Personal Development: a perspective from a newcomer to HE

Jordan J. Kirkwood MAUA | FHEA Apprentice Higher Education Manager, Student Services, University of Birmingham

I started out as the Education and Welfare Officer at Aston Students’ Union in 2015/16 and then went on to become an Apprentice Higher Education Manager in November 2016, comprising a four year programme with an integrated Master of Business Administration.

The first year involved nine rotations across multiple departments, and now, into the second year, I’m out on secondment for 12 months. The third and fourth years will involve taking on managerial roles and deepening my experience across two separate areas, followed by entering a full managerial position towards the end of the programme.

I decided to put myself forward to deliver a working session at the AUA 2018 Conference on personal development mapping techniques, as I have found them invaluable throughout my early HE career. I started using them from the beginning, mapping what I wanted to achieve, what I wanted to get involved in and in what timeframes. My first use was in setting out my development goals through the SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats) analysis tool, and reconstituting the LGBT+ Staff Network through the Impact Effort Matrix; both were linked and the completion of the latter informed and achieved much of my goals in the former.

Having proven the effectiveness of SWOT analysis and impact effort matrices for personal development and project management, I thought it would be great to have the opportunity to share the process and benefits with others.

The session covered goal setting through the use of SWOT and impact effort matrices. Although both are well known development tools, it’s interesting to note how many people I have come across who have never used them, particularly in their personal development.



Intended to be highly interactive, the session involved grouping participants together to take part in three exercises. After an introduction, participants set about mapping their own goals using worksheets provided. Following this, we broke out into action learning sets for the main task, which involved timed rotations around the groups, with a few minutes for individuals to state their goals and analysis from the first task. The other members of the group gave written feedback in support of working towards their goal. All the while the individual who had spoken had ‘no right to reply’ to the feedback, and so on and so forth. The last task involved adapting the feedback and personal reflections from both tasks into action plans, written on the
worksheets provided.

The aim of the session was to contextualise and exemplify personal goal setting through the use of the above techniques. I wanted to maximise the tangible benefits of the session through high interactivity and the take away worksheets. It seems that quite often such areas of personal development are arduous tasks, moving from the theory and concept to mapping and application, which I tried to balance through the series of activities.

With the HE sector involving diverse roles and offering opportunities in all manner of areas, it’s even more important that we take a pragmatic and focused approach to personal development. It should be something that is part of our daily lives; always make time for it no matter what role or situation you’re in. If you’re not developing yourself you will find yourself missing out, or not maximising opportunities to grow and diversify your career and ambitions.

With the HE sector involving diverse roles and offering opportunities in all manner of areas, it’s even more important that we take a pragmatic and focused approach to personal development.

More than anything else I have done in my early career, paying close attention to personal development has opened more doors and has lead from opportunity to opportunity. Give it a go; make your goals into plans, and those plans into reality.

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