Careers advice: taking on apprentice planners

Written by: Jez Abbott
Published on: 18 Nov 2016

Oxford planning apprenticesLike many professions planning is in short supply of skilled staff and has been for a number of years. Oxford City Council is not alone in having difficulty in recruiting professionals and I joined the council about a year ago to address issues such as recruitment and retention. We recently took on four apprentices in planning and this initiative was part of a strategy to get new staff, train them and keep them here at Oxford.

The new recruits are actually graduates in subjects such as geography, but the council has a well-established apprenticeship programme which is part-sponsoring their training and offering the planning department advice on issues such as on-the-job training and targeting recruits.

Training is structured like an apprentice's. Just like apprentices, the recruits rotate through different departments, in this case doing six-month placements in each of four planning teams: policy, development management, enforcement and design, heritage and trees. They spend one day a week over the two-year period at Oxford Brookes University studying an MSc in spatial planning.

We chose the apprentice route as it is increasingly difficult to get new graduate planners because of the limited numbers coming through the planning schools and the very competitive market for planners generally. And not even the cachet of working in Oxford has helped us recruit the few that are out there, partly because of the high cost of living here.

We believe we have put together an attractive package with the combination of broad based on-the job training and the funded MSc in spatial planning via day-release. We had a very good field of well qualified, high calibre non-planning graduate applicants from the Oxford area who applied to do this. 

For those new recruits, the draw of this kind of training is they get a graduate-level salary and we fund their training. Just as importantly, they start with the prospect of permanent roles at the end of their training. Meanwhile we feel taking this route of training is more likely to encourage them to stay at Oxford City Council and develop their post-apprentice planning careers.

Patsy Dell is head of planning and regulatory services at Oxford City Council

Image: Left to right: new DM team leader Sian Saadeh; graduate apprentice planners Sarah Chesshyre, Juliet Evans and John van Veghel; new DM service manager Adrian Arnold. Picture Oxford City Council