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Professional navel-gazing? Reflections on my APC experience
After two years practising as a Planner and alongside my on-going log-book battle, I decided to take the plunge. I finalised and submitted my Assessment of Professional Competence (APC), hoping to have cracked the code that would allow me to become a member of the Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI). And since being granted membership in 2012, I can’t help but poke my nose back into the system and reflect on the process. Dr Peter Geraghty recently said that “planners should be proud of their profession. The introduction of the assessment of professional competence (APC) has been an important step in not only maintaining but raising professional standards and in so doing we are creating more rounded and adept town planners.” So here I am a fully-fledged RTPI member…and it feels that nothing much has changed. Why? Is it because I feel exhausted after jumping through the hoops of the APC process or because I failed to recognise what the APC process is trying to achieve? In reality, the answer is probably both (!), but most likely the latter. I hear many licentiates say “It’s all a bit of a lottery you know”. I was one of those people. Many licentiates can’t understand how the substantial planning experience they have demonstrated can possibly result in an unsuccessful submission. But it is important to think through the steps of the APC process and ask yourself, what else do assessors need to see? The not-so-secret route in, is via demonstrating that you are a reflective practitioner – not just knowing what you’ve got to do but also understanding the wider context, why you make certain decisions and learning from your choices. Licentiates pour their hearts (and log books) out over many pages, demonstrating sufficient professional planning skills, competencies, understanding and knowledge to convince assessors that they should be allowed into the gang. But it is not sufficient simply to have an experience in order to learn. Without reflecting upon our experiences, it may be quickly forgotten and the learning potential lost. Whilst some licentiates see reflective learning within the APC as crucial to their learning experience, others, like I did, see it as simply an obstacle to be overcome. However, the need for reflective learning is justified. Planning is concerned with plan-making, reconciling and marrying a wide range of issues and viewpoints. Planners are interpreting an ever-more complex planning system that requires interrogative and mediatory skills. In reality, we all need to use reflective learning in our daily practice. The APC has replaced the previous system which relied essentially on length and breadth of experience. It is fit for purpose, even if the bar seems infuriatingly higher for those of us seeking full membership now than in the past. I had little prior experience of reflective learning. I think that it should be introduced at earlier stages of undergraduate education to emphasise its importance and allow the required skills to be developed. The APC should be seen as part of an on-going rather than a ‘one-off’ process. Whilst the process is about a obtaining a qualification, the education system and the professional body need to focus more on encouraging licentiates to avoid a machine-like or formulaic, ‘form-filling’ approach and instead focus on the long-term benefits from personal development and career management. For many licentiates embarking upon their APC voyage, sit back for a moment – stop looking at your log book of activities and think about why you are doing your job – it’s probably the very reasons that drew you to planning in the first place. Try to remember the context within which we work and what planning is supposed to achieve. I suppose you just need to…reflect.