Emerging Professional

Firms find the third key to unlocking the secrets of a quality education program

Professional firms would not consider skipping planning and performance projection when developing their business operations. Why then do firms suddenly forget this critical element when it comes to the development of their staff? Just like a business, the third key to unlocking the secrets of a quality education program is planning and performance projection. To get to this level we must assume that senior management is committed to the development of their staff and are willing to support internal efforts. And that firms use the same sound business practice of developing measurable short and long-term goals with performance projections when setting the firm’s education goals.

Firms have an opportunity here to incorporate education into job performance projections when developing annual staff revues. This creates a more knowledgeable staff, helps create an internal career path and, and builds a better business. Architecture firms such as FreemanWhite Inc., HOK, and Cannon Design have employed this approach for years to improve the skills of their staff, improve recruitment and retention, and expand their business. These firms and others like Turner Construction and Perkins + Will spent two to three years each developing measurable short term educational goals before they saw key education results. All of these firms continued on their long path toward developing quality education curriculum that support their staff and business plans.

Because the social, economic, and global environments are changing firms need to incorporate these changes and adjust education their goals. In these tough economic times it is important to develop realistic budgets to support the continuing professional development to stay competitive. Review of long term education goals need take place both prior to and during senior management’s annual strategic planning sessions.

Remember that professional education and development should not be an add-on or after thought. Take a look at the fortune 500 companies and you will note that professional education and development is incorporated into their overall business strategy. The size of the firm should only influence what resources address the solution.

“Where’s the data?” – The second key for firms to unlock for quality education

The Chief Learning Officer (CLO) or Director of Education better be prepared when the CEO or COO asks the question, “Where is the data?” The senior leadership of the firm is business oriented and generally feels uncomfortable with gut feeling reactions. The firm’s education leaders need to develop a systematic approach for gathering both external trend data and internal staff development data. Professional development within a firm should not be limited to just making employees feel good. It is critical to the success of the firm that staff professional development be focused on the firm’s strategic goals. This means that the collection of industry market trends, client needs, and staff development information all be tied together.

Christopher Clinton a landscape architecture student at the Boston Architectural College provided a thoughtful summary in a recent LinkedIn landscape architecture professional discussion group. Christopher stated, “The first of three main techniques to help facilitate an awareness of the market in relation to the firm’s strategic plan is to explore new technologies and fresh perspectives related to the firm's strategic plan such as through attending seminars, classes, discussions with other professionals from around the world online, at trade-shows or reading articles/studies. The second is feedback and conceptual discussion of internal firm design work as well as other firms design work and concepts between professionals of related fields. Third, is to take these new concepts and have group design exercises consisting of drawings/models/etc...To incorporate what is learned in the first two parts and bring a new level of raw skills to incorporate into future work.”

For firms the intended of professional education is generally for internal use of the firm’s staff. In such situations it is important to match the assessment approach to the firms’ culture, operational structure, and short and long-term strategic goals. The content outcome could relate to technical, conceptual, and/or personnel related needs. It is important to focus on the details of professional staffs’ participation in the needs assessment process. Determine how the needs for the educational program and products/services are identified, how the programs are developed and designed to address those needs.

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

To be right up front and put it out on the table, most product manufacturers develop and offer continuing education to professionals as part of their overall marketing plan. Regardless if the professional that the product manufacturer is trying to influence is an architect, an accountant, a dentist, or a nurse, their education programs are still a major part of their marketing plan. Generally these programs are managed by the marketing and sales department. And now that I have put that out front I want to add, and that is OK, as long as the product manufacturer follows the guidelines that are set out by the professional associations and government regulatory agencies. This means that there is a commitment from the companies top management to support education when offering education to the professionals.

Every award winning product manufacturer, such as CertainTeed, Pella Windows, and Whirlpool - that incorporates continuing education into their marketing plan has support at the highest decision making levels of their business. Regardless of the size of the manufacturer, when the support from above waivers, so too does the content, quality, and delivery of the education product that the manufacturers representatives deliver in the field. To achieve a level of delivering quality product education, the company leadership must think strategically. This means that they commitment long term, through the highs and lows of the business cycles. Most product manufacturers' commit a lot of time and money to offering such programs, even poor ones. Many companies stop short of how the course is designed and delivered. Professionals should ask the questions: Was the course designed in an educational format with legitimate learning objectives? Did the design of the course include results of industry research? Were technical staffs included in providing content? Was this material vetted by the sales force to insure it is what the clients were asking for and not just a push of a product? And did the company provide a train-the-trainer course for those who were presenting and representing the company?

Committed companies are aware that there are continuing professional education requirements in place and that the professionals are relying on these courses to maintain their requirements, license and certificates. The product manufacturer is a partner in the educational process and needs to be a reliable source. Commitment to produce a reliable, quality education program from top management is the first key to success.

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.

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