Polly Rance: Professional development never more important

As more public sector comms teams start this New Year considerably smaller than last, it can be harder and harder to find space for professional development.

Polly Rance: training budgets have all but disappeared
Polly Rance: training budgets have all but disappeared
Firstly, ‘time away from the office’ becomes a very precious currency when staff numbers are down, and many people feel that to safeguard their jobs they need to be more visible.  

Secondly, training budgets have all but disappeared in many places, making attendance at courses and conferences a luxury that far fewer can afford.

We are working in a political and media climate where things that would have once been seen as legitimate staff development activities are seized on by a local and national media hungry for stories of public sector ‘waste’, staff junkets, and anything that could be seen as a frivolous use of public money.

Yet as times get tougher, it is even more important that we are all able to equip ourselves with the tools to do our jobs well, and that we are able to access the support of our professional networks within the sector.  

As leaders in the profession it is up to us to make the case to our employers as to why we and our staff should make time for professional development and demonstrate exactly how it will benefit our organisations.

In local public services we are lucky to have a very active sectoral group in the CIPR, representing individual members, as well as our colleagues in LGComms to represent the interests of councils and their communications teams.

Organisations like ours provide low cost, relevant training and development, networking opportunities, and support to everyone in the sector, from entry level staff to heads of comms.  
Although we all have local expertise, many of the challenges we face are being tackled effectively by colleagues in other parts of the country, and sharing their ideas and expertise can save time and money.        

Our professional organisations make those learning opportunities happen and as such provide a fantastic resource for the sector, but they can only ever be as good as the volunteers that give their time to them.

As the cuts force talented professionals out of local public services into other arenas, such as Higher Education and private business, the sector as a whole is poorer.  However there is a big opportunity for new talent to get involved with our professional groups, to make their mark on the sector and gain some very real benefits for their organisations.

So if you are looking for a reason to make the space to get involved with your professional body, here are a few to be going on with:

•    The next few years will see the public sector facing unprecedented challenges as the cuts programme really starts to bed in.  Finding effective, and cost-effective, ways to communicate with residents, staff and stakeholders will be a lot easier if you can share ideas and resources with colleagues from all over the UK.

•    Should the worst happen (as they say in the life insurance ads) and you get made redundant, the contacts you make and your strengthened professional networks will stand you in very good stead for finding permanent and freelance work.

•    Lastly, and this is not as trivial as it sounds, involvement with a professional group, gives you a great sounding board, and a great sense of camaraderie with people who absolutely understand the pressures, the rewards, and occasionally, the absurdities of the job.

The CIPR Local Public Services Group AGM will be held on 1st March 2012. Nominations for committee membership are sought from communications professionals in local government, health, police and other local public services.  

Polly Rance is chair of the CIPR Local Public Services Group and head of media and external relations at the London Borough of Hackney

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