Chris Cox MIfA, Director, Air Photo Services Ltd
As the director of a small limited company which provides specialist services to the heritage and legal professions, my time is a chargeable and accountable resource which I have to manage carefully and is often in somewhat short supply.
In common with most other archaeologists, the past five years have seen massive economic, personal and professional changes in my life, which is entirely underpinned by my own work as a specialist air photo interpreter and heritage consultant. I balance business management activities with my fee earning technical and expert witness work and have always thought that I found it hard to proactively build in training and professional development activities for myself alongside training others, managing colleagues, completing complex tight deadline projects and looking after my family.
I thought, erroneously, that I just didn’t do much at all for my own continuing professional development. I’d never really thought of it as something separate to my work, from which I incidentally derive an enormous amount of job satisfaction. CPD just sort of ‘happened’, was not intentionally recorded or accounted for and training was a word I really do not particularly like, preferring the concept of education or discussion to formal directed courses.
The process of becoming an NVQ assessor for the IfA between 2010 and 2012 required me to present a CPD diary as part of my required assessor’s portfolio. In common with many other people, I had not really paid this document much attention. Unlike the legal profession where many learning opportunities carry ‘CPD points’ which are essential to continued membership of a professional organisation, there is no measured amount or type of CPD required by the IfA. We just have to do some and record it and no one had ever asked to see my CPD records.
I like this approach, as it leaves me free to decide and choose what I need, can afford or want to do, in what format, when and how. I think also the most enjoyable part of my application for the NVQ assessor role was considering and listing my CPD activities as it made me reflect on how I learn things, what I actually know, what I get the most out of and where I want to go in the future. As I work for myself, the division between ‘my’ time and ‘work’ time is somewhat blurred anyway and I surprisingly identified several types of CPD that I have undertaken as part of my own personal planning for progression and business development with my own future work and life in mind, without really knowing that I was doing it.
Listing my own learning activities and providing proof to the IfA was not at all as difficult as I thought it might be and showed me how much I actually do without noticing it, and how diverse and instrumental to my own work and confidence this has been.
As an air photo interpreter, I consider that I’m almost daily learning and adding to a bank of knowledge, both technical and visual, which stretches back over some 30 odd years of working with aerial imagery in a small group of communicative and supportive colleagues. There are always the continual queries, questions and informal discussions which make up what I call ‘background CPD’ which happens every day. My own reading around the subject, and the teaching of and talking with students is also a very important CPD activity for me.
I have also made a point of trying to attend some formal events too – mainly to see friends and colleagues whom I would never otherwise see face to face, such as the IfA conference and the next conference of the Aerial Archaeology Research Group. I also attended a conference about Archaeology and Economic Development at UCL last October. This was expensive, but undertaken deliberately to support my future aim of working in other countries and with different cultures and economic models, and I now feel I have taken the first step towards this goal.
These CPD activities are necessary and personally and professionally rewarding but are expensive of both time and money, and need planning and resourcing from fee earning work. Many organisations cannot or will not provide the opportunity for staff to attend anything which is not seen as direct commercially beneficial technical training, or indeed any external training at all, and many self employed people simply cannot afford to take time out or pay to attend such events. I really appreciate these constraints, and have been able to support my own CPD and future aims by diversifying my work across different sectors into legal and planning issues and charging at a level which allows sustained business and professional development alongside earning work. In doing this, I aim for about 75% charging time and 25% ‘other’ time for myself (CPD!) alongside business and project management, accounting and training and supervision of my colleagues.
As part of this aim, I have attended more focussed technical courses which are directly relevant and essential to my work, such as interpretation of LiDAR data, at Rewley House OUDCE in Oxford. I have usually attended Rewley House to teach rather than learn, and it felt good to go as a student for a day, and come away with some new skills and knowledge which has been really commercially beneficial and well worth the investment in the course, without the strain of having to present or teach anything. I have just completed some work for the National Trust which directly used and built on the knowledge I gained on this course, which was so directly relevant and necessary. I feel similarly about some expensive but necessary training I took years ago to learn how to use AutoCad – that it was costly but essential to my ability to provide accurate and high quality products to my clients in a technically fast moving and competitive environment.
Over the past ten years and particularly over the past 18 months, I have also deliberately learned and undertaken Public Inquiry and Expert Witness work, which is challenging and detailed and requires me to work in multi disciplinary teams with very exacting lead and instruction from barristers, clients and lawyers in an intense and often stressful environment. To assist me in this area I joined the Society of Expert Witnesses which supports the professional and business aspects of this work for many diverse experts from different professions by providing CPD information and events to its members. Membership of this organisation, alongside the IfA if relevant, indicates an interest in CPD and a commitment to learning and development. This has perhaps been the most expansive and demanding bit of CPD I have ever deliberately done, learning from experience how to use my own technical knowledge in a legal setting, outside of ‘archaeology’ and present it correctly, formally and effectively for my clients. I deliberately decided to take time to reflect on each inquiry experience, discuss it openly with colleagues, pay people to attend and observe and take notes for me at inquiry and build on and improve my reports and presentation skills following each appearance. I also took some counselling and hypnotherapy, which I paid for through my business, to build confidence and resilience in order to present strong evidence and deal with sometimes difficult or demanding cross examination which is sometimes delivered in order to undermine my credibility as a witness. As a result I am now confident in and enjoy my work in this area. This holistic approach has given me a sense of value and self worth, was a necessary investment in my skill and was essential at a time of economic and personal challenge in my profession. I have found it valuable, creative and surprisingly empowering, and never quite realised its ‘CPD value’ until I wrote it down in my diary.
In these instances, seeking feedback from clients and Counsel is also helpful, and is free. This requires confidence and resilience (which I probably have not got in abundance) and is often challenging, but has been a very effective form of CPD in this growing area of my work.
In addition to the expensive, formal or more testing areas of CPD, I have begun to appreciate the informal and supportive contact with friends and colleagues which contributes to a lot of peripheral but essential knowledge of my own profession. Returning to work after a period of absence in 2011- 2012, I found considerable support in regaining my project work and my confidence from colleagues who gave time to assist me to catch up on both my NVQ work and with changes in the planning system and count this personal support as a really essential part of anyone’s working life.
A recent visit with a friend, who is reading history at the Open University, to the cinema to see a live broadcast of the Pompeii exhibition from the British Museum was reviewed from the pub afterwards as a ‘brilliant CPD experience’. We both kept our programmes as evidence not only of a great evening with a lovely friend, but of a very engaging learning experience. In the same way, I have asked my accountant to show me how to read a balance sheet and assess the financial health of a company, in return for assisting her with invoicing and credit control. These mutual areas of skills exchange are extremely important when both time and money are limited, and provide valuable CPD opportunities and avenues, which are just as valid as formal tuition.
As a result of having to reluctantly list all this for my NVQ assessor qualification, I now have an easy and accessible CPD diary and file into which I can drop random document, programmes, conference notes and client feedback which provides a scrapbook-style, interesting and diverse record of several types of CPD, from the formal ‘framework’ training events to the more subtle but no less important experiences which contribute not only to my ability but importantly to my confidence as a professional archaeologist. It’s made me much more aware of how I express my experience on my CV, and just how much investment I and my colleagues and friends have justifiably given to this area over quite some time, with specific aims in mind for our present and future work.
In effect, sitting down and writing that rather nebulous and avoided diary list has shown me how much I value my work and cherish my future goals in what has become for me and many others, a very uncertain world. I can also say, quite truthfully if needed, that yes, I will send you my CPD diary because amazingly I actually have one, thanks to being required to consider and complete it to achieve a professional qualification – my IfA NVQ assessor’s certificate - that was a very important step in the re-direction and diversification of my business over the past two years.