Graduates leave university looking for work. How can they improve their job prospects?
Local authority planning departments are struggling to attract suitable staff to their departments. And, once they appoint staff, and invest time and effort into training them, how do they keep them?
The London Borough of Hounslow has come up with a number of “coping strategies” to address issues of recruitment and retention.
I know it is often seen as inconvenient when the local schools ring up and ask if you can take a school student for work experience. It may well be inconvenient, but, at the same time, you are helping a young person recognise and develop their skills. Who knows, that young person may be inspired by their week in planning, and want to take it further, either through apprenticeship or a degree course. They may want to come back to your department for holiday work, which is as beneficial for their personal and career development as it is for the departments
At Hounslow we have been supporting apprenticeships for over 9 years. One of our first apprentices is now a Senior Enforcement officer. Another previous apprentice is an invaluable member of the Planning Support team. We are now looking at more specific apprenticeships for local young people, such as a data analyst apprentice, useful for the performance monitoring role of the department, and would like to trial a planning apprenticeship through the RTPI
In 2011, we had a student write to us to ask if we could take him on for a placement year. We met him, and decided to try it out, creating the post of planning assistant. Tom Bradfield, in the photo above, came to us for a 14 month placement. During this time he carried his own caseload of planning applications, learnt how to deal with members of the public, showed his aptitude for learning the IT systems that we all deal with in planning, as well as bringing a youth and vitality to the department. We made contact with his tutors at university, as he had to be mentored, and learnt a lot more about the needs for placement years. Since then, we have advertised every year for placement students, to work with us on their year out. At least 5 of these, including Tom, have subsequently successfully applied for a job with Hounslow when they finished their degrees, and are progressing through the organsiation
This year, we have appointed two non-planning placement students. Matthew and Jacob are both Geography students, but interested in spatial planning. The year working at Hounslow should help them decide where their career path lays!
Part time Masters degree (RTPI accredited)
When I started work as a planner myself, a number of students completed either their degree on a part time basis over six years, or their masters part time over 2 years. In Hounslow we continue to support students through their masters degree over a two year period. The support is through paying their fees, and allowing time off from work for study. Sam Smith, in the photo above, is about to finish his masters at the University of Westminster
Give youth a chance, you don’t always have to take on an experienced planner
Give young planners experience early in their career allow them to be part of work on major schemes. The self esteem from being involved helps grow their confidence and expertise
Think outside the box – link with local schools, colleges and universities. Extol the virtues of planning as a career choice, offer work experience. That 15 year old school student could be a future Head of Planning!
Marilyn Smith is chief planning officer at the London Borough of Hounslow
Picture shows (standing left to right) Ollie Jones and Adam Ali, the two placement students this year, and (seated left to right) Leo Hall (who had unpaid work experience), Tom Bradfield and Sam Smith, both previous placement students who are now permanent employee.