Improving Planners

Employers and employees are now starting to benefit from an RTPI initiative that ensures professional skills development is firmly built into planners' job descriptions, reports Huw Morris.

There is a misguided school of management that refuses to train staff in the belief that they are more likely to move to another job once they have refined their skills. The real issue confronting employers is what happens if they are not trained and they stay.

Thankfully this is a message generally taken on board by the planning sector. Amid the disgruntlement about planners' pay and conditions highlighted by our salary survey (Planning, 20 April, p17), one ray of light came courtesy of training and continuing professional development (CPD).

More than 75 per cent of respondents saw employer investment in this area as a key benefit. With the profession beleaguered by a recruitment crisis, employers increasingly realise that investment in training and CPD is money well spent. The launch of the RTPI learning partners scheme earlier this year aims to formalise this trend.

The initiative provides a kite mark of excellence in an employer's training practices. Learning partner status shows a firm commitment to high standards of professionalism by employing planners who are supported in their development. The status, which lasts for five years, is monitored annually.

"It is really about offering a more constructive way of engaging with employers and helping members with their professional development," says Jacqui Ward, the institute's assessment of professional competence development officer. "It is an acknowledgement of what they are doing to support training and development."

Learning partner status means employers can benchmark their training and development practices against RTPI standards. They have to show that they promote, identify, monitor, review and support professional development while embracing diversity and equal opportunities. Staff get clear job descriptions, agreed performance targets, organisational charts and details of roles and competencies required of different jobs.

Clear goals should be set for employees

Employers should be able to set objectives that are relevant to the needs, roles and responsibilities of their employees. These can be discussed with senior or line managers. This will probably be through a professional development plan reviewed as part of an appraisal - a basic requirement for RTPI members under the CPD scheme.

The initiative aims to benefit all planning staff regardless of whether they are in professional, technical or support roles. The RTPI is also keen that it is attractive to planning employers of all shapes and sizes. "We want to be flexible," says Ward. "After all, some of the larger organisations may only have relatively small planning teams."

DTZ is a global real estate consultancy whose 10,000 staff cover a wide range of property and built environment disciplines. The company, one of the first to apply for learning partner status, has an established training programme covering technical and business skills on top of opportunities for further educational sponsorship, accredited RTPI courses and day-release courses.

As well as planning skills, DTZ staff are trained in marketing, selling professional services, presentation and maintaining client relationships. These are reinforced by internal briefings, seminars and staff bulletins. The firm uses its intranet to circulate best practice information and a mentoring scheme.

It recognises that staff need different training at different points in their careers. Senior managers may be trained in making high-impact sales pitches for new clients. Graduate entrants will be brought up to speed on such skills as report writing or time management, as well as having their RTPI subscriptions paid.

"We find out who has done what and then have a national workshop or seminar where we bring most of the planners together in one place," says DTZ director Keith Thomas. "It is a combination of getting the best out of people and being ahead of the game on professional development. We want to give confidence to our clients that staff retention and morale are important."

He adds: "Learning partner status offers a professional endorsement of what we are doing on staff development. But it also provides further professional integrity in the market place, both with clients and potential recruits. We recognise that in time this will be de rigueur and that everybody should be doing it. In the future, employers will be excluded by not being part of this."

Tunbridge Wells Borough Council is the latest employer to sign up to the initiative. Staff have a learning schedule that is linked to the job appraisal system. As well as CPD, masters and day release courses, staff attend the RTPI Planning Convention and Planning Summer School. Kent's local authorities have also pooled resources to offer specialist urban design training.

Team leader Andrew Taylor says that learning partner status adds considerable kudos. "This award benefits staff. It helps us keep and recruit staff while increasing their knowledge all the time," he believes. For Taylor, putting the learning partners logo on job adverts sends out a signal to potential recruits: "It tips you above anybody else. It is a badge of recognition."

KITE MARK SIGNATORIES

Employers awarded learning partner status
- DTZ Consulting & Research
- Entec
- Ove Arup
- RENEW North Staffordshire
- Scott Wilson Group
- Stoke-on-Trent City Council
- Terence O'Rourke
- Tunbridge Wells Borough Council

Employers pursuing learning partner status
- Barton Willmore
- Environment Agency
- Hambleton District Council
- London Borough of Hackney
- London South Bank University
- London Borough of Tower Hamlets
- Newcastle-under-Lyme Borough Council
- Walsall Council


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