How to maximise the opportunities for continuing professional development

Universities and employers offer plenty of opportunities for continuing professional development. Planners tell Jonathan Tilley about activities they have found beneficial.

Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI) policy is that all members must participate in a minimum of 50 hours of continuing professional development (CPD) in each two-year period. One activity that the Institute accepts as CPD is attending courses at an accredited planning school, and many RTPI-accredited universities and training providers offer relevant courses.

Karen Hughes, CPD coordinator in Oxford Brookes University's department of planning, says it offers a wide range of courses. These include specialised programmes designed to meet the professional needs of planners, such as courses in strategic environmental assessment. The university also works with local authorities and consultancies to provide bespoke courses that meet their specific requirements.

Other educational establishments take a similar approach. Anglia Ruskin University external income manager Lewis Herbert, who heads the university's planning CPD offering, says it works in partnership with councils across the East of England to meet their needs.

The RTPI requires planners to create a professional development plan, setting out their goals and objectives. This should be the starting point when choosing a course that will help achieve their career goals, according to RTPI spokesman Josh Rule. "You may also want to think about the length and timing of the course," he suggests. "Can you fit it around your day job and personal commitments? Do you need day release to complete the course?".

CgMs planning director Mark Buxton, who runs the internal CPD programme at the consultancy and also commissions external training, adds that the activities concerned don't necessarily have to be directly related to the issues with which staff are currently dealing on a day-to-day basis. "If they can prove that it's going to be of benefit to them in advancing their knowledge of a particular area, we would be quite supportive," he says.

Case studies

Kavi Saigal - Planner, Quod

Saigal has been a planning consultant at Quod since September 2013 and has attended both internal and external seminars in a range of planning areas.

The consultancy actively encourages staff to attend internal CPD seminars, which are held every three weeks and are presented by a mix of internal and external speakers, says Saigal. He says, because Quod advises on a wide range of planning projects, it offers seminars on a number of subjects. "They cover topics from policy updates to new Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL) regulations," he says.

He says the internal seminars are the most beneficial CPD activities he has undertaken, as they cover subjects relevant to his day-to-day duties, as well as wider areas of planning such as those dealt with by the affordable housing and socio-economic teams. "They give me a more holistic understanding of planning and development, which helps when clients have queries in these areas."

According to Saigal, Quod also encourages attendance at professional networking events. "I use them to discuss topics I have learnt in seminars and my own experiences in dealing with projects," he says. The consultancy holds "gossip" sessions as well, at which "we update each other on projects that we have dealt with and brainstorm issues and ideas on current projects", Saigal adds.

In the next two years, he intends to focus on working through the Assessment of Professional Competence (APC) process towards achieving RTPI membership. "In addition to coaching from my director, once a month I sit down with my APC mentor to discuss my progress on this," he says. "My longer-term CPD goals are to have more involvement in major projects and immerse myself in more complex planning issues."

Mick Mulhern

Head of planning, Old Oak Common and Park Royal Development Corporation

Mulhern graduated from University College Dublin with a masters in planning in 2003, and has since earned a second masters, in urban design, at the University of Westminster. He is now doing a masters of business administration (MBA) in construction and real estate at the College of Estate Management, a specialist course on business and management principles. This, he says, has helped him develop skills integral to his lead planning role at the mayoral development corporation (MDC).

"It's a distance learning course designed for professionals," he says. "It's really flexible and you can change your focus midway through. It is geared towards people whose careers and lives are changing. I got a promotion in my first year and had to slow down, so it will probably take me three or four years to finish." The course offers modules on business and management topics such as finance and business strategy, in addition to specialist modules on property economics, real estate, planning and development.

"Doing a design course gave me that additional knowledge and opened up a new world of design. I hope that the MBA will open up interesting avenues," he says. He adds that the Greater London Authority, his ultimate employer, has been supportive, and contributes to the fees. Arranging the course took around a year, he says, and you have to "demonstrate the benefits" to your employer.

The MBA is the focus of Mulhern's CPD activity, but he also attends a few RTPI courses each year on topical issues, and is intending to attend a course on CIL and section 106 in June. In choosing these courses, he looks for subjects with direct relevance to his areas of work. For example, he is currently working on a new CIL for the Old Oak Common and Park Royal MDC area, and needs to take account of recent changes to the rules concerning section 106.

Marilyn Smith

Head of development management and enforcement, London Borough of Hounslow

Smith's team won the Best Practice in Career Development award at last year's Planning Awards. She says her professional development priority is keeping up with policy and legislation, and she does so partly by reading Planning's email bulletins and partly by scouring the Department for Communities and Local Government website.

Also helpful are bi-monthly meetings of the Association of London Borough Planning Officers, part of the Planning Officers Society. Information on procedural issues, such as handling prior approval applications for household extensions, is shared at meetings. "It's a big support network," says Smith. "People's experience of a policy will be different in different parts of the country," she adds, arguing that sessions bringing together planners who are equally informed about how a policy affects particular localities are especially helpful.

She describes her professional development as a mix of formal activity attracting CPD points and informal sessions. The latter includes training by consultants or lawyers engaged by the council to advise on specific issues such as viability or CIL. With training budgets being tight, opportunities for free instruction are valuable, she says.

For similar reasons, she is also grateful for free training from other council departments or public services. Hounslow's building control team has recently briefed their development management colleagues on housing standard changes, as well as regulations on accessibility and noise insulation in schools. Similarly, the local police have talked to them about development layouts that can help reduce crime. "We all have to work together to make sure that schemes that are approved meet the standards that we are all looking for," says Smith. "These days, we need 360-degree planners."

Additional reporting by Richard Garlick.

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