Careers advice: find yourself a good mentor

Written by: Jez Abbott
Published on: 30 Mar 2016

Chris Weetman

Chris Weetman insists that a good mentor will keep an eager, young planner's feet firmly on the ground.

I remember back in 1991 as a youngish planning officer learning some hard truths in a public inquiry lasting four days over a couple of months. I thought knew it all; I thought I was untouchable and no one was going to tell me how it was. In reality I was out of my depth: I didn't understand ‘planning units’ or 'intensification’ or ‘the material change in character of the use of the site’.
I learned the hard way and the evidence is there still in the Journal of Planning and Environment Law from 1992.

Looking back I wish I had a mentor, someone to quietly point me to the appropriate case law, someone to make me look at myself and how I approached situations to focus on the bigger picture, someone to nudge me into a place where I became more reflective, less self assured.

In at the deep end

Fast forward 25 years and I am involved in another public inquiry and the young planning officer representing the local planning authority is a modern-day version of me - self assured to the point of being unwilling to listen to others or worse still, back down on any point. She clearly needs what I needed, a good mentor. 

I was also recently teaching in North Yorkshire and one of the attendees came up to me in the drinks break, asking for advice and tips. He was new to the job, keen, enthusiastic, but unlike me all those years ago he was more receptive to learning.

He wants to improve and pick up good practice and good advice. He too needs a mentor, the difference is I think that young planner will go the extra mile to find one. And if the practice he works for has any sense, it will do all it can to clear that path to an experienced planner for the benefit of both the young professional his more seasoned practice.

Chris Weetman is an independent planning consultant, an associate of Trevor Roberts Associates and a former head of planning.