May 13, 2022

What Is Professional Development?

Melissa Malec

Professional development is essential if you want to advance in your career. 

The right program can provide the skills you need to progress. But knowing how to start isn’t easy, especially if your chosen profession doesn’t have a defined career path. 

This article will explore these challenges and look at how you can use professional development strategies to build a career you love.   

What is professional development?

Professional development is the act of taking steps to get ahead in your career. This could be learning practical skills to help you perform better or becoming active in your industry through networking and attending events.

Improving yourself professionally is a continual process. It starts as you’re preparing to enter the workforce and continues until you reach your ideal role and beyond. Each step helps you adapt to new career challenges.

Opportunities and resources available for professional development include:

  • Taking professional certifications.
  • Completing relevant postgraduate qualifications. 
  • Signing up for courses relevant to your field.
  • Attending seminars or conferences to network and learn new ideas. 
  • Taking part in formal or informal mentorship programs.
  • Reading books, blog posts, or industry publications to stay up-to-date with trends.

The best type of professional development for you will depend on your chosen career, the type of learning you prefer and the organisation you work for. 

Some fields have obvious career ladders. They will provide development opportunities specifically designed for industry professionals. The benefit of this is that there is a clear path to your goals.

Teachers, for example, can take advantage of development opportunities organised by schools or school boards. If they want to advance in their career, specific courses help them develop the abilities required. For example, the National Professional Qualification for Headship prepares teachers for head roles. 

In other professions, learning activities are more informal. You’ll have to seek out opportunities to develop your career. This could be through online courses, night classes, or finding and attending industry events. 

The benefit is that you’ll get the opportunity to explore your career interests and carve out a path that is personal to you. 

Examples include a developer learning a new coding language to diversify their skillset. Or a marketer attending a conference to hear experts discuss the latest industry trends.

Continuing Professional Development (CPD) vs Professional Development

Continuing Professional Development (CPD) is the term used for the process of tracking your development. CPD helps you manage your personal learning over time to ensure you are continually moving forward. The use of one can help you set goals, create a plan and actually reach them. 

There are a few CPD frameworks available online which you can include in your learning plan. Continuing professional development can be intimidating when you look at all that you want to accomplish which is why having CPD resources may help set you up for success by simplifying and organising all that you want to do.

Why is professional development important?

There are many reasons why continuing professional development is important. Here are some of the most compelling. 

It helps you climb the career ladder

A good professional development training plan or a CPD is essential to gain the knowledge you need to climb the career ladder. While work experience can help, formal training is invaluable for learning the strategies required for senior positions. For example, someone with an MBA will usually have a far better understanding of management theory than someone who just has on the job experience.

It expands your knowledge

Many roles benefit from a broad skill set. Professional development can help you gain the knowledge required to become more well-rounded. Look at the average job description for a WordPress engineer. You’re expected to not only know coding languages like HTML, PHP, and CSS but also how to manage projects and how to use an ever-expanding suite of page builders and plugins. 

It helps you stay up-to-date

Changing technology means a CPD is essential to staying relevant in your current position. While you may have a good grasp of the skills needed in your field now, it may not be long before new technical requirements arise. TikTok didn’t exist at the start of 2016, but now it’s a critical part of a digital marketing plan. Having the most up-to-date knowledge and skills may help keep you at the forefront of trends and changes which will heavily impact the industry you work in.

It can be a significant confidence boost

Even if you’ve worked with a particular tool for some time, there may be features you aren’t using effectively. Imagine your boss told you to start running PPC ads on Facebook for the first time. It’s easy to get to grips with the platform, and you may see results. But without some form of training, you’re unlikely to master it. A course can also provide the credibility you need to showcase your talents to others; for example, in a CV or personal portfolio

It helps prepare you for a career change

Professional development activities help you take lateral steps into a new career. Higher education is a good option for learning, but you aren’t always restricted to taking long-term academic qualifications. Intensive coding camps, for example, promise to teach you everything you need to work as an entry-level programmer in a matter of months.

Career changes don’t need to be this drastic. Learning new skills can help professionals take on more specialised roles within their team. A copywriter could learn how to plan email marketing campaigns, or a designer could take courses that help them specialise in user experience. 

It increases your earning potential

All the above points can have a significant impact on your overall earning potential. Companies look for the most skilled employees when hiring. The more knowledge you have, the more valuable you are to a business. This can help when looking for new roles within your existing company or applying for new jobs. 

Professional growth strategies

Here are some growth strategies and CPD activities to consider:

Set goals

Professional development is easiest when you target a specific goal. Consider why you want to build your knowledge and plan activities with this in mind. 

In many cases your personal development goal will be obvious: you’ll want to take on a new role, get a promotion, switch careers, or simply perform your current job at a higher level.

With a CPD, once you’ve defined what you want to achieve, you need to lay out the best steps to take. 

Speak to a manager at your company to ask what they look for when hiring for your ideal role. If the position you want is outside your company, look at job advertisements to see where to focus your efforts.

Find a mentor

Finding a mentor is an excellent opportunity for professional development. Companies may run formal mentorship programs you can sign up to. These will pair you with a suitable mentor. 

If you don’t have this opportunity, look for someone within your network who could provide the advice you need. If this isn’t possible, research people in the position you want to be in and study how they achieved their goals. 

Take courses

Courses are a great way to gain knowledge. The key is to find the ones that are most valuable to your position and your industry. 

Some industries have professional boards that provide relevant certification. This simplifies finding the right course. 

If your industry doesn’t have a central professional body, look for self-directed training that aligns with your goals. These could be in-person evening classes, higher education, online courses, or seminars.

When looking for learning activities, research whether your employer provides benefits. It may organise formal training or provide a budget you can use to take your own learning path. 

Alternatively, your employer may provide access to a digital learning and development platform. 

Learn about your industry

If you don’t have much time to dedicate to professional development activities or self-directed learning, there are still options. Reading books related to your field can help you keep up with the latest trends and ideas. Industry publications, trusted blogs and podcasts are other ways to get up-to-date information from experts. 

Professional development is an ongoing process

There is no one activity you can take to do professional development. Instead, you should continually be on the lookout for new personal development opportunities; whether learning new skills or building your network. Over time, you’ll grow into a more valuable employee, allowing you to achieve your goals and giving you a more rewarding career.

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