Health, Safety, and Welfare

Firms -First key to unlocking the secrets of a quality education program

Photo by azwaldo via Flickr

At first glance it should be rather easy to determine if professional development and education is really supported by the firm’s leadership. The leaders from every firm that I have ever worked with say that staying in business requires that the staff is continually learning. These leaders state that they must learn just to stay current. I would agree with all of them, just by living and being exposed to new experiences – you will learn new things. Living as your learning model however does not mean that you have learned the right things or that what you learned will improve your business. And this approach to learning does not support the practice that the firm has a learning culture.

I generally divide firms into one of three categories. Most professional firms are small frequently 3- 5 persons. If a firm has less than 50 employees – which is the majority of professional firms - they are lucky be able to assign education duties to a staff member on a part time. When the firm reaches between 50 - 250 staff that part time person becomes full time somewhere at the point where the staff reaches about 100. A second staff member may be assigned full or part time when the staffing level reaches about 150 -200. Both of these firm categories are finding some relief in the growing use of online learning options that are now available.

Then there is the professional mega firm, those who have a staff of over 250. Those mega firms that are truly committed to a professional development culture will bring in a learning management expert to head the professional development department. These positions are often found under HR or marketing. Both of these firm categories are finding some relief in the growing use of online learning options that are now available.

However, regardless of the size of the firm, an education program will not work effectively or efficiently if it is just an afterthought or an add-on program. Only by involvement of a firm partner or firm principal participating at the highest decision making level will education play an appropriate key role in the overall business operations of the firm. To achieve a level of delivering quality education, the firm leadership must think strategically. This means that they commitment long term, through the highs and lows of the business cycles. Continuing professional education is not free so integrating staff development into the business plan is critical. It should not be about just meeting hours to fulfill a license or credential requirement. There must be clear education goals and objectives since the firm is already investing dollars to meet the basic requirements.

Professional firms were making advancements in the development of strong internal educational programs until the down economy hit hard. With continuing professional education requirements still in place these same firms still need to maintain their requirements, license and certificates. Firms of all sizes have had to cut their internal staff those they had to support their education efforts. With strong leadership the firms do not have to cut back on quality, they just need to be smarter. Now more than ever is the time for visionary leadership and commitment to learning.

Knowledge or Education? A Point of View of the Product Manufacturer

Knowledge or Education? A Point of View of the Product Manufacturer

From the point of view of the product manufacturers most of them would argue that they offer education for their clients and/or the public. But are they?

As early as the sixties and seventies the pharmaceutical companies were providing free lunches for the physicians training times during grand rounds in the hospitals. Obviously information about their pharmaceutical products was made available. Ask the pharmaceutical sales representative (rep) and they would say that they were educating the next new group of emerging physicians.

For decades manufacturer sales representatives provided free lunches for staff€™s of the design professionals. During this lunch-n-learn period the reps would demonstrate their company'€™s products or services. The savvy companies realized that sometimes it was better to send in a technical expert rather than a sales rep to deliver €œeducation, but this was the minority. Ask the manufacturer sales representative and they would say that they were educating the next new group of emerging architects, engineers, interior designers, landscape architects, specifiers, etc.

In both situations the professionals would stick around long enough for the free lunch while politely listening to the sales rep talk about their product or service. For the professional this was considered gathering information and industry related knowledge. It wasn't until later that the professional would contact the sales representative to educated because they actually intended to use a specific product or service.

During the eighties and nineties state licensing boards and professional associations began to tighten their standards on what they believed qualified as professional education. When the professionals realized that under the right format this knowledge, delivered to them in an educational format, they could then apply that education toward the credential maintenance of their profession. Professionals always believe that their billable hours are precious to them so they began allowing only those manufactures who met the newer standards into their firms for the purpose of continuing education. Again, the leading manufacturers quickly converted their sales presentations into educational formats following the guidelines of the professional associations and state regulatory boards.

The professional should ask – is the source reliable? Does the provider meet industry standards for offering continuing education? Which organizations are monitoring them? Does the course content follow stated learning objectives and not just information statements? Will the product manufacturers’ course help the practitioner improve their practice? The manufacturer sales representatives needs to be able to answer yes to all of these questions if they want to claim that they are educating their clients and the public.

Knowledge or Education? €“Point of View of a Professional Firm

Professional firms need to clearly distinguish between what knowledge their employees need to improve the firm business and what education their employees need to meet any credential requirement.

Professional firms that have a quality professional development program think strategically. They establish a system to seek out the most up-to-date information for all of their employees, not just the professionals. Much of the information and knowledge gained is now free and/or inexpensive and increasingly web based such as podcast, webcast and online open forums, etc. Professional firms still use of mix of product manufacturer'€™s in-house training, association'€™s courses, mini workshops, conferences, and conventions, with an occasional mix in specialized programming. In today’s economy, cost has become a major consideration to traditional type of programming. Major content considerations for firms - the source is reliable, it is preferably project based, innovative and cost effective.

Today, nearly all professionals are required to complete some form of mandatory continuing education (MCE) as a requirement to maintain their license to practice. From acupuncturist, medical, legal, and accounting to architects, engineers, and interior designers. While most MCE requirements allow for some type of self study and self reporting process, at some point the education to meet MCE requirements must be paid for. Generally the education must come from an external training organization. For the design/build industry, professional firms can take on this responsibly internally, reducing their cost while meeting both the needs of their employees and meeting the strategic goals of the professional firm.

Knowledge or Education? €“Point of View of Associations

This has become a real quandary for many associations. My observation has been that there are two very different directions that an association can take when faced with the decision of offering knowledge or education to their members. At first glance it should be easy, just look at the mission statement of the association. But dig a bit deeper and the issue becomes more complex.

Model one for an association is to offer the most up-to-date information to their members so that the members can be more knowledgeable and competitive in their profession or industry. This could be open source information that encourages the membership to stay current and use the association as a first source - reliable source. The emphasis here is on the benefit to the member. Simultaneously, the association should be providing free information to the public and related industry. Through free and/or inexpensive (to members) use of a webcast, podcast, course, workshop, conference, convention, online open forum, etc., the association should promote the values of the association and the professional services that the association’s membership base represent. This model works best when the membership does not have any form of mandatory requirement to maintain their knowledge standards.

Model two for an association is offer education to their members so that their members can be the knowledge leaders in their industry or profession. This approach generally provides additional benefits for the members, usually when the courses, webcasts, workshops, conferences, conventions, online forums, etc, meet the association’s credential requirements, or another professional organization’s credential maintenance requirements, or more likely a state licensing board’s mandatory continuing education (MCE) requirement. The downside to the association’s members, as much as the member may expect and want it, education is not free. Someone has to pay for the development and the delivery of the education. In one form or another, these expenses are passed on to the member and even more so to the non-member and stakeholders. Strict standards are set for knowledge to be “qualified” as education.

For an association the difference between knowledge and education comes down to two key questions: 1.What is the mission of the association? 2. If the association wants to provide education, how will the association cover their development and delivery expenses?

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Is a Virtual Tour Knowledge or Education?

Photo by Igloo Studios

Recently I was involved with a team that produced a virtual tour. The primary goal of the free virtual tour was intended to give a international audience a chance to gain knowledge by exploring the space. The depth of knowledge gained directly correlated to the participants involvement of freely selecting from varies features such as embedded videos, audio podcasts and information on building materials and products used throughout the space.
Assuming that knowledge becomes education at the point where the participant actually applies that what they learned, there is at one point in the tour a Google sketch-up feature embedded in the program that can actually be used. But what if, as most do, the participant looks at the feature but does not act. Would the knowledge still be education?
The tour can take between 1 – 1.5 hours depending on how many interactive features the participant selects. A final feature includes a quiz based upon the basic elements of the tour. The quiz follows the guidelines outlined in the standards of the International Learning Unit. It meets the organization’s credential requirement, other professional organizations education requirements, and even most state licensing board’s MCE requirements. Only by paying and successfully completing the quiz will “education” credits be awarded? Is that really the only difference between knowledge and education – fees? You be the judge - take the virtual tour, yourself. Stop before the quiz. Is it knowledge or education?