In-house mentoring reaps benefits in individual and shared learning

Development of professional planners is proving cost effective in difficult economic times as employers can demonstrate their commitment to staff and knowledge gained can be shared, Cat Shepherd explains.

With the ongoing economic situation and tightening budgets, it can be more difficult to fund training and qualifications. So how can employers show that they are committed to supporting and developing their professional planners?

A number of organisations have done this by achieving RTPI Learning Partner status, showing that they have met standards of best practice in their professional development and have made a commitment to supporting their planning staff.

One such partner, Cambridge City Council, is supporting a member of its planning team to complete an MSc in ecology and management of the natural environment at Bristol University. Ellis Selway contributes to the local development plan through his work on nature conversation and requested support to allow him to attend the course.

The council is funding 60 per cent, covering all expenses and giving Selway the blocks of time off work that he needs to attend the course. This has both enabled him to pursue a qualification and also pass the learning and knowledge on to planning colleagues and volunteers at local nature reserves.

Tunbridge Wells Borough Council has a strategy to grow its own planners by investing in staff training and development. This includes supporting employees through accredited masters degrees at London South Bank University, where five staff members are now in their last year. The authority also has two employees working towards their assessment of professional competence (APC) and has hosted a trainee through the Tomorrows Planners' scheme for a three-year programme including a masters degree.

The council's structure allows for progression from planning officer to senior then principal planning officer. Advancement to team leader, development manager and head of planning services may follow. Together with investment in training and development of junior staff, this has meant that senior posts have filled by internal applicants.

At DPP, one of the ways that the practice supports employees' professional development is through its foundation programme graduate training. Set up in 2007, it has since been redesigned to improve retention of learning and to meet current market conditions. Graduates attend seven workshops over a 15-month period, covering a mix of planning and personal effectiveness topics.

The workshops are designed to appeal to different learning styles and preferences, ensuring stimulation and memory retention. The addition of advance coursework enhances attendees' learning experience. After each workshop attendees are encouraged to discuss key discussion threads on the DPP intranet. Participants in the programme are allocated a mentor to support them towards the achievement of their MRTPI.

Mentors receive internal training on necessary skills and wherever possible have recently been through the APC process themselves so they can provide better guidance and empathy. Feedback from the latest programme is good and DPP hopes that the redesign will improve individual learning and ensure an even more positive experience.

"Ultimately this is about developing individuals who are able to use their initiative and interact positively with the planning system while at the same time feeling more valued and motivated to deliver an excellent service to DPP clients," says learning and development manager Emma Scinaldi.

Is your organisation a Learning Partner? If you already have good learning and development practices you will just need to compile a portfolio of evidence to show that you meet the criteria. Once these have been met, you are awarded Learning Partner status and are entitled to a number of benefits. These include use of the Learning Partner logo to demonstrate to staff, clients, competitors and funders that the approach to professional development has been assessed, eligibility for the RTPI lifelong learning award, invitations to special Learning Partner webinars, a regular e-newsletter and other benefits throughout the year.

Cat Shepherd is RTPI lifelong learning officer. For more information about learning partner status, please email, call 0207 929 8174 or visit

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