What is professional development and why is it important?

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David Wright, UKLA Lubricants & Chemicals

In an industry as regulated and scrutinised as lubricants, keeping your skills up to date is vital. In this article by David Wright, Director General of UKLA (UK Lubricants Association), we examine how identifying what training you might need is no longer just up to your employer, but something you are encouraged to take responsibility for yourself.

Why lifelong learning matters

All qualifications are time-limited. This means that the learning attained on a graduate level course has a finite lifespan. According to the UK’s Government Department for Education, graduate degrees have a half-life of ten years and, without updating, the knowledge attained over a taught course can become redundant over twenty years.

To illustrate this point, think back twenty years to how the world of work and the lubricants sector has changed. In 1998, Euro 2 introducing differentiated standards for petrol and diesel engines was the emission standard for automotive vehicles in Europe. The Bio Fuels directive of 2001 requiring that 5.75% of all transport fossil fuels was to be replaced by bio fuels, had not been enacted. The consolidating REACH regulation of 2006 was still eight years away. The Kyoto protocol had been adopted by Japan the previous December.

Today change is the constant in the sector. The world of business and especially the lubricants industry moves fast. Each year new technologies are developed for a marketplace that is subject to intense emission regulations, environmental control and political scrutiny.

Every four years ACEA, the European Constructor’s Association, releases new engine oil sequences to meet the demanding needs of today’s modern vehicle. ECHA, the European Chemicals Agency, constantly registers, evaluates and approves or restricts chemical substances and mixtures to ensure they are not harmful to health. The European Commission releases new emission regulations for the automotive sector at periodic intervals.

The need to maintain knowledge is now more important than ever

The need to maintain knowledge that has been attained over previous training and learning cycles, or interventions, is now more important than ever to keep up with the pace of change affecting our sector. In the world of training, professionals refer to their courses as interventions. Behaviour that has been learnt or built up over many years becomes that which is relied upon by the individual to handle new and sometimes uncomfortable experiences and settings.

Interventions are needed to adapt individual behaviour to take account of changing circumstances. The need for these interventions can arise due to disruption. In the late 1990s Harvard Business School Professor Clayton Christensen introduced the concept of “disruptive innovation,” a principle whereby market dominant organisations could find themselves under threat.

Disruption could occur due to structural changes in a market arising through some external force such as legislation or regulation, think REACH regulation. Alternatively companies might decide to exit certain markets because of their low growth or lower returns and choose to invest elsewhere such as the decision by some major multinationals to exit their downstream operations in mature markets. Disruption can arise due to the adoption of technology into service delivery or operational processes such as the impact of Industry 4.0 and digitisation on an organisation’s activities. Or a new low cost entrant looks at the market in a different way and leverages technology to support a new positioning, such as the rise of the low-cost airlines across mainland Europe.

However disruption might be caused, the role of training as an intervention is to change behaviour.

How to approach your training needs

The first step is to evaluate an individual’s performance against the organisation’s expectations. This could be by benchmarking their performance against others performing a similar role, such as members of a technical field team, or an individual’s performance over time, ie that which was achieved last year compared with this year.

The next step is to identify the individual’s training needs. At its simplest this could either be product/service knowledge, or interpersonal skills such as negotiating, presenting, communicating or influencing for example. Training needs should be identified by the individual with their line manager as a matter of routine and regular discussion providing routine, and regular feedback. Once a year is not enough, it is important that any performance issue is addressed quickly and effectively.

Here, self-analysis could help. The individual could be promoted for feedback based on their own performance with reference to their objectives, previous discussions or their job description, for example. Self-analysis by the individual helps to secure better buy in to the programme or intervention - they are committed to addressing their training needs.
Developing the programme, or intervention, is step three. Here the individual would be encouraged to look at their own solutions. Developing better product or service knowledge through self-study, using the products or seeing them in application, visiting the technical department or even accessing their own informal networks to grow their knowledge. For interpersonal skills this could mean identifying opportunities to develop, such as making presentations to the management team, field trips with colleagues in the technical field team to develop approaches to relationship-building, negotiating or influencing.

External courses also have their role to play in building up the core of professional knowledge that supports an individual through their career. Courses like the UKLA’s Certificate of Lubricant Competence course (CLC) can help colleagues quickly get up to speed with the technical issues facing a sector.

The next stage is to implement the programme/intervention and here the individual and their line manager should have agreed the objectives from an intervention before it is implemented. What measures might be used to ensure that what was intended had been achieved, and over what time period?

Finally performance should be measured again to identify the progress the individual has made in implementing what has been learnt. In this way the training circle becomes virtuous and performance can develop and improve over time. Last year’s objective becomes this year’s baseline or benchmark used to measure any future improved performance.

Taking responsibility for your own performance

At the heart of any professional development is the individual. The days of relying on a company to identify the training needs of an individual and provide a solution, are long gone. Today employees have to take responsibility for their own performance and this includes their own training needs which will provide a strong and firm foundation with which to develop their own future performance while ensuring the buy-in from the individual concerned.

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