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Being flexible about development

Starting to think about shaping up for summer? Us too – and May is a bumper month for personal training at the DBA – but don’t worry – we haven’t started bootcamp classes, (although our Strategy Director Sally Lukins is a certified yoga instructor!) 


Instead, we want to get you fit for the future with a package of fantastic training to suit every need. 


From senior management goals including shaping your strategic direction to how to build resilience in leadership, to corporate targets like winning pitches and profile raising, and not forgetting how to get the best out of your team – there’s a packed schedule for you to choose from. 

But before you do – we thought it would be useful to hear about the benefits of lifelong learning and development from two experts in the field of CPD – continuing professional development:

Caroline McDonald, Director of Access and Engagement at Birkbeck, University of London.

Jordan Scammell, Development Team Manager at the University of Westminster.

DBA: Let’s face it, people are busy – why does CPD matter? 

Caroline: Learning is a lifelong commitment, it doesn’t stop when you’re 18 or 21. You’ve got to keep up and stay on top. But it’s not just about learning for learning’s sake. It contributes to better mental health and happiness, and usually leads to an increase in salary! It’s interesting that in the USA, they’re more progressive about continuing professional development, they’re more reflective and self-aware than we give ourselves space to be, they are committed to investing in themselves. 

Jordan: It can be a challenge to find the time of course but committing to it is really important. It might take two days, and you might have a lot on your plate, but you have to think about it strategically. If you make time for development, it could have a favourable impact on your efficiency, help you manage conflict better. You could be saving a lot of time going forward if you invest in this training now.  You have to really think about what the return on investment will be.

DBA: Do you practice what you preach? 

Jordan: I do! Once a month, I block out three hours for my professional development, to step away from the day job, and do some horizon-scanning, of the sector, of my colleagues, benchmarking myself and what we do against others. I’m head of development and fundraising and I must protect that time.

Caroline: Absolutely! We offer a really generous scheme where staff have the majority of their fees covered to undertake study at Birkbeck – the individual only contributes 5% and individual departments subsidise further. Our careers team are really helpful in helping staff apply for internal positions as well. We are also advocates for peer mentoring to offer other support to staff and navigate progression. We have a core training offer around project management, line management, how to deal with difficult situations – it’s more pragmatic ‘how do I do my job better’ stuff. And we undergo an annual development review of all staff and training and learning needs are assessed and then passed on to professional development colleagues. That way we can identify common themes and needs. 

DBA: There’s a difference between practical upskilling and the more ‘coaching-style’ type of training course isn’t there? 

Caroline: We refer to what we call ‘the second chancers’ – you left education 20 years ago and you’ve learned everything there is to know on the job, but are you future-proofed? If you were to leave that job tomorrow, would your skills translate and resonate across fast-evolving sectors? Of course, different training resonates for different reasons. If you’re in a leadership role you need to be self-reflective, but if you’re organising training for your team, you need to reflect ‘with’ them on what they really need. 

Jordan: Practical courses are always popular because there is a clear output to your time invested. It’s tangible, you’re upskilling, and there is a direct benefit to your role immediately. But when you’re in a senior or a leadership role, it’s less about the practical and more about strategic thinking and getting the best out of your team – although I would say it is important that you keep pace with developments in technology. 

DBA: Speaking of accessing training, how easy is it? 

Caroline: If you’re an articulate, senior level member of staff, you’re probably going to have no problem accessing training. Often it’s the quieter less established staff members who are more overlooked. Giving people the confidence to put themselves forward is key. 

Annual reviews can help identify training needs, but they don’t always marry up with what’s in the budget, so as a boss, you have to be prepared to be flexible about timing and give people the tools they need to pursue development on an individual basis. 

DBA: So an important message for the decision-makers in any company? 

Caroline: To bosses, I would say, there’s a lot of evidence that increasingly, if you want to sustain and maintain a good employee base – they need to feel valued, particularly in this political climate, it makes them feel secure. One way to do this is to invest in staff training. If you want to be a 21stcentury, forward-facing employee-focussed business, you will attract new staff and offer a better commitment for your existing staff, so they don’t take their new skills elsewhere.

DBA: What does the future look like in the world of CPD?

Jordan: Online development is very popular.  We have an online portal with video tutorials, you’ll be set tasks and get a digital certificate when you complete them, which can be shared on LinkedIn. It’s really valuable and lots of people find online training easier because it’s accessible and can be undertaken in your own time.

Caroline: Training tends to be thought of at a very localised level, if you’re lucky enough to have a good line manager for example, or perhaps a good regional manager. We have to change the narrative as CPD makes you better, happier, and more successful, and boosts your mental health.  

About: Caroline McDonald

As the Director of Access and Engagement, Caroline’s remit reflects the continued strategic importance Birkbeck gives to its ambitions and mission in relation to widening access. Her role includes leadership within the College on matters relating to access and the establishment and delivery of initiatives, but also cross sector working with governmental bodies, London Local Authorities, think tanks associated with this sector, broader education providers and the third sector.

About: Jordan Scammell

Jordan heads up the Development Team at the University of Westminster with responsibility for major gift fundraising, regular giving, project and proposal development, the disbursement of an annual fund of over £4m and all Development operations including donor stewardship, prospect research, database management and gift processing.


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