CPD: Training counts

Barbara Horn

This article first appeared in the SfEP's then newsletter Copyright in May 2001.

Any discussion of continuing professional development (CPD) – a fine-sounding phrase – should begin with a definition of 'professional'.

Who is a professional?

In this context, it is not just someone who is being paid to work in a given field – a professional rather than an amateur. It is someone who has been:

  • trained in specific skills that are necessary to do a particular type of work
  • tested against a standard for those skills and the knowledge underlying them
  • judged competent by an institute or society of the profession that governs the qualifications and the membership.

That description fits the people we would all call professionals, such as doctors and nurses, solicitors and barristers, teachers and architects. It does not fit most people in publishing, certainly not editors and proofreaders. When the publishing industry as a whole accepts standards of competence, it will be on its way to becoming a profession. But that hasn't happened yet.

So, where does that leave us in the meantime? Perhaps we can describe ourselves as 'aspiring to be professional' if we are training to acquire the basic skills of proofreading or editing, or 'professionals in all but name' if we are trained and competent.

Training in-house

Training is essential, but the nature of that training can vary. People who begin their career in publishing in-house will be told what they are supposed to do, will probably be shown how it is done in that company and/or might be sent on a training course. They will be in an environment where, through first-hand experience and observation and by asking questions, they can learn how the publishing processes work, what can go wrong and how it can be handled, what the standard reference works are, what is expected in other jobs and how what they do affects what others do.

If they move from company to company, they will most likely learn other ways to do the same job, see other problems and solutions, and exchange ideas and information with colleagues with different experience.

Then, if they become freelance, they do so with confidence in their skills and knowledge, and with a network of colleagues.

Training outside the publishing house

People who are freelance from the beginning of their career are thus disadvantaged, and the responsibility for redressing the balance rests with them. Training courses are essential. Trying to learn alone from books might seem possible, but it is not a real option, not even if the book claims you can 'teach yourself'.

Tutors can answer questions that books haven't foreseen, introduce points that books don't cover and provide objective feedback on your progress. If a training course requires attendance rather than distance learning, you will also benefit from discussions – learning from other people's questions, views and experience – and have the opportunity to meet colleagues.

Paying for training

Training costs freelances money: money for the course and money not earned while you are on the course. Courses might not be conveniently located; that is another kind of cost. But if you do not overcome these obstacles and try to set up in business without having at least the basic knowledge, without being competent in the basic skills, you are going to struggle and then, most likely, fail.

Do not expect a publisher to pay for or provide basic training – would you be willing to pay to train someone who wants to set up in business as an electrician? If you cannot afford the fees, do some other work and save until you can, or borrow the money if possible. If you cannot go to where the course is held, consider distance learning. Although it obviously does not provide the benefits of group discussion, you may be able to get that separately by going to SfEP local group meetings.

Competence

Have you been trained and gained some experience? Are you competent? Perhaps you are an SfEP accredited or registered proofreader or copy-editor, or have some other evidence of your competence.

There are incompetent proofreaders and copy-editors, some of whom are freelance, some of whom are members of the SfEP. How do I know? Because I have seen their work. Be honest with yourself: if you recognize areas in which you are lacking essential skills or knowledge, then you can look for ways to fill the gaps. Being in denial is counterproductive.

A continuum

Achieving competence is not enough – you have to continue your professional development. CPD is not a single item or a single course. It is a continuum and it should last until you retire. Changes in our industry will continue to require us to learn new skills or update the ones we have.

Depending on how you want to develop your career, you might also want to acquire specialized skills and knowledge. This is probably the only area in which you might find support from individual publishers. But how you continue your professional development really depends on you.

How to learn

Every job you do might provide an opportunity to learn. Sometimes you might teach yourself, sometimes learn from colleagues, sometimes from feedback from a client (all too rare, I agree), and sometimes – particularly when you want to be at the forefront of change – you might go on a training course.

CPD also means keeping your reference materials and tools – from dictionaries and style manuals to computer programs – up to date. And it can mean being active in relevant professional organizations such as the SfEP.

Being professional means taking responsibility and the initiative for your own training and continuing professional development.