Recently, I was invited to present at the National Planning Summit on the challenge of attracting new entrants to the planning profession, and the need for planning to be rebranded to achieve it. But to do so, we first need to address the role rebranding may play in retaining and attracting those within the planning industry. I surveyed 100 of my planners to help me find answers to this question.
The challenge here, I believe, is how we reposition planning as a career to ensure there is a better, more positive, understanding of what planning is responsible for, alongside what planners do, in order to ensure that individual contributions can be understood and appreciated.
I found that the biggest motivation was the opportunity to influence the environment and create a wider social impact. Interestingly, the majority of our planners felt their role delivered against those motivations. This suggests that ongoing advocacy and promotion by planning professionals is vital.
When asked what measures they felt would help to make planning a more attractive career, several factors were mentioned. Firstly, a better working environment was important. This raises questions of how attuned leaders are to the importance of providing attractive and efficient work spaces for their staff.
Secondly, there is a lot of talk at the minute about greater use of technology, and we found a desire from planners for a reduction in the level of mundane or repetitive tasks, so there should be the potential for a win win here. Equally important is what would planners like to do with the capacity created. Our survey highlights a desire for planners to be involved in things such as leading the design of amendments, a desire to explore areas of interest and an appetite for greater exposure to other aspects of the development process.
Greater levels of clarity about potential career path routes and disciplines is important. I believe as a profession, we need to be brave and accept that ultimately a career in planning can lead to many different paths beyond planning, and proactively promote that diversity and the breadth of attractive positions.
This could ultimately drive a greater number of people through the profession overall, meaning, even if changes occur, there continues to be a throughput of talent excited by the wide range of career options available.
The survey also revealed the importance of variety in workload. From experience, there are various opportunities for service leaders to ensure this occurs. Consideration should also be given to the nature of tasks given to planners. Repetitive work (working in isolation on a very similar caseload) might be the simplest way of managing demand for managers but can be demoralising for individuals and ultimately lead to a talent drain. So, what about allowing those individuals more group / team tasks, such as an ongoing local plan consultation exercise, a more academic-type exercise or giving them the opportunity to get a greater understanding of the customers? These are just a few examples.
Ultimately, only a modest reposition of ‘brand planning’ will be required to ensure it is attractive as a career to as many people as possible, but responsibility sits at every level of the profession.
Ongoing, high-quality and independent, careers advice for planners should be explored in more detail. Central government should seriously consider the merits of introducing A-Level courses to allow for potential talent to be captured at an earlier stage. Directors need to assess the nature of the working environment, and the impact of introducing of technology on individuals. Managers need to think carefully about things they can influence – such as variety or work they give individuals. And we all need to continue to promote the good work that planners do to shape the built environment.
Steve Ottewell is director of planning and building control at consultancy Capita and can be contacted at Stephen.email@example.com