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Presidential Address: Learn Something New Everyday

Letter from The President

LEARN SOMETHING NEW EVERY DAY

By Cecil Bykerk

WHILE READING this issue's table of contents, you may have paused on the phrase Competency Framework. You might have been puzzled, curious or familiar with the concept from your own work environment. Some of you may have wondered how this phrase relates to the SOA. As your president, I'd like to share my thoughts on the development of the SOA's Competency Framework.

When I received my FSA credential in 1973, my company did a fairly good job of providing me with opportunities to build and practice my actuarial knowledge. But from that point on, it was almost entirely my responsibility to pave my professional development path. While an occasional class was made available within the company, I turned to the Society of Actuaries for the lion's share of my professional development. That professional development included involvement in Spring and Fall SOA conventions, particularly serving on SOA committees. It was through volunteer activities that I learned many of my critical business skills.

LEARNING IS A LIFELONG PROCESS

Whether working as a team contributor, leading a project or managing staff, I have always been a lifelong learner and a champion of professional development. My path to lifelong learning has of course included pursuing the advanced technical training necessary to perform my work as an actuary as well as learning and applying the essential business skills of communication, leadership and management. Possessing these essential business skills, in combination with strong technical knowledge, is critical if one is to be considered for advanced responsibilities and senior roles.

In the December 2008/January 2009 issue of this magazine, I related my experience as a volunteer and discussed how volunteering helped me acquire new skills that didn't come through the traditional education process. Lifelong learning comes in a myriad of ways—education and volunteering being two. One complements the other. If you can do both, often together, your essential business skills grow stronger and have far–reaching applications.

As a professional, you already know that our rigorous actuarial training does not stop once we receive our credentials. The need to further our professional development exists outside the need to comply with the SOA's Continuing Professional Development Requirement, the U.S. Qualification Standard or the CIA Qualification Standard.

What we do as professionals and how we do it is constantly evolving. Combined with today's rapidly changing business environment, we have to stay one step ahead to be considered valuable assets to our employers and to the public we serve.

But how do we stay in demand? What road map do we have in place—as a profession—that can guide us? We needed a thoughtful framework to help us build our individual pathways to professional success.

OUR COMPETENCY FRAMEWORK

The purpose of the SOA's competency framework is to provide a systematic, sound approach to designing and delivering effective professional development for our members.

A task force comprised of a talented group of members—your peers—sought input from a diverse collection of stakeholders. Over 2,300 members, as well as a small group of non–actuaries, played a role in developing this framework. We even enlisted help from a recruiter. The member task force gathered input through interviews, surveys and meetings and applied a rigorous analysis to the significant amount of data generated from the research. The task force worked with complex multivariate analyses to understand the research, associated methods and applications. Their recommendations resulted is a solid framework—one that has benefits for everyone.

Ultimately what we confirmed from this process is that the framework isn't the be–all and the end–all. The framework is a support mechanism—one that helps us understand how actuaries can improve their performance as individuals and as a collective group. It is a tool to help focus the development of relevant content that can be delivered in many ways to meet the needs of the profession and your employers.

I won't give away the punch line to the article on page 24 titled, "Road to Success." The framework itself is still a work in progress and will continue to evolve. Here's one quick tidbit we learned that I hope will entice you to read the article—as professionals we rate ourselves as very sound with regard to our technical competencies. This likely isn't a big surprise.

Our greatest gaps—well, we've heard it before—are often referred to as "soft business skills." I would like to see us, as a profession, replace the word soft with essential. In my opinion, it would certainly be difficult to grow as a professional in a profession without mastering the essential business skills of communication, leadership and interpersonal collaboration.

ADVANCING YOUR KNOWLEDGE

Development of a competency framework to guide us is consistent with the SOA's mission to advance actuarial knowledge and to enhance our ability to provide expert advice and relevant solutions for business and societal problems. The competency framework will provide a thoughtful structure to give shape to our professional development offerings across all practice areas.

Our goal is to help you make informed decisions about your individual professional development and career management plans. I'm fortunate in my role as your president to work with your Board and the many dedicated volunteers to ensure that this important initiative progresses. Competency frameworks have been used by other organizations to help align skill sets. This tool is one key to meeting the promise that the profession makes to our employers. Our employers and the public are counting on us to be well–rounded business professionals and advisors.

We have to shape our own profession's road map. If we don't, we'll be perpetually challenged to stay relevant. We need to uphold our profession's world–class reputation because other business professionals with equal technical expertise and superior essential business skills are crowding into our traditional and nontraditional roles.

I hope you'll continue to engage in this journey of lifelong learning. It is more than just counting credits. It is vital to keep paces ahead of the competition. Your peers, your clients and the future of the profession are counting on us to continue strengthening our professional skills.

Please stay tuned for next steps in this vital initiative. Read the article on page 24. Keep on learning. Professional development will give you the keys to open more doors. Isn't that reason enough to learn something new every day?

Cecil Bykerk, FSA, MAAA, FCA, Hon FIA, is president of the SOA. He can be contacted at cbykerk@soa.org.