Saturday, January 25, 2014

Does mandatory continual professional development/education really lead to lifelong learning?

I am a voracious reader and while most of that goes into fiction, a good chunk also goes into reading non fiction. In fact, my passion for finance is largely due to my vicariously living through various books and finance fiction novels of Stephen Fry etc. Having switched gears to commerce later than most people, one of the main reasons I could catch up was having read extensively, and therefore often knowing more than my peers. Even during the admission interviews for IIM Ahmedabad & IIM Bangalore, and beyond, I could impress the interviewers with my knowledge beyond 'bean counting'/'mere CA curriculum knowledge'. largely because I'd read multiple books, blogs, magazines, textbooks etc. Anyways, this post is not hagiographic so enough of my story and back to the topic! 

Be it the institute of chartered accountants, management accountants, chartered secretaries, CFAs, FRMs, doctors, actuaries and so on, every established profession imposes certain mandatory knowledge updation hours for their members. This is often more stringent for members in public practice, than for those in employment. Usually, self declarations are allowed and even the mode of fulfilling hours are flexible, with options available to professionals to achieve their target in the least possible monetary investment and time. However, i have the following issues with this process
1) Why impose different requirements for those in public practice and those in service? The competency requirements from both should not differ, and in fact those in service may be more 'specialized' and 'frogs in the well' than their counterparts in public practice. Hence, there is no rationale distinction for this, except that members in service often retain their membership with much cajoling, so making more requirements for them may drive more of them away from retaining their membership-and which organization does not need fee paying members? Members in practice have their bread and butter contingent on their profession bestowed certificate of practice, but those in service do not have those constraints. 
2) Process driven to ensure more attendance in institute organized seminars-Even though professional institute organized programs are inexpensive(around Rs 1000-2000 per day for ICAI/ICSI/ICWAI), professionals often do not want to devote an entire day to content they would rather read in a hour or two.
3) Inflexible enough to suit needs-Even though bodies do allow for 'unstructured professional development' in terms of crosswords, reading, peer group discussions; there is still a long way to go.  
4) Compliance driven process does not foster willing compliance-I have seen professionals send their interns/other employees to attend programs and fill attendance slips on their behalf. This is because 
5) Commercial interests often result in regulatory capture-When private sector is allowed to deliver programs with CPD credits as done in UK/USA etc, those private sector bodies have an incentive to lobby for more stringent CPD requirements for their programs/speciality. 
6) Little focus on organization sponsorship that ensures peer learning, networking and applying what you learn One reason why executive education programs are so popular, is their organization context, which helps executives to learn from their peers in other functions, while immediately applying their learnings on the job often in the timespan between sessions. This organization driven sponsorship is quite helpful, but often in a misconceived wish to subsidize individual members, organization sponsored fees are often higher than self sponsored one(the ICSI Mumbai scheme at CCRT being a notable exception which allows bulk corporate members) since they are felt to have deep pockets! Yet, this approach is short sighted. 

In this information overload era where we are plugged into the digital world of laptop-smartphone-TV-tablet, it is difficult to make time for self development amidst challenging careers. Indeed, mastering subjects one has not learnt at all formally earlier(imagine the plight of chartered accountants who learnt IFRS from scratch when it was introduced!) often takes much more time than say 40hrs/year, and devoting the bare minimum mandated time might give one the illusion of comfort, while actually one may be falling behind technically and technologically compared to the next few batch(es) of professionals educated under updated curriculums/delivery mechanisms.