PRONI: the employer perspective

Last September I paid a visit to the Public Record Office of Northern Ireland (PRONI) to meet the team and discuss the ARA’s competency framework and professional development programme, the route to qualify as a Foundation, Registered or Fellow of the ARA.

Training and Development is a high priority for PRONI, and is identified as a strategic goal in PRONI’s Protecting and Providing Archives for All strategy. Dr Michael Willis, Director and Deputy Keeper of the Records, on the importance of staff development explains. “As Director of PRONI I am keen that relevant training and development opportunities are available for all. PRONI staff are encouraged to discuss and agree meaningful and relevant Personal Development Plans (PDPs) as part of their annual reporting cycle with their line manager.  

Personal development plans, also known as professional development plans, are an excellent way to identify and meet training needs. “These plans are a valuable, personalised way for each PRONI staff member to set out their learning and development priorities” advised Michael. “This ensures that training is focussed on supporting PRONI staff in contribute fully to delivering the quality of service that PRONI’s users expect. Opportunities for development include formal training courses, seminars and conferences to less formal opportunities such as visits to other archives, record offices, and other stakeholder and peer institutions.” Further information on personal/professional development plans is available from the ARA website.

So how does the ARA’s programme and competency framework support the aims of an employer? “I particularly like the opportunity that the ARA programme gives for all staff in PRONI, irrespective of their grade, to gain national professional recognition by the ARA at the Foundation, Registered or Fellow levels” replied Michael. “The competency framework itself is transferable, and the competency based approach of the ARA programme echoes the competency based approach of the Northern Ireland Civil Service, which PRONI follows.  As PRONI’s Director I will do what I can to support PRONI staff if they decide to enrol on the programme, as this will have benefits for them as individuals and PRONI as a National Archive.  It will also provide evidence of delivery against PRONI’s commitment to training and development as a key strategic goal.”

It is great to hear how a significant employer like PRONI recognises the value of ARA professional recognition. Staff development is vital to the success of all organisations, but ARA and PRONI both recognise the wider benefits that training and ARA professional recognition can bring.

Michael and I also discussed leadership, and the view that leadership should not be left to managers alone. An engaged workforce, who confidently sharing their knowledge and expertise with colleagues, customers and stakeholders, can lead their areas of work, helping improve service levels and community engagement. How should employers encourage junior staff to show leadership? What issues might prevent better engagement by employees, and what should employers need to consider in response? “This is a critical area!” responded Michael. “The Northern Ireland Civil Service (NICS), of which PRONI is part of, has placed great emphasis on the importance of effective leadership and delivering quality public services. I believe that there is a great responsibility on senior leaders and middle-managers to break down perceived or actual barriers caused perhaps by grade or custom and practice and allow all staff to give of their best.  This can be achieved by meaningfully involving all staff in the work they deliver through effective communication, team working, delegating and empowerment.  However, for this to be meaningful this has to go beyond rhetoric and sound bites, and be translated into practice. The importance that the NICS places on strengthening leadership at all levels is evidenced by the NICS People Strategy 2018-21. This document emphasises building the capacity of all managers to effectively lead and manage at every level of the NICS, and to support everybody to reach their potential.  PRONI has a wide range of staff across a number of work areas, specialisms, and grades and it’s important that everyone feels comfortable when sharing their knowledge and experience.”

Many record-keepers become very experienced in their chosen fields. This knowledge and experience can make an invaluable contribution to debate and discussion, whether influencing their employers’ policies and approaches, or more generally to the practice of record keeping via contributions to ARC magazine articles and other ARA activity. The confidence gained through work experience can also be enhanced by the ARA’s Foundation, Registered and Fellow levels of membership. They are an independent recognition that an individual has met national standards set by the ARA. This external recognition is a validation of knowledge and competency, and can provide a much needed confidence boost to many careers.

My thanks to Dr Michael Willis and PRONI staff for their time. If you would like the ARA to visit your workplace and discuss ARA professional development and professional recognition then please contact chris.sheridan@archives.org.uk.

Article published in ARC magazine February 2019.

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