Do you have a plan?

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This month lots of young people will enter the workplace for the first time, many of them on graduate and apprenticeship schemes, which help them to structure their career and personal development planning for the next few years.

But as their careers develop and they become more experienced, it’s likely that they will be far less focussed about structuring their development.

Surprisingly, few experienced professionals have a firm plan for their future career. It’s easy to see why. Everyone is busy, both at work and in their home life, but if you don’t keep half an eye on your career and professional development it’s easy to become bored and disenchanted with your work.

One of the best things about working in health and safety is the diversity of opportunities available. It’s a hugely varied field, which allows practitioners to develop a wide range of knowledge, skills and experience. The days of the ‘health and safety policeman’ are long gone, these days practitioners are leaders and facilitators across many topic areas, with a network of specialists and experts ready to support as required.

We all do Continuing Professional Development (CPD) courses, but how much of this is targeted and structured by a proper development plan with a clear set of objectives? It’s not just about progressively acquiring a list of technical skills, or attending courses so that you can tick the box and log something on your CPD record.

It can feel quite daunting to sit down with a blank sheet of paper and consider what you want to get out of your career. So, where do you start?

You could begin by identifying a job that you would love to do, or a company that you would like to work for; then think about the knowledge and skills that would be required to achieve this; compare that to your existing skill set and compile a development plan and timeline to help you realise your goal. However, this approach can only work if you have a clear aspiration to work back from. If this isn’t the case, you might prefer to use a self-assessment and planning tool such as the IOSH Blueprint or the Acre Frameworks tool.

It’s important to think about support skills too. Leadership, communication and influencing skills, financial competence and business management skills are equally important. Some of these can be gained through traditional learning methods, but many are better developed through observation, experience and self-reflection.

Mentoring and coaching can be helpful, and it doesn’t need to be expensive. Just identify somebody that has the skills and attributes that you would like to develop yourself, and ask if they would be prepared to support you. There’s lots of information available about how to get the most out of mentoring or coaching relationships, but basically, it’s about using a trusted colleague as a sounding board to assist in your self-reflection and skills development.

The key to successful development is being honest with yourself. You need to get an objective assessment of your strengths and weaknesses – a partner, trusted friend or even a 360-appraisal tool can help. It’s also important to understand your own preferred learning style and psychological preferences as this will help you to select appropriate methodologies and to set realistic goals. Tools such as the Myers Briggs system can be helpful, and there’s lots of information available online.

The things that I love most about working in health and safety are that no two days are ever the same, and learning something new every day. Having a clear, realistic and achievable development plan can be really motivating and empowering. So, as you head back to work after your summer break, why not invest some time and really think about yourself, your career and your future aspirations. There are a wealth of development opportunities out there.

If you’re looking for some inspiration to get you started why not join us for our annual conference on 4 October? See page 41 for more details.

Louise Ward is director of policy, communications and standards at the British Safety Council


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