of hours of CPD to remain a member or become accredited. But there is great value in non-qualified practitioners, including volunteers, keeping a log of their CPD. There are a number of ways this can help:

  • You can begin to identify the areas you have knowledge, skills and experience in, and identify the areas you need to learn more about. If you are a volunteer who is interested in getting employment in the field, then this can be especially useful in helping gain the experience and learning you need to get a job. I have seen people use their CPD record effectively in the interview process by letting employers know that they record and reflect on their learning, and are aware of both their strengths and the areas in which they would like to develop.
  • It can help with confidence: setting goals and achieving them feels good! And it can help us get to where we want to go.
  • It can help us understand how we learn; we all have different learning styles. Some of us need a bit of time away from the workplace to read and reflect, and others like discussions and learning on the job. If you understand the best way for you to learn, you may be able to tailor future learning goals to your style.
  • It can help us become reflective practitioners. Sometimes making mistakes can be a great way of learning (even if it is painful at the time!). It is good to be able to process both things that have gone well, and also things that have not worked.
  • CPD makes us better practitioners, providing a better service to our clients.

How do I start?
Many professionals will have a format that they will follow as part of their membership of a professional body. Some workplaces will also have templates that can support recording of CPD. But you do not have to have a formal template to get started. As long as you follow these steps you can begin your CPD record:

1          Record your learning
Think about any learning experiences you have had in the last year, and provide a written record that reviews and reflects upon their impact, including what and how you learned from them. This could include formal training, or informal learning which may be gained from:

  • observing or discussing cases with colleagues
  • attending team meetings
  • reading articles, books, or blogs
  • learning that has taken place in supervision or mentoring
  • learning that has taken place if you have taken up a new role or activity
  • learning from a situation that has not gone according to plan

2          Record where you would like to be
Think about the direction you would like to take over the next one, three and five years. This could be about gaining employment if you are a volunteer, getting a promotion, developing a specialism, or deepening a skill in your current role.

3          Record what you have to do to get there
This may be taking on some formal training, or gaining more experience at work in a specific area. Or it may be as simple as discussing the next steps in supervision.

4          Review your progress
Set a date for when you will review the goals you have set yourself. This could be every month, three months, six months or every year. It will often depend upon what stage you are at in your working life.

Summary: Key features of CPD

  • driven by you (self directed) and not your employer
  • recorded – electronically and/or in a paper folder
  • include learning gained from formal training and from informal experiences
  • be reflective – not simply a list of training courses you have completed/ meetings you have attended, but describe what you have learned, and how you will apply it in the future
  • focus on the learning process and not simply the knowledge, skills and experience that you have
  • identify gaps in your skills, knowledge and experience
  • identify future goals and how you could achieve them
  • include reviews of your goals

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case study
‘My learning log landed me a new job’

Documenting experience makes you a serious bet for employers, says Jenny

Having been in recovery for a while, I began to volunteer at my local services. I started by welcoming people in the waiting area and signposting them to what services were around, depending on what they wanted, and generally encouraging them into recovery and giving them support. After a few months I began to get involved in delivering groups – nerve wracking at first but I loved it.

My supervisor and mentor always encouraged me to keep a log of what I had learned – whether it was from a training course or learning from others (or from my own mistakes!). During supervision I talked about how I wanted to become a drug and alcohol recovery worker, and my supervisor encouraged me to put this in my learning log as a goal and to take some basic qualifications (maths and English) to make me more employable. And they also began to give me a bit more responsibility at work. I got training, shadowed people and began to deliver needle exchange.

When a recovery worker job came up in another service nearby, my log of learning really helped me fill in the application form – not just my qualifications and training, but also my personal statement, my skills, knowledge and experience and what I still wanted to learn. If I had not been keeping a log I don’t know how I would have begun to fill in the application form! I was really pleased to get an interview. I took my learning log along to the interview and talked about it and showed it to the panel.

I can’t tell you how pleased I was to get the job and the feedback I got was that my learning log had helped – they could see that I had goals and I was meeting them, and I wanted to give the best service I could to the clients. I have been a recovery worker for a year now and am still keeping a learning log. My next goal is to get a promotion – although I think I still have a lot of learning to do before this happens!

I would encourage anyone to log your learning – whether you are a volun­teer or working in a service. It helps you improve your work with clients, making you better at what you do. It helps you meet your goals – and it helps show that you are serious about your role, making you a good bet for employers if you want to work in recovery services or get a promotion.

Kate Halliday is FDAP/SMMGP interim executive director

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