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Something for nothing

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A new website offers free CPD for construction professionals. It's in its infancy, but shows promise

FREECPD does just what it says on the tin, advertising itself as the only website to offer 'high-quality CPD for free'. The name has even been confidently secured as copyright, reflecting the fact that in the CPD market, most other organisations charge for advice.

The home page provides a friendly welcome and some spartan information about the service, which is fine as not much information is needed. Everything is reasonably self-explanatory. Editorin-chief Brian Atkin, professor in construction management at Reading University, says that 'there is no reason why high-quality CPD materials cannot be provided for free. There is a mountain of knowledge out there, but it needs to be packaged and presented in a way that people can access easily and without charge.'

Click-throughs at the top of the home page go to news, events and feedback pages, among others.

Each page is headed with an aphorism, from 'In the business world, the rearview mirror is always cleaner than the windshield' (Warren Buffett, stock-market investor), to 'Go ahead, make my day' (Clint Eastwood, actor). Despite this American, even Readers' Digest, type of presentation, the site is really rather useful.

The international news section is a nice touch, making available key stories across the world, continent by continent. A stickability feature is a BBC News headline service, which keep you in touch with the real world outside the rarified atmosphere of the building industry. FREECPD news presents a wide range of stories related to the core catchment of architecture, engineering and construction, with news stories examining real-estate investment rates in America, concerns about Jarvis' PFI programme, and economic growth figures in the Russian economy. Even though the news is simply a synopsis of broadsheet and trade journal information, it is handy to have it all compressed and stored in one place.

On the down side, the section 'My CPD' starts badly with an idiot's guide to how to plan a personal CPD programme. Business-speak gems include 'see CPD in a positive way' and 'give yourself a target and repeat for the coming quarters'. However, the shortcut link to useful textbooks and a directory of CPD providers is handy.

Of main interest for users are undoubtedly the articles that include details of 'lean production' techniques to improve performance, and the meaning and practice of an industrialised approach to construction. On first look at the site, the database was still in its infancy, with the only other articles being on 'best value' and 'facilities management'. It's always difficult to know when a site has enough material to launch, and although only having four articles made it pretty thin, the content signalled good intent and the topics promised a useful contribution to architecture education. The site welcomes contributions 'from anyone with suitable CPD materials to offer'.

In the time taken to produce this article, a significant number of additional articles appeared on the site, with headings listed on the righthand side, from 'Finance Investment' to 'Legal and Contracts'.

One article - 'Sustainable Development: An Introduction' by 'FREECPD writer' - is at beginners' level and sets one of the user learning objectives as to 'be able to prepare an environmental policy for your organisation'. Its abstract includes a short and useful bibliography and the essay itself is really rather good, given the reams of guff printed elsewhere on this subject. To read the article, award yourself 30 minutes CPD time; 10 minutes more if you do the self-test (a fair assessment since they are reasonably dumbed-down multiple choice questions). The exercises, however, are quite stretching, with a legitimate two hours' CPD awarded for completing them.

Brian Atkin, an authority on construction management and author of a book called Total Facilities Management, calls upon a team of academics, across the UK and beyond, to review the veracity, accuracy and usefulness of the material submitted.

At the moment, the very useful events page advertises conferences, debates etc around the country for no fee, although this may change.

The website makes its money via click-throughs to books and reports (a new section is soon to be introduced that links to academic research papers and the like) and by taking a small percentage of the sales sums.

Thankfully, Atkins says that 'there'll be no banners, no pop-up advertising - we'll have none of that'.

However, he is considering 'sensible, discreet' advertising in the near future to improve the profit base. I wouldn't be surprised if this site takes off.

Visit the site on www. freecpd. co. uk

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