Sargent's Solutions: Personal Development

Q: I have been working in the horticulture industry for nearly 20 years and recently heard about something called a "personal development programme". Is this something I can take up, starting from today? Is it like a CV?

Alan Sargent
Alan Sargent
A: What you have in mind is something called CPD or continual personal development. Unlike a CV it is not a schedule of places at which you have worked and employers for whom you have worked, although references may be made to those dates and places.

By definition, a personal development document is not a programme because you do not follow any particular set of guidelines or rules. It is a factual schedule of how you have made progress throughout your career and there is no reason why you should not commence your CPD by writing down everything of note or worth that you feel has advantaged you.

Start it from as early as you like, perhaps by writing notes almost like a storyboard, from the time you started work, what courses you have been on, what training you have received — including in-house staff training — as well as listing all your credits and noting all the qualifications you have gained.

If you find it easier to tell your story, by all means begin as though producing a CV, concentrating on what skills you have learnt and from whom. For example, a foreperson may have taught you rose pruning or an employer showed you how to manage a compost regime. If that person was well-known as an expert, you should name him/her — anything and everything of note, set out in chronological order. These are your previous experiences and will form a solid foundation for building your CPD from now onwards.

After 20 years, you should have an impressive range of skills that will enable you to plan how you should or could make further progress. Do you have a particular goal in mind? Do you wish to go on and specialise or become a head gardener or manager? Will you try to build your formal qualifications, perhaps adding further steps to your NVQs? These are the questions you should set down and henceforth you can begin to follow a programme because you now have a set goal.

I know you work for a fairly large estate, where perhaps past head gardeners have not been concerned with formal staff training. Budgets will not stretch to paying for outside courses and things may be allowed to drift. Obviously, you feel frustrated by your situation, but there are ways to increase your knowledge and development without costing a lot of money.

Two-way reviews

Two-way reviews should take place at a regular intervals, usually every six months. These take the shape of a formal interview between the employee and employer (usually represented by the head gardener). These should be held in a quiet place, where both parties are relaxed, without any telephone calls or other interruptions. They should be open-ended with no set time limit, although one hour is usually sufficient. They should be recorded in a standard format, with set questions and space for answers. Two-way reviews involve you and the employer only.

The nature of the interview is not intended to be an opportunity to complain or request a pay rise. It is supposed to allow open and honest discussion between the employee and employer, covering ground laid out in the forms. A major part of a two-way review is to establish what progress an employee may make within the company/department and how that goal may be achieved.

This is where your continual personal development document comes into play. By proving your past track record, you are showing what progress you have made throughout your career as well as your hopes and aspirations for the future. It is at this formal, recorded meeting that you should state your training preferences. If you have done your homework, you will bring along details and costs of the courses that you wish to attend. You will also need to justify your choices for the good of your existing employer. If you can demonstrate that the garden would benefit from your new skills, then you will have a much stronger case for securing funding at the next budgetary meeting.

A major part of the review is to enable both parties to track your progress. If both agree to undertake something, it should be within a set timescale. Similarly, of course, your employer may require you to meet certain standards or goals before approving any expenditure.

Other options

If your employer is not minded to pay for your skills improvement, perhaps believing that you are sufficiently qualified for the job, there are plenty of other options for CPD you could consider. These may include working for a week (during your holidays) at a special garden of your choice. Many gardens seek volunteer help and an opportunity to work in a different environment is always refreshing. It will certainly help your development, seeing how others work.

There are a number of opportunities to attend specific courses, some costing only a few pounds, run by garden societies — organic vegetable growing, tree identification, historic gardens, water gardening, flower arranging, fruit-tree pruning — all of which should be recorded on your continual personal development document, showing your career path, aiming towards your ambition — whatever that may be.

Alan Sargent is an independent gardens consultant at the School of Gardens Management.

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