EVENT REVIEW: Navigating the RTPI Assessment of Professional Competence (APC) – 1st July 2014

This packed event was aimed at providing information and guidance to Licentiates, Mentors and Employees on submitting the Assessment of Professional Competence. The excellent cohort of speakers imparted advice and tips to APC candidates in their quest for the coveted MRTPI initials, for the Chartered status that would further their careers and command more respect from those outside.

It included a presentation about the APC process, which covered the revised guidance and submission procedure. What followed was a series of workshops (break-out topics) to cover specific aspects of the APC process, followed by a drinks reception and networking.

The event took place in Colliers International office in George Street, London, upon entering the building attendees were greeted with its elegant corridor leading to the conference room where attendees were offered in-season refreshments prior to the start of the presentations.

There were a total of nine speakers, in which five of them spoke at the main event with the remaining four speakers covering their respective break-out topics.

The event kicked off with a Welcome speech by Pippa Aitken, Director and Head of the consulting division of Colliers. She was particularly delighted to welcome the attendees as she is a planner and remembered to some degree what the attendees are going through for their APC.

Following Pippa was Annabel Osborne, Young Planners Representative for RTPI London, who gave an introduction the event. She spoke of the many upcoming events that RTPI London is hosting as part of RTPI’s centenary year.

 Navigating the APC – Hilary Lush

Next was Hilary Lush, Senior Membership Officer of the RTPI, on Navigating the APC, who took up the bulk of the presentation element of the event, where she spelled out the steps of the APC leading to MRTPI with regard to its criteria, obligations, required experience and so on.

Hilary showed the audience the RTPI website which has a membership section; it is important that APC candidates go there regularly. She also conveyed that there is an ‘APC Outstanding Achievers’ webpage on the RTPI website where the candidates that did really well provide top tips and experience, demonstrating what worked for them.

In terms of what is assessed in an APC submission, Hilary said the Written Submission and General Presentation are assessed by peers which are two Chartered RTPI members, who come from different backgrounds with a range of different skills. The Written Submission consists of three elements of the APC which are, Professional Experience Statement (PES), the Professional Competence Statement (PCS) and the Professional Development Plan (PDP). Hilary explained that the Log book is not formally assessed but advised that it is crucial that candidates start using it early and put in as much as detail as possible.

Hilary expanded on the Practical Experience Statement (PES) section, which she explained is more of an overview candidates experience to date. This section has no particular criteria other than candidates requiring a minimum of two years full time spatial planning experience. The professional level planning experience does not mean administration or technical but rather using your judgement to influence space and planning outcomes – the assessors want to see evidence of your progression. The PES can be descriptive, describing your job role, the type of employer. Hilary advised that candidates need to be clear on what it is we are doing, using an active voice (don’t just say, “I am involved with or assisted…” – candidates have to actually tell the assessors what they did and how they did it).

Next is the Professional Competence Statement (PCS) where candidates need to meet seven criteria in order to be successful. Hilary explained each of the criteria.

The first criterion (1. An understanding of context) is showing how you have an understanding – as a planner the decisions you make have implications for other professionals and the public (i.e. you identify who the stakeholders are and the spatial aspect of planning in relation to site like transport links. Set the scene). Hilary advises you to choose between one and three case studies and not break up into different sub headings – you can chose such as one case study to demonstrate that you meet four criteria for instance.

The second criterion of the PCS (2. An ability to identify and analyse issues) seems straightforward. Hilary advises that as a planner, candidates need to analyse what is the problem and they are going to overcome it. Hilary stressed that candidates’ need to be clear in your role in defining what the issue was.

The third criteria (3. Competence in gathering appropriate value) is about information gathering (i.e. did you go on site visits? Where did you get your information? What did you discard and why? What was the most appropriate information?).

The fourth criterion (4. Competence in identifying and evaluating a course of action) is where some candidates struggle with, as Hilary warned. Candidates might struggle to evaluate. This criterion means giving the alternative option (e.g. you decided to follow a course of action, but what were the alternatives? Why was your action the most appropriate?)

The fifth criterion (5. Competence in initiating action to implement a course of action or dissemation and application of knowledge (academic research)) is very interlinked – once candidates decided what to do, they need to explain how they did it.

The sixth criterion (6. Engagement in a process of reflection and review) is cross-cutting; assessors expect to see this throughout candidates’ APC submissions. Hilary explained that Chartered Town Planners are expected to be reflective practitioners (i.e. you need to look at what went well and also what didn’t go well, what you would do next time). It shows that while you are competent, there are areas for development and you will address them.

The seventh and final criterion (7. Knowledge and experience) contains four sub-sections. The first one, (a) legal framework is about demonstrating your understanding of the up-to-date legal knowledge, your actions/decisions and how it implements on the process. The section, (b) ethical challenges, is where some candidates struggle. Hilary advised that candidates need to flag it up with their respective line managers where candidates need to be put in a situation where they have to balance conflicting requirements (so, for instance, perhaps a moral dilemma in housing – what the challenge was, what you did to address it. It might be a client that wants to take a shortcut in a planning situation. There is also a guidance note on the website in ethics).

The third section, (c) political framework, is about demonstrating your understanding of how politics influences planning policy and your work.

The fourth section, (d) RTPI Code of Conduct, is what candidates will use as a Chartered Town Planner and it is something candidates abide by, where any planner can go back to it if there is an ethical dilemma. There is also conflict of interest to consider where you need to demonstrate how the RTPI code of conduct impacts on your work (i.e. how it affected you and what you used from the C of C to overcome it. Name the specific element of that code that impacted you).

The third element of the APC submission is the Professional Development Plan (PDP), where it is about how candiates would like to develop professionally. It is not just about their current role but also more about the next two year period professionally as a planner. It is not also just about soft skills but also about planning skills and knowledge. There is a SWOT analysis candidates need to do and it must feed into the PDP. There is a PDP template for candidates to use which, although not compulsory, is advised. The PDP element contains Goals; Objectives; and, an Action Plan in which all of them should be inter-related and refer to the weaknesses aspect of the SWOT analysis.

Hilary advised that candidates must have a long term overarching statement as their goals must encompass two years but specific enough to tell assessors where the candidates are going. Objectives must link to gaols – objectives take six to twelve months. With the Action aspect, candidates need to be SMART (specific) – example of a goal, not just promotion but candidates could go into more detail where they want to be in two years’ time.

Hilary gave an example for that, “objectives for that might be to develop your presentation skills. Different actions could be attending a course on presentation skills. (The middle column) how I will know I achieved it. You could just say, I will attend a course but that isn’t sufficient. You need to talk a bit about learning outcomes but also how you will test the knowledge that you gained. Another action, once you attended the course what are you going to do now to use the skills you gained. It could be giving a presentation to colleagues, asking for detailed verbal feedback from colleagues”.  

Hilary spoke about the S.M.A.R.T. model (S for Specific, M for Measurable, A for Achievable and R for Relevant and T for Time based) where it should be used in relation to the Professional Development Plan (PDP).

The General Presentation of the APC Submission is taken very seriously by the assessors as the MRTPI is a professional qualification. Hilary advises candidates to get friends, young planners to proof-read the APC submission as they do not understand what you do. Also, spelling and grammar needs to be checked with the word-count not exceeded especially. With regards to referencing, Hilary highly recommends candidates to cross-reference their log book to the APC submission.

A good resource for checking spelling, punctuation and grammar is the Guardian and Observer Style Guide – if you’ve ever been confused about the difference between evoking and invoking, it may be able to help

Hilary pointed out that APC candidates with learning difficulties can speak to the RTPI membership team and implement what is similar to the candidates’ workplace.

Logboook

The logbook can be kept for two years but the assessors enforce a minimum of one year. If candidates’ do indeed have a log book, they can submit it as well (no word limit) [Check with Hilary/RTPI]. Candidates’ case studies should be coming out of their log book. If the case studies are outside the log book period, it can be possible, but candidates are setting themselves back with that (i.e. if assessors are unsure what type of work you are doing etc. They refer to it. If you haven’t cross referenced they won’t be able to find that information. So it’s important.)

Hilary showed the log book template to the audience and mentioned that some candidates struggle with it – her advice was, “write something down, you can edit later on. Backdating it just makes it difficult”. Going through each column on the log book template, Hilary explained that the fifth column (“What skills/knowledge do you feel you need to develop”) is about reflection where candidates can describe what went well, what made them nervous, what they did not know, etc. – candidates need to detail that information there, which would eventually feed into the candidates’ PDP. The weaknesses candidates identified in this column will need to address it in their PDP. Hilary showed a diagram-explaining slide, “Log book” where it conveys how the log book feeds into the APC submission.

Experience

Two years spatial full time experience as a minimum for APC candidates is required (however, more experience can be added to it if candidates have it). APC candidates need to have all of their experience corrobated and need to get their line manager/employer to write a letter or email to confirm it. The two years full time can however be either full or part time. Hilary made a point of experience being detailed in consecutive blocks of three months or more – in other words, it equates to three months full time experience.

Mentoring relationship

Having a mentor on board for candidates is not compulsory but it is nonetheless a resource. If candidates have the opportunity, why not, said Hilary. The mentor is not like a line manager and it is best to have a mentor where slightly removed, so that they cannot read between the lines and that APC candidates have to demonstrate their competency to them. Mentors need to be familiar with competencies, where they need to be up to date with the guidance on the website and must also be in the industry longer than the candidates. Mentors should offer positive critique of the application, which is one of the positive aspects. The mentoring relationship is confidential, even if coming from different departments in the workplace.

Tips!

 Read the guidance (i.e. have you read it? More than once? Read it several times!)

  1. Relevant level and amount of experience – if you are worried that you do not have the experience requirements yet, it is fine – wait for a later submission deadline (it is an opportunity for discussion with your line manager)
  2. Demonstrate ALL the assessment criteria – ensure that you can tick them off confidentially. Make it clear to the assessors as well.
  3. Focus on PDP – don’t leave it to the last minute. Have discussions with your line manager before you submit.
  4. Use resources – some companies give study time so find out what resources are available for your work.
  5. Selecting your case studies carefully – it is good if your case studies contrast as it demonstrates a range of skills.
  6. Be critical – it is more of a case of reflection not description.
  7. Reference the submission to the log book – specific log book entries provide a backup for you if you submit them to your assessors.

RTPI Membership Team

The RTPI membership team is a very friendly team; if candidates want to ask them any questions, the team can be contacted via phone, email or the RTPI website. Further details can be found here.

APC Experience Snapshot by Alison Wright

Next was Alison Wright MRTPI, the former year’s Young Planner of the Year and Associate Planner at Savills shared an insight to her APC experience to the attentive audience.

Alison submitted her APC a year ago and mentioned that the APC has a thirty per cent pass rate. Her own experience was that one of not getting through the first time but stressed that if anybody does not, it is not the end of the world for them and that they should keep at it.

This is how she learnt from her experience, sharing two lessons which were on about her Professional Development Programme (PDP) and the legal context of planning. In her PDP Alison said she failed to do her SMART objectives – for instance, she pencilled down that she would improve her presentation skills and that she was going on a course but did not however say when the course was nor how she used the skills she learnt.

The second lesson Alison shared was the legal understanding and framework of her APC. In a case study in her APC, she mentioned she advised her client on permitted development and that she was aware of the particular legal obligation (GPO) and said it was permitted. But it turned out that there was not enough detail and that she should have said why the GDPO was relevant legislation

Furthermore, Alison had four tips for the aspiring-to-be-MRTPI-planners. The first one is to making the APC personal, so that it stands out. She said, “If I put down a weakness as ‘lack of transport planning’ that’s not relevant if one of my goals is not to become a transport planner, so must be relevant.”

The second tip is that APC candidates should not just describe what they did. Instead, candidates need to say why they made decisions, why they are important and who is affected.

The third tip is the candidate needs to be specific and write in the first person. For instance, as Alison pointed out, candidates can say “I took part in the planning committee”, not just “I assisted”.

The fourth and final tip Alison had for APC candidates was not to leave the PDP to the last minute, which was what Alison did. She recommends candidates give at least two weeks before submission date and allow that time for proof reading, especially getting a work colleague or family member to proof-read it.

Break-out sessions

After Alison Wright’s presentation, a break-out of the audience was formed where attendees choose to attend one of the following topics, which were, (1) Professional Experience Statement, (2) Professional Competence Statement, (3) Professional Development Plan, (4) Logbook and, (5) Mentoring. These break out topics were an opportunity for the attendees to ask specific questions about a particular aspect of their APC submission and learn from the speakers (MRTPI members) who have been there and done that!

Refreshments

There was a drinks reception in the end where attendees were rewarded with a selection of drinks and snacks to replenish their energy levels having paid attention for a full two hours what it takes to accomplish an APC submission! The RTPI Young Planners would like to thank Colliers and hosting and sponsoring this event and all committee members who contributed to its organisation and the breakout sessions.

If you have any further questions, please email rtpilondonyoungplanners@gmail.com

EOIN BURNS

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