Not all CPD is good CPD! By Tony O’Brien

This might seem like a strange title for an article in a magazine designed to promote career development, but it is something which I personally have experienced and see happening on a constant basis. I run a website which attracts approximately 50-100 questions a month from people within the security industry. I would estimate that about 30% of those questions relate to career development and recommendations for training courses. Many of them have the same theme. Young security professionals seeking to improve by doing as many courses and seminars as possible. While this is great to see in principle, I also see many of them wasting money and time on courses that probably won’t ever benefit their career. The value of doing CPD is immense but not all CPD is good and the value is in the benefit to your future career.

A story about Tony

When I was younger, I was a workaholic (my family would probably say I haven’t changed). I worked long hours and made good money. I always tried to use a portion of that money to put towards training and development. My problem was that I was a magpie. I was attracted to shiny advertisements and glossy ads for high speed, security ninja courses. I spent (and probably wasted) thousands of euros on well marketed courses which were exciting and great fun but had very little impact on my career. I spent all of this money on training, but I had no plan, no career path and a load of new knowledge and skills which may or may not benefit me.

What needs to be done

CPD is an essential part of building a great career in security if managed correctly. If you are going to engage in CPD programmes (and I believe you should) then they should have some form of structure and planning behind them. There is no point in engaging in endless training without knowing where you want this training to take you. This is still very common even among experienced practitioners in the industry. Collecting qualifications, badges and post nominals without any relevance to their current or future career paths. I know the devil’s advocates will say that there is no bad learning and the fact that people are doing something is better than nothing. I’m more an advocate of getting value for investment, both in terms of money and development.

I believe that the start point for any CPD programme should be the end point, if that makes sense? Where do you want this development to lead? What sector, roles or specialist areas do you want to end up in or develop in. Then look at the current job market or industry leaders in that sector and see what qualifications and training they have achieved. Yours may not need to be the same as theirs but it gives you a solid starting point.

Development pathways

An area which I feel is lacking in the security sector is clearly defined development pathways, from entry level upwards, to the various senior roles within the industry. When a young sales advisor starts in many of the leading retail stores, they are given a list of skills, competencies, training and timelines to achieve to enable them to move to the next stage of their career. When they get there, they get a new list etc. I know in the past there have been occupational standards etc. but they just tell you how to complete the skills for that job role, not where you can go next, and they have tended to be focused on security guards.

Where does a young door supervisor, event steward or security student in a college, look to for guidance on a career path beyond their current role? Many do what I did. Engage in lots of random, flashy courses to add to the CV which may make them better at their current role, but does nothing to take them to the next level. I believe that this really effects the retention rates in these sectors. People get into roles which they are very good at. They invest time and money in making themselves better, but they don’t have a pathway they can follow to make a career from the role, so they leave. I think this is an area that can really be developed throughout the industry.


Another important point in differentiating good CPD from wasted money is actually measuring how effective the training has been in developing your career. This can be in terms of financial return on investment, opportunities gained, or new pathways opened, but there should be some gain. On the resources section of my website there is a CPD planner document I use on my security management courses for learners to plan out their next steps. The columns start with ‘what do I want to do’ followed by ‘what will this give me’ . Now I don’t mind if their plan involves generating financial reward, intrinsic value or just pure entertainment, as long as they are honest with themselves about measuring that value. This allows the learner to think about not just what they want to do, but to also provide a measurable value against which to judge its future impact on their career. This is important. If we don’t measure our progress and the impact of our CPD from a programme, then how do we know if it works at all.


One of the issues with effectively planning your CPD, is that it comes with experience. The problem for newer security operatives is similar to the one I had when I spent all of that money. They often don’t have the experience to know whether the CPD programme is of value or not. That is where I believe mentorship is essential in good CPD planning. Taking the advice from those who have been there, invested the time and made the same mistakes as you can be invaluable. There are some fantastic mentorship programmes out there such as the UK Security Institute and some ASIS chapters. These mentors have done many of the good CPD programmes and seen the impact of their careers. They will have also made mistakes and can help a less experienced person avoid making the same errors. For every good mentoring programme there is also a poor one. The poor ones tend to be glorified sales funnels with biased salespeople pushing you towards their own programmes and often down the wrong road. A good mentor can advise on good CPD from a position of impartiality. Beware those who push you down a route towards their own products.

I didn’t write this piece to be negative about CPD. In fact, it’s meant to be the opposite. I want you to make CPD something that provides real value and benefit to your career. I’m also not against doing courses sometimes just for the fun of it, as long as you recognise this in advance. My final piece of advice to sum this whole thing up is simple. Join a good mentorship scheme, take a look at where you want to be in 2,3- or 5-years time, and begin investing in yourself towards that goal.

You will thank me in the long run.

I hope.

Tony O’Brien

Tony is a respected specialist in the field of security, safety and the management of conflict and risk in organisations. As a top industry consultant, on a daily basis, he is helping organisations develop solutions to their risk management and conflict management processes through designing training, policy and risk assessments to meet real world challenges. He’s also qualified as an expert witness, in the use of force, and most security related fields. Also a QQI subject matter expert for the security and safety sectors and Winner of the 2016 IITD Rising Star Award.