PARN Member Feature with Ben Jones 

Ben joined the Engineering Council as Professional Development Executive in 2012, to lead work on new CPD requirements for Engineering Technicians, Incorporated Engineers, and Chartered Engineers. Working closely with employers and professional engineering institutions, he worked to develop a shared understanding of the benefits of professional development throughout the career of engineers and technicians. This resulted, in 2013, in the publication of a new CPD Policy Statement for the engineering profession. Implementing CPD sampling, and making recording and reporting CPD mandatory for registered professionals, have been added in the years since.

In his revised role of Product Manager, Ben looks after CPD and IPD policy, works on standards review projects, and manages the ‘mycareerpath’ online Professional Development System.

Since graduating from Warwick University with a degree in languages, Ben has worked in education/lifelong learning roles at Creative Skillset, Creative & Cultural Skills, and Edexcel. He lives in South London with his wife and two girls, and owns too many ukuleles.

Ben is part of the Steering Group for the PARN CPD Forum. He recently chaired and presented on the 21st February, on the use of sanctions to support CPD policies. You can find the full meeting summary, along with the presentation in PARN's members area.  

What is a common mistake organisations make when thinking about CPD?

I’d say one of the most common is assuming it has to be measured somehow. Requiring x number of hours per year can be the right approach, but it shouldn’t be the default assumption. We don’t give someone an A Level or degree based on how many hours they spent studying – we try to assess the outcomes of the learning. That’s the approach the Engineering Council takes to recognising competence and various types of qualifications; lifelong learning needn’t be different.

Is there a best method for measuring the impact of CPD?  

Context is everything – your current project(s); where you might look to work next; your life circumstances; things that take your interest. While membership bodies and regulators have to quality assure their people’s competence, measuring the impact of day-to-day learning and development is often something only the individual can do. The Engineering Council’s approach is that the individual themselves – in concert with their employer, if appropriate – is best positioned to measure that impact. Where we, as the profession, can ‘add value’, is often in helping people to improve individuals’ development processes. How to plan, how to record, how to reflect and evaluate.

With quite a modest degree of understanding amongst the general public (48% of general public had heard of CPD when contributing to a PARN Survey), what additional pressures does this place on CPD policies?

‘CPD’ is like democracy – it’s the worst terminology apart from all the other ones we’ve tried. The fact is that most people working in established professions keep themselves up to date as a matter of course. Otherwise – particularly in sectors where technology plays a role – you tend to be found out fairly fast. So, convincing people of the value of staying up to date tends not to be a problem – it’s more about showing how broad a range of activities CPD covers. Once that is explained, objections to the concept of CPD tend to melt away. That act of convincing is easy to do one-to-one, but hard to broadcast to a whole sector. What the Engineering Council tries to emphasise is that the heart of CPD is informal learning through the challenges and opportunities of working life; professionals are often carrying out CPD without consciously thinking about it.

In a time where there is a mass migration to digital CPD, accelerated by the pandemic, do you think this is challenging and/or eliminating some of the mature professionals that don’t obtain the technological skill sets to support their development? 

I think the cliché about older professionals finding it harder to embrace digital ways of working and living has a grain of truth in it, but not much more than a grain. Some of the most innovative, tech-savvy people I know are what you might call ‘mature professionals’! If there is a trend that follows age, I think it’s more often how development tends to become less technical as a career progresses. While early-career engineers will usually be working on ‘application of science’, many move in the direction of leadership, management, teaching, consultancy, or institution governance. That requires different skillsets, and that in turn means your CPD will look different. We as regulators and membership bodies need to be able to support that evolution - that’s the real challenge.

What is the most important thing you wish to convey about CPD?

Most members are already doing CPD – we’re all trying hard to support them in doing it well, and recording it. In that effort, a stick is invaluable, but carrots work better.

Please identify a personal piece of information that might surprise our readers

I can play Bohemian Rhapsody, start to finish, on the ukulele.

If you could travel back in time to a particular place anywhere in the world – where and when would it be and why?

I love the stories of physics breakthroughs in Europe and the States in the first half of the 20th Century. Einstein, Heisenberg, Dirac, Bohr, Oppenheimer, all trying to outdo each other. The pace of change in physics in those years was frightening – it would have been amazing to be part of that community and watch it unfold. It reached a crescendo in 1945, when all of that strange, esoteric research became very real, when it was brought together at Los Alamos and then in the skies above Japan. A very dark epilogue to the brightest chapter in science.

We'd like to take the opportunity to thank Ben for his valuable insights shared with us as part of our member feature, we hope you found his unique insight valuable. We look forward to developing this feature and bringing more acuity to our readers.

Add your comments below