Across the professional sector, the trends are unmistakeable. Financial scandals and consumer dissatisfaction are leading to demands for greater understanding on the part of professionals of the needs of their markets.
It is not enough to profess technical knowledge and to offer insight. The business and investing publics are looking for greater validation.
The quality of professional expertise should be measurable and the systems to support its development should be visible.
This has led to wholesale reassessment of continuing professional development across the sector. New criteria have emerged for assessing the validity of development schemes and new light has been shed on the concept of CPD.
From the perspective of the accountancy sector, the International Federation of Accountants (IFAC) published a standard on CPD. The UK bodies regarded this as fairly thin and argued for a standard of more substance. The ICAEW drafted its own standard and secured the support of most of the CCAB. Surprisingly enough, the dissenter was the ACCA.
In broad terms, the ICAEW, ICAS, ICAI, CIMA and CIPFA all have a similar approach to the issue. The individual accountant should organise his or her own CPD, it should reflect consideration of the direction the career is planned to take, where relevant it should be compatible with inhouse career planning and it should move away from hours or units.
'We take the view that the accountant is a mature individual capable of making career choices and devising a strategy to ensure that his or her development needs are met,' says Bob Jelly, director of training and development at CIMA, whose scheme is shortly to be rolled out.
In reality, this means that much of the work is done by the accountant.
The reflection, planning and recording done at home or in the office is then balanced with professional body support which includes everything from formats for recording CPD plans to banks of online knowledge.
The element of compulsion - which can rankle with some members - comes down to recording, filing and being willing to have the plan tested. In all reality, none of the institutes has the manpower or the desire to read through each personal development plan.
Each merely wants its members to follow best practice and for those members in the riskiest roles to be assessed.
Public sector precedent
The idea of reaccreditation and revalidation of professional qualifications has been a recurrent theme in the public sector for several years. So it was little surprise that CIPFA was actively engaged in reviewing the concept of mandatory CPD before any of the other accountancy bodies.
Ken Gill, director of education and training, says that CIPFA members work in local and central government, housing, education and health. 'They are all familiar with regulation and inspection. In December 2001 a working group looked at a principles-based approach to CPD.
'At around the same time IFAC moved from an international association of accountancy bodies to an international regulator. It decided to publish a standard on CPD.'
The CIPFA council voted to back mandatory CPD. In the period between early 2002 and June 2003, the public sector institute consulted 2,000 of its 14,000 members. Two options then went to the vote. Either for immediate mandatory introduction on 1 January 2005 - as per the IFAC proposal - or phased in stages. In a tight vote, members elected to go for the second option.
The institute aims to provide its membership with extensive support in terms of setting career development aims and recording outcomes. In addition it is providing two detailed knowledge bases on management and technical issues.
In common with the other institutes, the ACCA will start its new CPD Realise scheme on 1 January 2005. But there are significant differences in approach. The ACCA will operate a unit-based programme which is somewhat different from the older practice of logging a specified number of hours per year. However, it is also profoundly different in concept from the other bodies and the ACCA has attracted thinly-veiled hostility from them as a result.
In 2003, an extensive consultation took place to provide members, employers and other stakeholders with the opportunity to shape proposals for a new CPD scheme. After collecting and analysing the feedback of 10,000 members and 400 employers, the ACCA is now launching its Realise programme.
The other institutes maintain that the ACCA scheme is rules rather than principles-based. Certainly, the others are self-certified initiatives whereas the ACCA Realise programme requires verification. Stephen Heathcote, the body's head of training and development, says that while the units-based approach is closer to the original, all CCAB bodies are similar in concept.
The ACCA says its members work in a diverse range of sectors and countries, and at varying levels of seniority. The scheme is flexible to ensure ease of compliance for all members. Members can complete CPD in one of two ways, either by the achievement of units through the unit scheme route or via employee development schemes with an approved employer.
The ACCA scheme comprises:
• Completion of 40 units of relevant CPD for members pursuing the unit scheme route; 21 units should be verifiable.
• A phased approach to participation based on date of entry to membership.
• Compliance with the new CPD scheme is a requirement for all members, including members who work part-time or are semi-retired, pracitising certificate holders and those with insolvency licences. The scheme will not apply to those who are fully retired.
Unlike some other schemes, the body has a phased approach to implementation which will allow ongoing consultation with members to ensure the continuing enhancement and development of the scheme.
The date an individual was admitted to membership will determine when he or she will be required to start to comply with the new scheme. Heathcote says that members admitted since 2001 must comply by 2005, those admitted since 1995 must be ready by 2006 and all remaining members have to be on-stream by 2007.
Of members who responded to the ACCA's online survey, 85% indicated that they currently spend three or more days a year on various CPD activities.
In the workshops, individuals discovered that they were undergoing CPD through activities that they may not have previously considered as relevant.
This shows that many members are already making significant progress towards achieving the requirement. A 'units-based' scheme will provide clarity and guidance for members when demonstrating their CPD, he says.
A 'carry forward' principle has been included in the scheme in recognition of the fact that professional development can take place during intense learning periods, eg, studying for an additional qualification like an MBA. The application of this learning will then be applied in the workplace.
During this period of application, demonstration of further CPD will be unnecessary.
Several professional bodies outside the accountancy profession are currently revising their approach to CPD. The Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) recently changed its entire development programme to a mandatory system resembling that proposed by the chartered accountancy bodies.
Its one exception, however, is that it has stuck to an hours-based approach for measuring the volume of CPD completed. Soundings with the membership indicated that this format was preferred.
The Law Society is currently examining changes that it could make to its present structure and the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) is at a comparable stage. Mandatory CPD is something which all regard as inevitable in the current political climate, but the form it will take may vary from body to body.
Ken Gill, CIPFA
Public sector institute aims to provide membership with extensive support in terms of setting career development aims and recording outcomes.
Robert Jelly, CIMA
'We take the view that the accountant is a mature individual capable of making career choices and devising a strategy to ensure that his or her development needs are met.'