Professional development programs, whether formal curriculum administered by an employer or courses voluntarily taken to bolster understanding of some particular topic, exist in nearly every industry. But there are several fields in which continuing education plays a critical role.
For example, certification and licensing requirements for teachers and nurses may vary from state to state. And within both professions, progress and change happen at a pretty rapid pace. One way the industries help ensure their workforce is keeping abreast of the latest developments is by requiring practitioners to complete continuing education units (CEUs).
The International Association for Continuing Education and Training (IACET) defines a CEU as 10 hours of participation in an organized continuing education experience under responsible sponsorship, capable direction and qualified instruction. These activities are available in a range of topics and may be applied to certification requirements, receiving a promotion or raise, or even credit toward a graduate degree, in some cases.
Manufacturing is another industry in which professional development plays a critical role. Six Sigma, a popular methodology developed originally by Motorola to improve its manufacturing process, has become a staple in many large corporations [source: Dan]. The basic idea behind Six Sigma is that, by eliminating defects or deviations in a manufacturing process, you can minimize unnecessary costs. (You can read more about Six Sigma and its application in How Six Sigma Works.) Six Sigma practitioners can become certified through the Institute of Industrial Engineers or through the American Society for Quality.
Other industries, including engineering and architecture, use professional development programs to keep workers up to speed on the latest methodologies and research. In the next section, we'll discuss how professional development programs are helping employers close culture gaps by offering support for non-English speakers.