One of the more surprising conclusions of the Egan review of skills in the built environment was that more than 100 professions and disciplines are involved one way or another in delivering sustainable communities.
According to the Academy for Sustainable Communities, the era of practitioners labouring away in professional silos must end. Today's planners must be able to communicate with residents' associations, highway engineers should understand urban designers, economists must listen to local businesses and those planning hospitals and schools must work with the professionals who maintain nearby streets and buildings.
Persuading all these disparate occupations to sing from the same hymn sheet is a task that has exercised the academy of late. It admits that this "kind of working is not happening enough". This is largely down to skills gaps. There are too few people with the generic skills outlined by Egan of leadership, community engagement, project management, partnership working and communication to build sustainable communities.
A second issue is the shortages of professionals. The planning profession, along with civil and building services engineering, is expected to shed significant numbers through retirement over the next decade. Among a panoply of responses, the academy has pushed forward Raising Our Game, a national integrated learning programme that aims to radically improve professionals' skills and appeal to a cross-sectoral audience.
Raising Our Game allows delegates or students to fine-tune existing knowledge while acquiring fresh skills. Two dozen professionals from various public and private organisations across the North West signed up to study for the certificate in leading sustainable communities, one of the programme's key components. All 24 passed.
The qualification, which grew out of an earlier initiative to help economic development and regeneration professionals across the region, is a joint scheme between the academy and the Institute for Leadership and Management, which aims to improve the knowledge, confidence and ability of individual managers.
In the North West, the range of candidates underlines the diversity identified by Egan. Local authority regenerators, neighbourhood managers and housing officers knuckled down alongside professionals involved in strategy and policy, business development and community programmes. Such was the variety of disciplines that they set up a proxy network for exchanging ideas.
The programme includes a series of workshops, e-learning modules, tutorials and work-based assessments. These are underpinned by a set of six competencies (see panel) in line with the recommendations of the Egan review. "Each delegate went through a personal development process to identify what their needs were, which made the course individually tailored," says Trudy Birtwell, the academy's director of learning and skills.
The certificate provides a greater awareness of the sustainable communities agenda, helping colleagues to work across sectors. "Generic skills are not usually provided by in-house training. The certificate allows professionals to come together and raise their understanding of generic skills and of each other's perspectives," Birtwell explains.
"The benefits for delegates are about being able to come out of their workplace team and consider their work in a new light," she adds. "They can see how what they do fits into the wider picture of building and maintaining a sustainable community. It is encouraging to learn that the graduates now have a greater understanding of the sustainable communities agenda and are already implementing their new skills."
The academy sees the certificate as a cutting-edge postgraduate qualification that can be completed in seven months, although the North West group finished two months ahead of schedule. It now aims to roll out the qualification nationwide. Practitioners in the South West will be the next to get the opportunity to raise their game.
Details of the certificate are available at www.raisingourgame.org.
Personal effectiveness: Managing workload and time to maximum effect.
Relevant knowledge: Demonstrating a broad range of knowledge that helps colleagues and other professionals in building sustainable communities.
Building and managing relationships: Building strong co-operative relationships with internal and external contacts.
Diagnostic skills: Using the right techniques to investigate issues and respond to them.
Influencing skills: Persuading and negotiating to achieve results and gain support for initiatives.
Maximising resources: Getting the most out of people, processes and partnerships.