Becoming a Chartered Member of the Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI) is a very important goal for aspiring planners. Preparing and submitting the Assessment of Professional Competence (APC) in order to achieve this can seem like a daunting prospect.
At Lichfields, a planning consultancy where most planners are Chartered Members of the RTPI, we are encouraged to become accredited as soon as possible, in order to further our personal and professional development.
Having been through the process myself in 2019 (via the Licentiate route), I wanted to reflect on my experience and outline my key tips as I am starting to mentor a colleague through the process.
A key starting point for me was to become a Licentiate Member of the RTPI as soon as possible because you need at least 12 months of eligible experience as Licentiate Member before you can apply for full membership.
Once I’d sorted my Licentiate Membership, I asked a colleague if they could be my mentor. It was invaluable to have an RTPI accredited mentor to guide me through the process. They gave me constructive feedback on my written submission and helped me to cut down my word-count where necessary! If someone is not available within your organisation, the RTPI can provide you with an external mentor.
During my two years of undertaking eligible experience, I made sure to note down the tasks I did for each project at the end of each week. I definitely thanked myself afterwards for this, as I was able to use these notes to frame my reflective journal (previously known as a log book) and include information I may have otherwise forgotten. This also made it easier to choose my case studies and prepare my written submission.
Around six months before my target submission date, I read the RTPI’s guidance document from start to finish and highlighted key points. Other valuable tools I used were the RTPI Learn free bitesized modules (including ‘How to write a PDP’ and ‘An introduction to professional ethics’) and the RTPI’s free webinars. From these I began to understand the types of case studies/examples that could be used to cover the competencies in the Professional Competence Statement (PCS) and include within the Professional Development Plan (PDP).
At a similar time (c. 6 months prior to submission), my mentor and I put together a timetable with key dates and added reminders to my calendar. I tried to allow myself a month or so for people to review my submission and get the relevant forms filled in / signed. I also gave my corroborators/mentors forewarning of my deadline. One of my corroborators was on holiday for around 10 days before my submission date so I arranged for their sign off before they went on leave.
When it came to planning the content for my PCS, I prepared a matrix to monitor the experience I had gained against each competency. This allowed me to identify any gaps ahead of time. I’d recommend thinking about this at least 6 months prior to your target submission date so that you can address any gaps with your line manager / project managers. I used a matrix similar to the below for the Licentiate route:
I recently found this link from the RTPI’s website useful in explaining to my mentee the possible impact that Covid-19 might have on eligible experience.
The RTPI wants to see how you engage with its Code of Conduct and are being critically reflective throughout the PCS and reflective journal. Therefore, when I explained an action I took, I explained why I chose that action instead of just describing it. In some instances, I said that on reflection, I may have chosen differently.
All parts of the submission should link together. The SWOT analysis within the PDP should relate to experience mentioned in the PCS. The action plan within the PDP should address the weaknesses identified in the SWOT.
Once I drafted my submission, my mentor proof read my submission first and indicated certain sections that needed improving. I re-drafted it a few times before sending it to my mum (a non-planner!) to read and make sure it had a logical structure and was easy to understand.
I’d recommend allowing enough time for a few days – a week’s gap before doing a final read through so that you look with a fresh set of eyes. Use the RTPI guidance to check that your submission fulfils the requirements for each section. Try to avoid a last minute rush by getting all of the forms signed and making sure the proof of payment / University Certificate are available well in advance of submission.
Overall, Chartered Membership has helped me, and over 25,000 members worldwide, to demonstrate trusted professional and ethical standards to organisations and clients. It has also enabled me to expand my network and access relevant planning resources.
09 Oct 2018
I joined Lichfields in September 2016 as a graduate planner after studying for a Masters in Spatial Planning at the Bartlett School of Planning (University College London). I had undertaken work experience in both the public and private sectors in the past but this was my first real step into employment. My experience had shown me that I wanted to work in the private sector, promoting development on behalf of clients and contributing to the innovative solutions that shape our built environment. Therefore choosing the right private planning consultancy was key.
From the start, I knew that I wanted to work in London, as the development sector in the capital is at the forefront of the industry and at the heart of much wider planning and development solutions to the ever-increasing needs of a growing population. Lichfields’ London office is one of eight across the UK, which together provide expertise extending far beyond. However, for me, throughout the graduate application process, it was the culture of Lichfields that stood out. It was so easily expressed by current employees that I felt enthused to apply. The people of Lichfields were genuinely interested in me and keen to understand where and how I wanted to develop my career.
As many graduates will agree, the job application process is not an easy one and Lichfields was certainly competitive - but it was also personal. The first stage consisted of an interview and two tests which were maths and English-based but planning and development-focused. This allowed me to apply my knowledge and demonstrate my skills from the very beginning. Shortly after my interview, I was delighted to learn that I had been offered the job and would soon become part of Lichfields.
In terms of my career progression, Lichfields’ Graduate Development Programme is a three-year course which has been designed to offer exposure to a wide variety of on-the- job project work, as well as more formal learning opportunities through workshops and training. I have now worked at Lichfields for over 18 months and I am in my second team rotation: I am now part of the Strategic Land Promotion (Housing) team, following my first year in Tourism & Leisure. I am due to make my third rotation this month into a team which focusses on town centre, residential-led mixed use development. The aim of rotation is to help graduates to develop their skills and knowledge of particular types of development and planning, before choosing the right career path. The Programme has exceeded my expectations, as I have already gained exposure to large national clients and been involved in an array of project tasks which have included cross-office working with Lichfields’ teams in Cardiff, Newcastle and Edinburgh. I continue to learn from the wide expertise at Lichfields and draw on our array of specialist teams, such as Daylight and Sunlight, Economics and Regeneration, and planning law and policy. I regularly attend in-house breakfast and lunchtime seminars here in the London office (all of the offices hold similar events), which provide interesting insights into the roles of co-consultants as well as useful updates on emerging development-related policy and legislation. I can say with confidence that I am on track with obtaining the skills and experience expected at Year 2.
In terms of my personal development, I was allocated a ‘buddy’ on my first day and within the first month, I had joined other graduates from across the eight Lichfields’ offices for a day of team building. I have a Lichfields’ mentor who I can speak to separately from my daily tasks, and also a qualified RTPI member to guide me in the preparation of my APC, which I am due to submit this month.
The social calendar at Lichfields is particularly active and encourages a positive working environment. The socials vary and include: team meals and activities; whole office events such as summer BBQs, picnics, games nights and quizzes; the annual walking weekend; and the entire Company meeting up for the Christmas party. As well as taking part, this year as one of the second year graduates, I have had the opportunity to organise the London office socials. It is a great way of getting to know colleagues outside the office and really helps in creating those important working relationships that will go beyond the immediate tasks that have to be dealt with.
Accepting my graduate position at Lichfields has definitely been the right decision. On a daily basis, I appreciate that I have become part of a team, that I have already learnt a huge amount in my time here and that there is still so much more that I can gain. I would strongly recommend that you find out more about the graduate and internship opportunities at Lichfields and show your enthusiasm by applying online.