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Required or not, professionals take time for continuing ed

When computer technicians show up at a client’s office to fix a vexing computer problem, they have to be prepared to do just that — fix the problem. Clients usually pay on a per-hour basis, and “nobody wants you training on-site,” said Eric Gibens, CEO of Tupelo-based RedMagnet, a technology company. “They don’t want to pay for your training.”

Every type of business, from technology to construction to public relations, can benefit from continuing education for its employees, and for many, it’s a requirement. Much of RedMagnet’s continuing education is driven by the companies it supports, like Best Software Inc. and that company’s accounting software. RedMagnet’s technicians are evaluated yearly to ensure they will know how to help clients using that software. RedMagnet is also a Microsoft-certified partner, and so technicians must be trained on all of Microsoft’s products before they hit the market.

Gibens estimates half of his staff’s training is vendor driven, and the other half is training they see vital to staying on top. “In our line of work, it’s changing so frequently,” he said.

For other professionals, state law requires a certain amount of continuing education credits. Mississippi CPAs must get 40 continuing professional education credits per year, as required by the State Board of Accountancy, and architects are required to have 24 CEUs over two years by the Mississippi State Board for Architecture. Attorneys licensed in Mississippi must attend a minimum of 12 actual hours of continuing legal education (CLEs) each year. Some groups’ requirements have been temporarily altered due to Hurricane Katrina.

Mississippi Realtors are required to complete 16 hours of coursework every two years to keep their licenses, as required by the Mississippi Real Estate Commission. Mississippi law is subject to change with each legislative session, and that’s why it’s important that licensees stay abreast of those changes in order to better represent their buyer and seller clients, said Joe Usry, vice president of professional development for the REALTOR Institute/Mississippi Association of REALTORS.

“Real estate is a consumer business, and we try to make sure our Realtors who are out there working with consumers have the highest level of education they can get,” said Usry.

Eight of their 16 hours can be in any real estate topic approved by the Mississippi Real Estate Commission; the other eight hours must be in categories of Mississippi license law, contract law and agency relationships.

Even if a particular profession doesn’t require continuing education, professionals go after extra training and certification to help them do better on the job, to advance in their careers and for personal satisfaction. Janice Shumaker, senior vice president for mortgage services at Community Bank, said she is the only Accredited Mortgage Professional in the state — not a requirement by the bank but a personal goal she achieved. Shumaker is now going after the prestigious Certified Mortgage Banker (CMB) designation. She has completed the required three classes in just one year, although it typically takes three years. She will test in October and if she passes, she believes she will be one of only two CMBs in the state. There are approximately 200 in the country.

“I’m trying to encourage other mortgage bankers to aspire for this because Mississippi is lacking in this area,” said Shumaker.

Community Bank pays for professional coursework for those in specialized areas such as commercial lending, marketing, operations and mortgage services. The bank also sponsors training for all staff members on issues that are required by bank regulators and areas the bank feels are important. And Community Bank will pay for any undergraduate degree a staff member wants to pursue, even if it is not finance-related, said training officer John Anderson.

“We believe that since our people are the most important part of our bank, then the time and resources we invest in educating them must be considered a top priority,” said Anderson.

Accreditation was important to economic developer David Thornell, who has worked in his profession since 1982. In 1990, he earned the Certified Economic Developer (CEcD) designation, not because it was required, but because he knew it would be a personal achievement and a career booster. The percentage of economic developers who earn the designation is fairly low, which makes it more prestigious. Five years ago, Thornell moved into his current position as president and CEO of the Greater Starkville Development Partnership. He recommends developers pursue the CEcD.

“It was a great learning process, and it’s valued by employers who see this as a specialized credential for a specialized type of occupation,” said Thornell. “Grab all the education you can because this is a changing profession. It’s very challenging.”

Credentials are also not a requirement in the public relations field, but the industry is moving in that direction, said Mary Cracchiolo, director of public relations for MGM/Mirage’s Beau Rivage in Biloxi and Gold Strike in Tunica. The buzzword in the industry is the APR, or the Accredited in Public Relations designation. Because it’s still fairly new, not many public relations professionals, even seasoned ones like Cracchiolo, have earned an APR, but she believes more people will pursue it. Some employers give preference to applicants who have earned an APR because it shows they have met certain requirements regarding knowledge, ethics and experience in the public relations field. Cracchiolo started the online coursework before Hurricane Katrina. She plans to pick it up again when her work and home life are back to normal

“In this business or any business, continuing education is important to stay on top of your field,” said Cracchiolo.

Contact MBJ Staff Writer Kelly Ingebretsen at kelly@msbusiness.com.

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