March 31, 2022
I have been a researcher at APA for five years; most of my work has been focused on grant-funded research at the intersection of planning and public health, with health equity as a focal point. Over the years, this has provided me with opportunities to interact with planning practitioners from around the country.
Lately, these meaningful conversations often center on a major challenge for our profession: We planners are often more caught up in reacting to the present than preparing for the future. This worries me. Planning for the future is integral to our profession, and while we can't predict what will happen, one thing is certain: There will be more changes. Unexpected occurrences like the pandemic, disruptors such as technology, and worsening existing challenges like climate change will keep coming. We need to meet them head on by understanding the dynamics of the change, preparing to evolve planning processes and approaches, and continuing to learn new skills.
That's where APA's just-launched Upskilling Initiative comes in. What is upskilling? In short, it's the process of teaching or learning new skills within someone's current job or profession that help them adapt to changing needs. The aim of the APA Upskilling Initiative is straightforward: We want to equip planners with the right skillsets to excel in dynamic environments.
This effort interconnects with another top APA priority: advancing equity, diversity, inclusion, and accessibility. That means that EDI-related skills gaps will receive a special focus in the Upskilling Initiative. An important part of upskilling is sometimes unlearning something, and that's especially true when it comes to EDI. Unlearning is not about forgetting what we know, but about changing our mindset to learn and use different methods to address a challenge.
In order for the planning profession to upskill — and for APA to provide learning opportunities to help — we first need to know where the gaps are. We are developing a skills gap analysis process that draws on insights from APA's Foresight practice, EDI-related expert groups, members, and other sources.
We also need your help. What are you facing in your work that's new, tricky, or even overwhelming? What shifts are happening in your communities? What skills do you need to rise to those challenges and grow professionally? In the future, we'll share ways APA members can help with the skills gap analysis, and we look forward to your perspective and expertise.
Once we know what the gaps are, APA researchers, the education team, and other content creators will work with subject matter experts to develop relevant resources for planners. This will be a continuous process of assessing planners' unmet needs and creating upskilling education and training to help us effectively manage change. Stay tuned for opportunities to upskill yourselves, and take advantage of existing APA resources, like the Knowledge Center, Foresight practice, and more.
As a planning researcher, learning new things is a main motivator in my work — and besides, it's necessary for helping me adapt to change. Right now, I am undergoing project management training to manage the Upskilling Initiative. (Project management is such an essential skill for planners, but it is typically absent from formal education; it certainly was from mine.) I hope you'll join me in identifying your own skills gaps and taking steps to upskill yourself.