What on earth can I do to make sure I’m up to date and developing my skills?

I’m never sure what to say when people ask me what I do. I do so many different things, and that’s what makes working for yourself fantastic. Sometimes I’m more of a management consultant, helping people to plan or develop their projects, or review how successful they’ve been. I’m doing that at the moment for the CBA and for the Archaeology department at Manchester University. Sometimes I write strategic, business or project plans, or help people to write policy, guidance or marketing material (most recently helping develop content for a new IfA Client guide). I’ve developed a bit of a specialism in training and professional development in the last five years, working on the Heritage Lottery Fund’s Workplace Learning Bursaries and Skills for the Future programmes – I’ve also helped to manage training projects at EH and I’m an NVQ assessor. All this is far from my main specialism which is in managing the archaeological and historic environment requirements of large development projects, in particular major infrastructure. Last year I hung up my management consultancy hat for 12 months to deliver Environmental Assessment chapters for HS2. And what about that cemetery in West Brompton and that scheduled monument in Abingdon? I’m focussing on giving clients advice on those this week.

So what on earth can I do to make sure I’m up to date and developing my skills in all of these areas? My CPD log reads like the training plan for a whole organisation, but somehow I’ve got to hit all the bases. When I started working for myself, I wrote a basic business plan which identified all the areas of work I do, where I thought I would get work in those areas, and (importantly) how much I thought each of those market areas would be worth each year. Those same market areas form the structure for my PDP and CPD log, so I can be sure I have a plan for improvement in all of them.

Project management
I became a PRINCE 2 Practitioner in 2010, by studying part time at home and taking some classes and exams. It was a brilliant decision, and has made providing management advice, running my own projects and teaching others about project management so much easier. You have to be examined regularly for that, so I’m gearing up for further exams next year. I’m also starting a course on Agile project management, to complete in December. In the meantime I’ve kept things fresh in my mind by leading some project management workshops and helping to start up the new IfA Project Management Special Interest Group.

Business management and presentation
I have always hated speaking at interviews or in presentations. People who know me won’t believe me, but I really do suffer. So this year I’ve tackled the problem by completing the OUDCE Public Inquiry course and I’ve enrolled for interview training with some consultants at UCL. Now I hope I’ll be able to pitch for work without fear, and I can convert my experience in writing Environmental Statements and proofs of evidence into a full expert witness package for my developer clients.

Assessment and advice on major development projects
It’s hard as an independent consultant to keep up to date on particular types of project if you don’t have them on your books. Since my role on HS2 finished last year, I’ve been able to help provide formal review of some historic environment assessment work on major schemes in Dorset and Wales – wind farms and other power projects, as part of my consultancy work. I love helping colleagues out on their interesting projects, often of types I’m not familiar with, and they value a second opinion – so we both win.

Training and professional development
Apart from handing in my own portfolio last month to qualify as an Internal Verifier for the IfA NVQ Assessment Centre (so I can second-mark portfolios), one of the challenges I’ve set myself this year is to help the sector get Historic Environment Apprenticeships going. Through my work in training over the last few years, I’ve come to see how valuable formal apprenticeships could be to us, so together with colleagues and contacts, we’re putting together letters for the Department for Business Innovation and Skills, and modelling what an apprenticeship would look like. It’s not guaranteed to succeed, and it’s nothing we’ll be paid for, but it puts me at the centre of developing historic environment practice in the UK, and that’s worth every minute of time spent. Through the New Generation Special Interest Group (NGSIG), which I helped set up last year, we are also hoping to set up a mentoring scheme for archaeologists starting their careers.

Strategic HE practice and policy
Also with the NGSIG, we are doing some work within the NHPP ‘Foresighting’ measure – which we hope can feed into the IfA conference next year. I keep up with changes in the commercial sector by keeping in touch with my past employers and colleagues at the IfA and Atkins. The team at Atkins Heritage invited me to a brilliant workshop last autumn, exploring the value of heritage, and particularly looking at valuing the historic environment in the design and development of cities. Talking to them always opens my mind and gives me good ideas. People from my old team at Atkins are now spread across the sector – AB Heritage, Cotswold Archaeological Trust, Stonebow Heritage, CGMS – as far as the Glasgow 2014 Organising Committee.

I am so fortunate to have a network of people whom I trust, and who can bend their extraordinary brains to just about any problem between them. I’m never at a loss for how to do things, and keeping up with them is so important. I am also fortunate to sit on the Department of Archaeology Advisory Board at the University of York – offering any insights I can into career development routes, sector employment needs and any other professional issues that students might need to know about. It’s a great network as well.

Personal research initiatives
I had a plan to try and do some research on the UK nuclear submarine fleet (in the hope of winning some work on the decommissioning project), and others to write about the archaeology of my Mum’s colonial upbringing in Kenya, and something else about my Dad’s family history in the Staffordshire potteries. Have I done any of them? There’s always next year.