Survey of economic development practitioner challenges add fuel to professional development fire
Many economic development practitioners say they lack general knowledge about the profession and are also concerned that they have insufficient local knowledge and skills needed to make a difference to their communities.
This is the key finding of research from the Institute of Economic Development (IED). In a survey of practitioner challenges, resourcing was identified as the single biggest concern by over a quarter of respondents and others reported challenges around the political environment, policy, funding, organisational culture and their ability to support businesses. However, more than a third of respondents (35%) identified gaps in their local knowledge and skills and general knowledge of economic development as a real barrier to effective practice.
IED Director Suzanne Malcolm, who co-ordinated the research, said: “The apparent lack of general knowledge about economic development can, in part, be explained by many individuals being new to the profession and an acknowledgement of the learning required on an individual basis. However, it is also a symptom of economic development being a non-statutory function of local government, so for those professionals working in our sector many are often thrown into roles without necessarily having the understanding of what makes a good economic development officer. The issue around local knowledge and skills, particularly around local initiatives and funding programmes, is more surprising. This suggests the need for improved communication at a local level.”
Respondents reported that a lack of formal learning and knowledge sharing with peers creates further barriers to gaining sufficient knowledge. However, 46% said that professional development was ‘very important’ to them and a further 37% said it was ‘somewhat important’. “In a climate of shrinking budgets, continually limited resources and the delivery of an arguably critical but non-statutory service, staff must not only be equipped with the appropriate tools to deliver economic development but must also have confidence that their colleagues and those partners they rely on are equally well equipped,” Suzanne said. “This recognition of a lack of knowledge and skills is a major issue for the continued effectiveness and success of economic development interventions. At the very least it implies a lack of efficiency in delivery.”
The IED’s Economic Development Skills and Demand survey, published last November, also highlighted issues around training and development not always being provided due to lack of budget and called for this to be “higher up the priority list”. On the back of this latest research, which found that respondents are particularly keen to better understand alternative funding models, inclusive growth, the impact of Brexit and place competitiveness, Suzanne said the IED was committed to developing training opportunities for economic development practitioners. “Aligned to our flagship Excellence in Economic Development standard, which is available to public and private sector organisations, we will be developing a more bespoke professional development offering for economic development practitioners over the next 12 months. We are currently planning the format, and content for initial sessions, but would most definitely welcome expressions of interest from our members at this stage,” she added.
Suzanne Malcolm is available for interview via Phil Smith, Institute of Economic Development
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Notes to editors:
The Institute of Economic Development (IED) is the UK’s leading independent professional body representing economic development and regeneration practitioners. Established over 30 years ago, the IED's key objective is to represent the interests of economic development practitioners and ensure their views are widely expressed and noted. The IED is committed to demonstrating the value of economic development work for local and regional communities; the pursuit of best practice in economic development and the attainment of the highest standards of professional conduct and competence.