If you are currently working on your RTPI Assessment of Professional Competence (APC) – or know someone who is – the chances are that you associate the process with hard work. Undeniably, preparing your submission takes time and effort (not to mention a quite a few of your evenings or weekends towards the end!). However, whilst I was preparing to submit in 2015 I discovered that the process, although challenging, is also a great opportunity to reflect on the experience you have gained to date and your future aims. Whilst it is easy to view the APC as simply a ‘means to an end’ (i.e. becoming a Chartered Town Planner), it is the process itself which is the most valuable.
The APC is the main route to becoming a Chartered Town Planner for graduates of fully RTPI-accredited degrees. It is designed to build on the skills, knowledge and understanding acquired during study and the professional experience gained whilst being a Licentiate member of the Institute. In order to gain Chartered Membership, the written submission of the APC must demonstrate that you have the sufficient experience and competencies to be a successful town planner.
The APC should not only demonstrate that you have the skills required to be a successful town planner, but also that you are able to critically analyse your work to understand how you might approach similar challenges in the future.
I currently work for Arup – a global firm of engineers, designers, planners, and consultants offering a range of professional services related to the built environment – having joined in 2012 following the completion of my Masters degree at UCL. Arup’s London town planners sit within the Integrated City Planning team, which also incorporates economists, urban designers and landscape architects. Arup also has town planners across ten other offices in the UK. This professional and geographical range has meant I have been fortunate enough to contribute to a wide variety of projects, covering plan making, development management, research and economic development.
An initial challenge I faced whilst progressing my APC was finding a way to navigate through this diverse experience to demonstrate that my role and responsibilities had progressed over time. Early on in the process, my mentor suggested that I start a ‘competency matrix’ to help me track the competencies and decision-making I was displaying in my work (as a starting point you could download the APC competency checklist). I found this a really useful approach, not only because it helped guide the projects I subsequently became involved in, but also because it demonstrated to me that I had indeed been progressing over time and that I was ready to submit. From a practical point of view, the competency matrix also helped me decide which case studies to use in my Professional Competence Statement (PCS), in order to best demonstrate that I was a reflective professional and a competent town planner.
Whilst having the required competencies is crucial to the APC, the Chartership process also requires you to be able to demonstrate them clearly in your submission. In early drafts, I found that I had focused too much on describing the ‘story’ of my experience, and not enough on explaining the decisions I had made and the skills I had shown. In subsequent drafts, I specifically aimed to articulate with clarity how I had demonstrated each of the required competencies. Getting a ‘non-planner’ to review my submission was also really helpful, as it helped ensure that it was clear to readers without knowledge of my day-to-day role.
It is important to be reflective of your experience throughout the process. I think there is a temptation to think that the PCS only needs to be contemplative once, in order to meet the particular ‘reflection and review’ competency. Yet, the whole of the PCS (and all parts of the submission) should be used to reflect on your chosen actions and how this has informed what you would do in the future and how you developed as a planner. The APC should not only demonstrate that you have the skills required to be a successful town planner, but also that you are able to critically analyse your work to understand how you might approach similar challenges in the future.
Since submitting my APC and becoming a Chartered Town Planner last year, I have been surprised at how useful my submission – and in particular my Professional Development Plan (PDP) – has been in continuing to guide my professional development priorities. I have found that it has become a useful tool for discussions with my managers on my aims and objectives for the future. But wider than this, I’ve found it has helped me to become a much more reflective practitioner, shaping the way in which I approach future challenges.
Working towards my Chartered Membership provided me with a valuable opportunity to reflect on my experience and competencies, and identify the skills I am now aiming to develop as I move forward in my career. It really has helped me to become a more confident and well-rounded town planner. For this reason, the APC process has been much more than simply a ‘means to an end’.
Dan Evans is a Senior Planner, Planning, Policy & Economics, at Arup.