Careers Advice: Getting the right experience for you

Written by: Emily Taylor
Published on: 4 Mar 2019


I have been a planner for three years now. Unusually for someone with my level of experience, I have had the chance to work in a global multi-disciplinary company, an independent planning consultancy and also in local government. In this article I reflect on the skills learnt in each environment, which I hope may help when deciding what constitutes the right experience for you.

Multi-disciplinary firm

What to expect…

  • Working closely with other teams within the company on multi-disciplinary projects.

  • Large-scale, often long-term, high profile projects.

  • Public sector work, such as working with local governments.

My experience

Whilst working at consultancy Ove Arup and Partners, I had the opportunity to work directly with other teams within the company including landscape architects, environmental consultants and engineers. The ability to work effectively with other disciplines is a key skill and can really help to contextualise and pre-empt issues in our work as planners. The advantage of working at a large firm such as this allows you to do this within the company, encouraging further knowledge sharing. It can lead to opportunities to work on large-scale projects which are often high profile, an example of this for me being HS2. The wide base of projects means you can semi-specialise in some of the less known corners of planning, such as infrastructure consents or specific evidence base documents – for example, Arup in particular has a track record of producing Green Belt Reviews. Projects of this type tend to be long-term and allow you to dig deep into the detail, and you will usually be working as part of a much wider team as a result. If you are interested in getting to know the wider built environment context and work on large-scale complex projects, a multi-disciplinary firm is for you.

Local government

What to expect…

  • Detailed knowledge of a geographical area.

  • Ability to be flexible and work across different planning themes.

  • Participation in local government processes such as committees and interaction with councillors.

My experience

From Arup, I was seconded to Epping Forest District Council as a planner in the council's planning policy team for three days a week. I really enjoyed the feeling of connection with a specific location while working across planning issues such as retail, green belt, sports infrastructure and heritage. As a local authority planner, you must be flexible, filling different roles required of the authority. Working in local government also gives you first hand experience of the political side of planning and how it shapes planning outcomes, as well as the governance processes required for project management and decision-making. Particular to my experience at EFDC, the Council created a focused team for the Harlow and Gilston Garden Town. With the role of councils expanding to include developing land, these types of project teams are set to continue and provide opportunities for development of key project management skills and governance processes. If you are looking to keep your skillset wide but really connect with a group of colleagues, councillors and places, local government is for you.

Independent planning consultancy

What to expect…

  • Wide variety of project work and clients requiring you to effectively and autonomously manage your project load.

  • Early hands-on experience of client/project management and understanding of the private sector context.

  • Growing your knowledge of the regulatory context of planning.

My experience

I currently work at Indigo, a UK-based independent consultancy of planners. The nature of work here allows me to interact with a varied range of clients both big and small, on projects ranging from change of use applications to large residential and retail applications. You must be very adept at managing your time and priorities, as you will be working on many projects at one time. The size of the company means it has a very personal and close-knit feel, allowing me to work closely with project directors, gaining first-hand experience of all stages of the planning process. This type of project work gives exposure to the commercial side of property as you are dealing in the private sector, which is important when it comes to understanding the ambitions of clients. Working at a focused planning consultancy like Indigo means working across the full spectrum of planning, supporting and advising clients, and getting into the ‘nitty gritty’ of planning policy and planning law. You grow your knowledge of the regulatory context we work in and how to help clients to navigate this to achieve the best outcomes. If you enjoy thinking outside the box while amassing a detailed knowledge of the planning system, then private consultancy is for you.

Maybe you’ve read this and thought ‘yep, I’ve definitely got it right’ or maybe you’re thinking there might be something else you want to try your hand at. In my view, there is clear benefit to exposing yourself to different contexts and ways of working. It has left me with a cross-cutting skillset and a background of experience and has taught me who I am and the way I work best.

Emily Taylor is a planner at consultancy Indigo Planning