L&D: the gift that keeps on giving

It’s Learning at Work Week (17 to 23 May). This year’s theme is ‘Made for learning’ and encourages all of us to be lifelong learners.

When the going gets tough, learning and development (L&D) is often the first thing to go out the window – but resist! Investing in yourself is too important to skip. As government communicators, we need to understand how to connect with our audiences and prepare for new challenges. Here’s how L&D has helped my career so far and ideas for how you can boost your development.

Getting started

My first communications roles were in South Yorkshire in a PR agency, the NHS and an arms-length body. This gave me a good grounding in basics such as creating communications plans, writing press releases and uploading documents to websites.

Most of my L&D was on the job. I learnt a great deal from watching how more experienced people operated; I put this learning to good use and secured free promotional activity for NHS services. I didn’t know fancy terms such as “influencing” and “brand partnerships” yet, but that’s effectively what I was doing.

Development ideas for apprentices/Assistant Information Officers (AIOs):

  • take responsibility for your learning and development, and log your achievements as well as your goals
  • prioritise – what do you need to develop in your current role and how can you prepare for your next move?
  • try different ways of learning – come up with ways to improve a project, volunteer for a task/group and find out more about new trends/successful campaigns
  • check out the GCS curriculum for more ideas.

Building a solid foundation

I spent 11 years in London at the Departments for Work and Pensions, Energy & Climate Change and International Development. I led or contributed to complex campaigns/projects with larger teams and more moving parts. I sought roles across all 5 GCS disciplines because I wanted to broaden my knowledge, skills and experience.

During this period, I gained lots of technical skills and became more confident in managing people and budgets. As I moved into Grade 7 roles, I found some interpersonal aspects of my job tougher to deal with. I tailored my L&D to address this issue, using the 70:20:10 model (70% on the job learning, 20% from relationships and 10% from training courses).

Development ideas for Information Officer (IO)/Senior Information Officer (SIO) communicators:

  • it’s not just about promotions – moving sideways and secondments/loans are great ways to gain new experiences
  • these roles are likely to require interpersonal as well as technical skills. Consider if you need support in areas such as building your resilience or managing difficult relationships
  • seek opportunities – when Department for Work and Pensions went through a restructuring exercise, I asked to move to a different team so I could work on an advertising campaign. I also joined GCS networks and became a mentor outside work
  • check out the GCS curriculum for more ideas.

Stepping into leadership

I moved to Manchester 3 years ago to take up a Head of Communications role at an arms-length body. I’ve been able to draw on my previous L&D as I’ve taken on a greater leadership role.

Over the past year, I’ve participated in the Power of Choice programme for high-potential communicators from black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds. At first, I was a little unsure about whether I wanted to be on a course that focussed on my ethnicity, but it has been incredibly helpful. The programme has encouraged me to think more deeply about my career and ambitions, and I feel more confident about putting myself forward (hence this blog!)

Ideas for communicators in early leadership roles:

  • keep making time for your development – I block time in my diary to review and plan my L&D activity each month
  • contribute to the GCS – take part in the Connecting Diverse Voices programme, run a roadshow or contribute to a regional steering group
  • support others to flourish – for example, invite less experienced team members to chair meetings or present to senior stakeholders
  • check out the GCS curriculum for more ideas.

Catherine is Head of Communications at HM Inspectorate of Probation. You can read more from Catherine and connect on LinkedIn.

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