Continuing Professional Development

An interesting debate I often have with Chartered Accountants (CA(SA)) and other professionals, from a variety of constituencies and, across geographical boundaries, is on the topic of Continuing Professional Development (CPD). Invariably, the discussion leads to the definition of a professional and what constitutes a professional, be they CAs(SA) or any other form of professional, in any sphere of the economy. I firmly believe that, apart from the rigour of the qualification process an individual goes through, an even more important aspect to being a professional is an individual’s behaviour once he or she has qualified.

A consummate professional, in my mind, is one that strives to contribute in the broader public interest, acts with integrity and strives to improve himself/herself on a continuous basis, whether it be careerwise or a personal level. Your profession ultimately permeates through every aspect of your life. As a Chartered Accountant, I am proud of the designation and carry it with me wherever I go, as do most holders of professional designations.

The simple principle for any professional is therefore that of engaging in CPD. This talks to adopting and living a culture of continuous learning. I must admit that most people I talk to understand and agree with the principle of continuous learning for a variety of reasons. These include the following:

  1. i) Self development and career growth – as a CA(SA), our vision remains that of being business leaders, which demands continued personal growth and learning in order to function effectively at a ‘leader’ level.
  2. ii) Continued enhancement of the professional brand for the benefit of all that hold it. Brand value is ultimately a factor of the integrity, expertise and leadership skills of those that hold it. Acquiring those skills is the responsibility again of the holders of the designation. As has become apparent in recent years, it often takes a handful of bad apples to taint the reputation of all members of the profession and, whilst CPD might not eliminate all of the risk associated with inappropriate or a lack of skills, it goes a long way towards mitigating that risk.

The debate around CPD often heads in the direction of the mechanism used to record hours or points. Here again, there are a couple of schools of thought. The first decision to be made is whether to go an input or output based route. The input based route leaves the learning activity to the individual’s discretion (based on the individual’s career development needs) with no formal assessment of learning required. The output based approach is based on a defined learning map with an assessment of competencies achieved through that learning activity. In South Africa, we have gone the input route simply because of its practicality. The input route also helps to instill the culture of learning alluded to earlier and will remain the preferred route here for the next three years. The preferred approach to learning will, however, always be the output based one. Practically, this approach is difficult to implement in that it is not always possible to assess formally competencies gained through a specific learning activity.

The other debate that needs to be held is on the mechanism used to record hours. Again, there are two broad approaches. The first involves members recording detail including the types of activities, hours spent, provider of the learning and whether or not the activity is verifiable. Supporters of this argument insist that it is important to track and measure an individual’s development plan. The second broad approach is for members to, on an annual basis; to provide a declaration to the effect that they have undertaken the minimum required activity (as required by their professional body). The onus is on the professional body to then, on a random basis, audit a sample of members annually to ensure compliance.

There are pros and cons to both approaches. First and foremost is the argument of integrity. It is my firm belief that the vast majority of our members have integrity. That said, the argument from some quarters is that, assuming integrity, the declaration based approach is optimal in that the professional body places reliance on the integrity of its membership base to engage in CPD. This assumes that members will strive to meet their obligation as professionals, and work towards self and career development through some kind of structured CPD programme. The other argument is that a formal recording mechanism forces members to adopt a structured learning programme and in turn focuses an individual’s learning activity. Both arguments have merit and both approaches have worked fairly well across the globe.

To my mind, the debate around CPD though revolves around one thing which is agreement from any professional that CPD is core to their being as a professional. Acting as a brand ambassador and self development through an individual’s career can only be successfully driven by means of a structured and focused learning path through different stages of an individual’s career. Regardless of the mechanism used to record hours or points, I cannot emphasis enough the principle and importance of continuous professional development and the importance of adopting learning as a way of life.

In the interim, the SAICA Board has listened to its membership base and debated all of the issues, and has agreed that for CPD measurement and recording purposes:

  • SAICA will remain on the input based system, and
  • Our members will be allowed flexibility in the recording of CPD, with both the detail based and the declaration based approaches available for use.

Nazeer Wadee CA(SA) is Chief Operating Officer, SAICA.