Continuing education: an ongoing challenge for professional associations
The main purpose of a professional association is to protect the people who use the services of the professionals in the field it regulates. To do this, the regulatory body must ensure that its members have all the skills and training required to provide the best service to the public.
After proving that they meet the association’s standards, full-fledged members of an association can exercise the regulated profession and use the title, but that doesn’t mean that the association’s job is done. In fact, it’s just the beginning of the association’s work to ensure that its members remain up to standard over the long term.
It’s like driving: at a certain age, drivers must pass tests to prove their continuing ability. This requirement is hard to dispute, given that the risk of driving on public roads isn’t just for the driver but also for everyone else, especially since the risk increases as abilities erode over time.
But professionals who exercise a regulated profession can pose a risk at any age, if they don’t maintain the reflexes, skills and knowledge that they displayed at the beginning of their career.
Besides, professions are never static: they evolve over time; regulations change; and new practices are always emerging. Professional organizations must ensure that their members don’t forget their existing knowledge and skills, on the one hand, and that they keep up with emerging knowledge, on the other hand. Continuing education is therefore the keystone to any professional association’s mission.
The goal of continuing education isn’t just to keep up with minimum standards, but to foster and support professional development. Continuing education allows professionals to become experts in their fields over the long term. This is why it should encompass at least the following:
- Members should take a set number of hours of training per year. As the guarantor of the quality of the services provided by its members, the association has a vested interest in managing and monitoring continuing education.
- Training can take various forms; the regulatory body should be the authority on the type of training that is deemed acceptable, based on the profession.
- Finally, the association should develop tools to support its members’ participation in training, which is now mandatory in most professions.
Continuing education is not only a requirement to stay up-to-date, it is also a real necessity to protect the general public.