By Yashin Brijmohan; Executive Dean of Business, Engineering and Technology: Monash South Africa
For most individuals involved in professional occupations, the need for professional development is of paramount importance. Such development typically takes place in two stages. The first occurs immediately after graduation and involves the intensive preparation needed to secure the graduate’s registration with a professional organisation or accreditation body. Then, once that registration has been obtained, most professionals typically undergo continuous professional development throughout their careers, either as an elective process of self-development, or as a prerequisite of their employer, or the professional body to which they belong.
Historically, all such professional development has focused primarily on ensuring that individuals involved in a professional occupation maintain an acceptable level of knowledge regarding their chosen field. Until recently, this primarily knowledge-based approach has allowed professionals to remain competent in their fields simply by staying up to date on relevant trends and changing subject matter. But the world of work has changed dramatically, and is evolving at an eye-watering pace. And this evolution has brought about a dire need for a paradigm shift in the way people and organisations, think about, and ensure ongoing professional development.
The most significant aspect of this shift is the important need to change the way professional development is approached as a whole. The 4th Industrial Revolution is creating a global environment in which merely possessing knowledge is no longer enough to assure effectiveness. The truth is that everyone has relatively easy access to the vast majority of knowledge that exists or is being generated. What’s more, the rapidly increasing amount of knowledge available to people doesn’t automatically translate into more wisdom or, for that matter, greater professional effectiveness.
So, the future of professional development really has very little to do with imparting knowledge or updating subject matter; and everything to do with ensuring professionals are equipped with the key skills they require to access, process, interpret and manage the information at their disposal in order to maximise their effectiveness in the context of a fast-changing world with evolving needs. This shift from content to context demands that professional development enables the professionals undergoing it to sustainably realise their capabilities by equipping them with essential skills like critical thinking, complex problem solving, creativity, people management, coordination, emotional intelligence, decision making, service orientation, negotiation and cognitive flexibility.
Underpinning most of these ‘new-age’ professional development skills is a further need to instil in today’s professionals a high level of what UNESCO has termed ‘intercultural competence’, which is an ability by individuals in the workplace to continuously learn, unlearn and relearn in order to maximise their effectiveness in a fast-evolving, highly diverse global cultural environment.
None of these are skills that have typically been prioritised in the largely unstructured professional development programmes of the past, few of which have progressed beyond the typical content-based ‘short-course’ approach with little consideration of the personalities, learning styles or unique contexts of the professionals participating in them.
Bridging this gap between the business outcomes focused development programmes of the past with the need for contextually driven development that aligns business outcomes with sustained professional effectiveness is no small undertaking. That’s particularly the case if professional bodies and corporate organisations are expected to do so on their own. However, this important need to update professional development to be more relevant to the changes brought about by the 4th Industrial Revolution actually presents an excellent opportunity for greater cooperation between commerce and education.
Until now, the roles of these two entities in developing fully functional professionals have been clearly segmented. Universities produced graduates with the academic qualifications they needed to enter professional careers, and then professional organisations equipped them with the additional knowledge they needed to first become registered and then ‘develop’ throughout their careers.
Today, however, the shifting expectations placed on professionals means that commerce and academia can, and should, work much more closely together to develop a formalised and integrated approach to professional development that is balanced, holistic, and fully relevant to the dynamic contexts in which most professionals now operate. Education institutions, industry, and even government, have a shared responsibility to close the gap between graduation, employability, professional registration, and professional effectiveness, and that can only happen via the systematic introduction of new skills and attributes that can adapt to changing contextual environments.
By imparting these skills, instead of merely focusing on sharing knowledge, professional development will succeed in the role it has to play today in terms of truly preparing and enhancing human potential for maximum positive effect. The result of this type of collaborative, synergistic approach to such ongoing professional development will be skilled, capable and adaptive professionals with the capabilities they need to have the biggest possible positive impact, as well as the requisite levels of confidence, creativity, innovation and ethics to ensure they deliver that impact throughout their careers and lives. And those are precisely the professionals that need to be developed, today and into the future.