Workforce, Pensions and Training

04.09.17

Refocusing professional development

Source: PSE Aug/Sept 2017

Graeme McDonald, managing director of Solace, discusses the importance of taking time out to focus on learning, especially in the ever-changing landscape of the sector.

Squeezing on to my packed commuter train on the way into Westminster recently, I reflected on the five-year anniversary of the London 2012 Olympic Games. I was fortunate enough to attend a handful of events, and even share in the delight of a few British athletes winning gold, but it was the sense of openness, optimism and dynamism that really stayed with me. Londoners talking on the Underground, the rainbow of culture and nationalities, with volunteers providing both directions and a sense of place. It now feels like a lifetime ago. So much has happened in the past five years.

Politically 2017 has been a momentous year, probably the most unpredictable since… well, 2016? While change has always been an important part of the career of a public servant, the pace of change is increasingly relentless and unpredictable.

Speaking to colleagues from across the sector in recent weeks, they describe unrelenting waves of seemingly unconnected events crashing their agendas. From the surprise, and ultimately unsettled, general election, through to cyber-attacks, the twists and turns in social care, education and local government finance policy, to the tragedies of terrorist atrocities and the Grenfell fire. Placed within the uncertain context of Brexit, these are extraordinary times.

Whilst the events of recent months do feel unprecedented, the pace of change has been accelerating for some time. For example, waves of technological change that once took a lifetime now stretch little more than a decade. In a single career, we were once required to adapt to perhaps one significant change. But now we are expected to adapt constantly to many.

 

Investing time in learning

The pace of change impacting all our local places is accelerating. It may manifest itself in very different ways in different places, but that impact is still felt. Inevitably then, and if we are to stay relevant, the pace of change across local public services must also be unrelenting.

This brings some important challenges to us in local government. Both individually and collectively we are asked to continuously improve both our own capacity and our capacity to understand our context. With such a fast-paced agenda it can be hard to keep up, and difficult to master one thing before being pressed to move onto the next. The inability to take sufficient time to learn risks creating a treadmill of incompetence.

This is why Solace is refocusing its energy on professional development throughout an individual’s career. The pace of change makes taking time out to jump off the treadmill and focus on learning difficult, but all the more important. In a recent survey of our members, 75% said that local government wasn’t investing enough money into developing current and future leaders and managers. While 78% of our members wanted us to have a clear, continuous professional development policy to give them specific guidance to support their learning.

Solace now not only opens its arms to members at all stages of their career, we also have a suite of learning programmes which is equally broad in its coverage. Working with respected partners including the DCLG, University of Birmingham, the RSA, Newton Europe, Collaborate CIC and the LGA, we have a range of learning offers to suit people at all stages of their career. Indeed, in July we launched our latest report on our Ignite Programme, written by Henry Kippin (Collaborate CIC) and Matthew Taylor (the RSA). The report summarises much of the learning from our programme for experienced CEOs and provides an important mechanism to ensure we can create excellent learning experiences for specific cohorts, but are also able to share the learning with our members and the wider public service family.

However, in such turbulent circumstances, it is tempting for individuals and organisations to look in on themselves and to focus on internal issues as a way of sheltering from the external pressure. Investing time in learning when the agenda is burdensome and fast-paced is tough, but without it we are just making the future more challenging for ourselves and future generations of public services.

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