“A lifelong cycle”: exploring continuing professional development with The Institute of Materials, Minerals and Mining

Ian Bowbrick, Director of Professional Development & Membership at The Institute of Materials, Minerals and Mining (IOM3) shares his thoughts on why continuing professional development (CPD) is an integral part of the landscape for researchers and professionals, and how IOM3 is supporting its members with theirs.

Why do you consider CPD to be so important for academics and professionals?

The purpose of CPD is to maintain one’s knowledge and understanding, to maintain your level of competence. This is really key, because we’re seeing the rate and pace of change in technology becoming a lot faster than it used to be, and we’re living in an increasingly knowledge-based economy. This makes competence and knowledge crucial commodities – if you don’t maintain them, you lose currency quickly. So there is a personal reason for doing it, to keep your value in the marketplace, but we’re also seeing that businesses are increasingly recognising the value of CPD; when pitching for big projects, certainly in the mining industry, companies have to make sure that their employees have a grasp of the latest technologies, processes, and equipment.

How does IOM3 support their members with CPD?

It’s important to note here that CPD doesn’t just mean training and courses – it is, in essence, any activity that extends or updates an individual’s knowledge or understanding. So although training is a very valuable aspect, it is only a very small part. Where IOM3 plays a role is providing people with opportunities for their development. It could be lectures, access to the journals, local society and central meetings, the online offering including Materials World, or the networking opportunities provided by our events.

We’re also very committed to ensuring that CPD is a bespoke arrangement, and recognising that as people progress through their careers their needs change. For example, while networking is important whatever stage you are at, you will get more from it as you progress up the professional scale, and courses may become less crucial. It’s also occupationally specific. Our membership includes people who are not working in the technical side of the industry – CEOs, directors, people working in patents, sales, or contracts. So while their CPD is still based in engineering, science, technology, and environment, their needs are going to be very different from our other members who are more focused on the practical aspects of the industry.

What do you think are the main challenges your members face to keep on top of their CPD, and how are you helping them overcome them?

I think people get too hooked up on the assumption they need to do a certain number of hours. CPD: the clue is in the word ‘continuing’. It’s not an annual process, it is a lifelong cycle that starts the day you graduate, and finishes the day you stop being professionally active. Everybody does it, even if it’s simply listening to the radio in the morning and taking in some information that inspires some further reading. What we find that people have difficulty with is recording their CPD, and writing a reflective statement on what they’ve learnt.

My Career Path is our online recording system where our members can log their CPD. Each member has a personal account, and they can record their activities quickly and easily, even accessing their accounts when attending conferences or events and logging their participation straightaway. Even for the more analog people among us, it’s enough to pull out your diary and make a few notes. It is just a matter of discipline, and a cultural change for a lot of people.

Ultimately, our role is not to tell our members they have ‘passed’ or ‘failed’ with their CPD – no one at IOM3 is a careers advisor – but instead it is to help people recognise what they have done, and offer guidance about where to go next. Our members benefit from our advice and guidance in helping them find the best route for them, as an individual.

Find out more about IOM3, and explore their portfolio of 17 journals.

Ian Bowbrick is Director of Professional Development and Membership at The Institute of Materials, Minerals and Mining. He has worked in CPD for over 25 years, and is also a Chartered Environmentalist and a Chartered Engineer.