Careers Advice: Tips for planners thinking of a move into consultancy

Natalie Rowland

I’ve recently joined Bidwells after spending four years working in the development control team of a Surrey and then Kent local authority. If I could offer some advice to anyone interested in planning, I would firstly suggest that although easier, a direct career path isn’t the only way.  

My intention was always to get into consultancy but when I graduated in 2008, there was a small financial crisis (!) going on and I wasn’t able to secure a graduate position. I then spent seven years working in Intelligence at the National Crime Agency before taking the plunge (and a significant pay cut!) to become a planning officer. Four years on, I’m now where I believe I should be. Although I get frustrated that many of my colleagues are considerably younger than me, I try and remind myself that although not always technically relevant, my past employment history has taught me a wealth of transferable skills which I use on a daily basis.

My second piece of advice would be in relation to becoming chartered. In my experience, professional accreditation in local authorities is not something which is really championed. I have always felt quite passionate about the need for planners to obtain their RTPI accreditation but quite honestly, the unrelenting workload in development control combined with the lack of incentive meant that I’m only compiling my submission now. In addition, my ‘time out’ from completing my MSc to starting in planning, meant that I was unfamiliar with what was required. Luckily, the RTPI website is a wealth of information and I would really recommend that anyone looking to submit, utilises all of the online resources and attends one of the (free) APC events run by the RTPI, which take you through each of the sections which need to be completed.

Finally, I’d recommend trying to get an understanding of the bigger picture. My move to Bidwells was prompted by my attendance at the Young Planners Conference in November. I found it so exciting learning about what is going on in the planning industry; current challenges; and the amazing work which other young planners have been involved in. I’m not knocking local authorities at all but in my experience, I found that the constant churn of applications meant that I wasn’t able to look at anything else other than the individual cases which were on my desk. I was given applications to try and broaden my knowledge but I still felt that I was looking at applications in an isolated fashion with very little knowledge of anything else. In my new role I’m constantly reading, trying to keep on top of changes to various policies and legislation, in order to come up with a creative solution for a client. I appreciate that there’s nothing stopping anyone from furthering their understanding, no matter what sector of planning they’re in, but it makes it a lot easier when it’s an integral part of your job and you don’t feel pressured to squeeze it into your personal time!

I appreciate that consultancy isn’t for everyone but I definitely feel that I’ve made the right choice. Private sector planning has been and is challenging, but in a really good way. Due to its reputation and the high calibre of clients which Bidwells has, I’m lucky to be involved in some really exciting projects. If you know someone with even the smallest interest in planning, please encourage them, and promote what I think is the best profession around.

Natalie Rowland is senior planner at consultancy Bidwells

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