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Get your career off to a good start with a personal development plan

A personal development plan helps you identify your skills gaps and improve personal effectiveness. Find out how to create your perfect plan and in what ways it will help broaden your appeal to potential employers.

A personal development plan - why do you need one?

A personal development plan (PDP) is a formal document used to record your achievements and learning experiences and to assist with planning and keeping your career on track. Some students and those looking for their first job view personal development planning as less relevant since it is something traditionally associated with employment. But this is no longer the case: the end of the job-for-life era has meant a shift towards individuals having to take increasing responsibility for their own career management and enhancing their employability and a PDP is a key element of this.

Whether you’re currently in full employment or not, you cannot rely wholly on others to identify your skills gaps or where you need to improve personal effectiveness. A PDP provides a necessary framework and brings a distinct focus to your learning as well as your work and life choices.

What does it entail?

A PDP should cover three main strands: where you are now; in which direction you want your career to head; and what you need to do to get there. Conduct a personal skills audit and as well as technical and professional ones include management, team-leading, influencing or problem-solving skills and experience that you have gained. Match this list against the profile of your next ideal role and use it as a basis to formulate an action plan of what’s required to plug any skills gaps or career inhibitors blocking progress. There is no shortage of competency frameworks and guides for a host of different roles to be found online to help at this stage, including the IET Career Manager professional development system which is available as part of the membership package.

Working with an agency

If you decide to entrust your career progress with an agency, it should also help out with your plan. Pete Berry, head of building services for recruitment firm Hays meets with many young engineers. “We put an action plan together when (candidates) come in and as long as they keep to that they should be heading in the right direction,” he says, recommending that students and young professionals also link up with engineering councils and bodies as they will provide specific PDP and career progression guidelines. “It also demonstrates to the employer enthusiasm for the sector and dedication to the profession as well.”

Broaden your appeal

While competency frameworks are valuable, in the current climate it is also important to invest heavily in gaining wider experience and demonstrate career breadth as organisatonal life demands that engineers are ever more adaptable. Berry says that during the downturn he was aware of many young engineers proactively undertaking a variety of extra training courses to diversify their skillsets, chief among them project management, sustainability and energy courses.

“If you’re an electrical design engineer who can also do energy performance certificates (EPCs) and who also has project management qualifications under their belt, you can effectively cover three positions within the business,” he says. “People like that are really well received by clients.”

Make it all-inclusive

Development planning requires you to think deeply and honestly about yourself and your abilities and goes some distance beyond carrying out a mere skills audit. Think carefully about what you want to achieve in life, your career and personal ambitions as well as shorter-term goals. Consider your salary expectations but also take into account your personal values. Will the values and beliefs you hold dear sit comfortably with the career path on which you are about to embark?

Be mindful that creating an accurate and, ultimately, effective PDP relies on you having a high degree of self-awareness and even while you possess this, it is a good idea to consult with others. If you are in work, then clearly your manager, mentor and/or colleagues will provide input into your PDP. If not, elicit the views of peers, a former or existing tutor and friends and family to establish a more rounded assessment of yourself and your skills.

Review regularly

A PDP is not a static document. Revisit it regularly to update your skills and experience but also priorities and goals may change so be prepared to modify it. New qualifications or hot skills are also likely to emerge and it needs to take account of these. Your PDP should form a ongoing reference point for your career progression so use it as a yardstick and seek feedback and advice from others about whether they feel you are on course and doing everything you need to be doing.

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