Careers Advice: The importance of taking advantage of learning opportunities

Written by: Gilian MacInnes
Published on: 10 Jul 2017


It is all too easy to be sucked into the immediacy of your role as a planner. There are always deadlines to meet, site visits, committee reports, letters, appeals, evidence reviews, policy, examinations, meetings, and management tasks to undertake. Take time away from it and grasp the opportunity to learn and engage with others. Being an effective planner means keeping up-to-date and engaged, so have a look around and go to a seminar or a conference.

When I was a head of planning, officers used to say to me: “I don’t have time to go to the seminar I am booked onto tomorrow” –  my answer was- “You need to make time”.  I am not sure I always achieved this myself, but I have now learnt the importance of taking my own advice.

It is essential to understand changes in the profession, legislation and guidance that affect your role but also to take the opportunity to hear from others about different experiences and ways to do things. It will broaden your knowledge, develop your skills, increase your confidence, make you a better planner and prepare you for the next step in your career.

These are the obvious benefits of going to a conference or seminar but the additional benefits are the head space away from the office providing the opportunity to think, to talk to others in planning and related fields, to re-energise your enthusiasm, to make contacts, and to network. In my career, I have certainly benefited from conferences, seminars and training in terms of broadening my knowledge and skills but also from the contacts and networks I have developed. Being able to contact others- to pick their brain, learn from them, and hear about examples and experiences – the good, the bad and the ugly have all benefited me and my ability as a planner, manager and consultant. However, I have also benefited through giving advice (even before I did it to earn a living!), as it makes me question - and reinforces - my knowledge.

I left the Planning Advisory Service (PAS) a year ago and set up my own consultancy, which focuses primarily on advising and working with local authorities in relation to a range of planning issues. In setting up and developing my consultancy I relied on, and benefited from, the networks that I have developed through my early career, work at PAS, involvement with the Town and Country Planning Association, Planning Officers Society, RTPI and the many conferences and seminars I have attended. I receive advice, support, encouragement and knowledge from my network. The seminars, conferences and organisations that I play an active role in now keep me up to date, challenge me, make me think and refresh and broaden my network.

Employers also need to appreciate and support the value of conferences, seminars, and learning groups as it is not just the obvious benefit– employees improve their knowledge - that they bring, but it is the broader challenge, new ideas, enthusiasm, and network of support and sources of assistance that employees can develop to the benefit of the business or service. For a consultant, not only are there all the benefits outlined above but it can provide opportunities for collaborative working, advertising your skills and knowledge, provide a sounding board and a support network. Conferences, seminars, learning opportunities and networking are worthy investments in time and money for any planner.

Gilian Macinnes is planning and placemaking advisor at consultancy Gilian Macinnes Associates