Investing in Your Own Professional Development

December 1, 2014, Department, by Michael J. Bradley, Ph.D., and Jody M. Baker

Investing in ongoing professional development keeps you up-to-date and relevant in the field of parks and recreation.Recently, many folks in parks and recreation have discussed “the new economic reality” and how it affects both the world of work that we live in and our personal lives. However, during times where finances are under the microscope and budgets are cinched more than ever before, professionals must not neglect their own development. In the past, many professionals relied on their employing agency or organization to help fund professional development. Now, in “the new economic reality,” some employers are eliminating or limiting the number of dollars allocated to such opportunities. Whether it involves attending conferences, taking academic courses, participating in webinars, reading books or joining an online community, professional development is meaningful and essential in ensuring you and your agency are doing what it takes to be top notch. However, in some instances you as the professional must build a case to invest in professional development, meaning securing time off and financial support of the endeavor.

While there is certainly a wide range of reasons to justify professional development need, we have started a quick list to help you begin brainstorming support for such opportunities. 

1) Constituents expect you to be an expert in your profession.

We must remember that we are professionals, and many external and internal members of the community and beyond hold us to that standard. This means we must stay aware and connected to the profession’s trends, advancements, laws and challenges. Keeping up with such aspects of our profession enables each of us to understand and appropriately respond to current and future issues that may affect the services we provide. This includes meeting best practices related to these services and viewing recreation as an important part of the communities we reach. 

2) Develop primary and complimentary skill sets.

In the realm of parks and recreation, there are many opportunities to expand individual skill sets. If you have ambitions of managing a recreation center, one that includes an aquatics facility, then perhaps seeking out AFO certification could help you become a better candidate when the position becomes available. Another example might be if you want to make a transition from summer camp director to managerial oversight of all recreation programs. Seek out resources like academic courses and webinars that will expose you to things such as policy development, risk management, program evaluation and budgeting. Seeking out opportunities to expand your skills in the areas you need to progress professionally can help you achieve your goals.

3) Education and knowledge lends credibility when dealing with others related to your job, agency and profession.

Education is the best way to get a foothold in the industry and provides the structure for the understanding of common policies, procedures and practices. Classes related to programming, areas and facilities, and evaluation give a future professional the basic tools that can be applied to situations that occur in the field. While obtaining an advanced degree may help validate your credibility and secure some job positions, it is not a “golden ticket” to the top. It is crucial that credibility is developed through knowledge and solid experiences that prove you have the ability to handle the variety of experiences common in our field. 

Another way to gain credibility is through professional certification. Professional certification demonstrates you have the basic knowledge needed for certification and highlights your vested interest in this great profession. A truly credible professional has the tools to handle daily situations, certifiable knowledge and a proven record of success developed from field experiences. 

4) Facilitate improvement within the agency with better practices. 

Through your own professional development, you will also have the ability to improve agency practices. This is accomplished by networking with other professionals who are experiencing the same challenges, becoming aware of resources and increasing your ability to learn from the challenges and issues within other agencies as well as your own.

5) The best leaders share knowledge and encourage others to learn and develop.

Mark Wilkerson, director of parks and recreation for Muskogee, Oklahoma, once said one of his professional goals was supporting the future leaders in our field. In addition to setting aside time to share his knowledge and experiences with his employees, he invests time in listening and learning from his employees, peers and concerned citizens. Wilkerson makes a point of allowing his employees to be engaged in service roles, seek out professional development opportunities and grow within the field. Whether you’re a seasoned veteran or a young professional in the field, sharing and supporting professional development allows this great profession to progress.

Each of these tips serves as a starting point to any conversation related to supporting professional development. An important aspect to remember is that professional development takes place not just at a conference or only within a classroom — do not limit yourself to a specific type of development. As much as possible, diversify the ways in which you engage professionally and grow personally. Challenge yourself to take on different roles and try new ways of learning and networking. 

Michael J. Bradley, Ph.D., is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Recreation and Park Administration at Eastern Kentucky University. Jody M. Baker is a Recreation Leader III with the Tulsa County Parks Department.