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Maximising staff career and professional development opportunities

We asked RTPI Learning Partners in the public sector how they ensure that career and professional development priorities are not compromised by the current climate of budget cuts and cost reductions.

Restructuring teams

Several Learning Partner local planning authorities have taken a positive approach to the loss of staff, particularly in management positions.

In one case, the loss of a team leader presented the LPA with an opportunity to review that teams structure, provide new career development opportunities for existing staff, and identify savings and reduce costs.

Management Board approval was sought for a proposed restructure which deleted the now vacant Team Leader post, but provided a better career structure through a new hierarchy. Existing staff were assimilated where possible into the new structure and one new permanent planner post was created. This attracted applications from two internal candidates who have been employed on temporary contracts.

Job descriptions within the teams are now generic, and the LPA does not use specific descriptions for posts such as enforcement officers. This enables staff to work flexibly in terms of their responsibilities, and there is more freedom to vary the types of work undertaken by individuals. Qualified planners fill the projects and compliance positions.

The new structure has been well received by staff. The Leader of the Council and Chair of the Planning Committee have also been supportive, and a budget saving has been achieved.

staff chart before restructure:

staff chart following restructure:

If you experience problems viewing the structure click here.

 

Internal and external training

Some Learning Partners are supported by a council-wide policy that ensures career development applies to all levels and stages of an individuals career. Training and development activities therefore are not targeted to any particular level in the staff structure; they apply to the activity or service need.

One LPA employs approximately 140 professional, technical and administrative support staff, with a service training budget between 23,000 - 24,000. Training budgets do not always include staff undertaking further education, as this funding can be provided at the departmental level.

Specific arrangements are made for younger planners to support them through the APC process. This includes mentoring and the availability to move between teams to gain a wider breadth of experience. One LPA also confirmed that they are able to continue to recruit each year to two posts for year out students on RTPI Accredited undergraduate courses. These candidates spend six months in each development management and planning teams, swapping over at the mid-year point.

However, for staff revenue budgeting reasons it is likely that in the next few years posts for recent graduates will be on 12 month fixed term contracts, and the breadth of experience open to them will be more limited

Internal training:

Extensive use is made of internal training. Despite pressure on budgets there is strong evidence that the quantity and equitable distribution of training delivery has increased within some LPAs through focusing on learning outcomes relating to key service objectives.

Learning Partner The City of Edinburgh Council utilise specialist expertise in other council services and partner organisations to deliver training workshops. On some occasions colleagues from across these services are invited to join the planning service in joint training exercises. This helps to build working relationships by improvingstaff awareness and understanding of different roles of stakeholders in the planning process said David Leslie MRTPI, DevelopmentManagement Manager.

External training:

Major planning conferences are identified and individuals (junior planners through to managers) are invited to apply to attend these events and represent the council. Applications have to be justified in relation to the individuals personal development plan objectives. The individual then leads a report back to a wider group of staff, often through lunch time seminars. The LPA does not usually send more than 2-3 individuals to the same event, and seek to achieve a spread across teams so that the report back at team level spreads the learning benefits across the planning service.

One LPA confirmed that they are able to fund a member of the planning support team to study a part-time RTPI Accredited postgraduate qualification, and part-funding a planning officer to obtain a law qualification.

Some Learning Partner authorities are also Investors in People, demonstrating the importance of championing training and staff development at the corporate level. Our Members continue to see the value of our training budgets said Geof Muggeridge MRTPI, Head of Development Management & Environmental Health at Three Rivers District Council. They appreciate the need for professional staff to remain up-to-date with changing legislation and interpretation of guidelines.

We would like to hear from authorities on the different approaches they are taking to balance the need to reduce budgets with the need to provide learning & CPD opportunities. Please email your experiences to chris.sheridan@rtpi.org.uk.

Additional RTPI support:

The following are sources of RTPI CPD to help authorities and planners themselves with their learning and professional development needs:

RTPI Regions and Nations

RTPI Regions (England), RTPI in Scotland, RTPI Cymru and the RTPI Northern Ireland offer a range of excellent local, low cost CPD events and opportunities. Contact your local RTPI direct to ensure you receive details of their CPD programme. You might also find the RTPIs events calendar helpful.

Collaborative Working Groups.

Our knowledge exchange and professional development initiative is based on the tried and tested action learning set model of problem solving through group discussion of workplace issues. This can add value to external training opportunities, as the staff member attending can then facilitate an internal working group, helping disseminate knowledge and enable colleagues to discuss and reflect on how they can incorporate new approaches and thinking to their work.

Management guidance resource.

The RTPI aims to help planners become better planners and better managers. We offer a range of free management guidance notes covering a wide range of issues facing managers of planning services, team leaders, senior planners and aspiring managers.