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4 common career dilemmas for young planners

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Every planner faces challenges when finding their way in the early stages of their career. Where do you go for advice and support? We put four common career dilemmas to CJ Obi of Osborne Richardson

The first stages of a career in planning are rarely easy. You may find the reality of the workplace differs from your expectations, you're struggling to make headway as quickly as you had hoped or you simply can't decide which direction you'd like to head in. Where can you find support to help you find a pathway through your dilemmas?

The RTPI offers a range of support to planners at all stages of their careers. More experienced peers and professional mentora can also share their wisdom. So, too, can recruiters, who often find themselves in the position of 'agony aunt' for former and potential clients, or just for contacts within the industry. Indeed, CJ Obi, head of town planning with specialist recruiter Osborne Richardson, will be holding a careers advice surgery throughout the 2017 Young Planner’s Conference in Manchester on November 3-4.

Ahead of the event, we put four common career dilemmas to CJ.

1. I’ve started my first job as a planner and I’m really not happy with the work and what I’m being asked to do. I think I’ve made a mistake…

CJ Obi (pictured, left): For many graduates, the excitement of beginning a professional career in planning can sometimes mean that an assessment of the work and potential job satisfaction is overlooked.

If you find yourself in this situation, I would advise that you remain calm and initially see what can be done to improve your situation in terms of responsibilities given to you.

Remember, most junior planners will be finding their feet and may need time to settle. For this reason, managers may be cautious about the level and volume of work they delegate. If you feel that you’re not being given enough work, have an honest conversation with your manager and ask for more responsibility. Even if your manager doesn't feel you are quite ready, or simply doesn't have enough workload to delegate, a plan can be put in place to increase the level of your work incrementally.

I’d recommend you follow the same course if you’re unhappy with the kind of work you are being given and want exposure to a different sector within the company. The outcome may depend on the company structure and whether there is enough internal flexibility within the organisation. Regardless, the principles of having a candid discussion with your manager remain the same.

At this level, though, your number one focus should be to secure a role that will facilitate your APC (Assessement of Professioanl Competence). Being asked to do work which isn't the most glamorous should be accepted as a sacrifice that needs to be made on the path to becoming a chartered planner.

2. I’m working on my APC because I want to become a chartered planner. But my employer isn’t supporting me as they said they would. What should I do?

CJ Obi: Working for a company that offers support and guidance with the APC process is arguably one of the most important factors for young planners. An employer will be aware that this is a priority for those who are not yet chartered; they should therefore be doing everything they can to aid this process. Having planners that are qualified gives the company more credibility and recognition, so it is in the best interests of the organisation to help planners achieve their chartership.

If a company isn't providing the support that was initially promised, I would advise you to assess the market and job options, with the aim of moving to a company that can clearly demonstrate the APC support they have given to the planners on their books. The importance of APC support should not need to be spelled out to an employer.

3. My first job in planning has been in development control in a local authority. I’d like to branch out into more creative work so I’m looking for a new position. Should I stick to a local authority or look for a move into the private sector?

CJ Obi: Starting a professional planning career within a local authority is very common. The public sector, including development control teams, provides an excellent foundation for a junior planner to understand how the planning application process works.

Nonetheless, many local authorities are unable to provide professionals with the necessary support required to achieve MRTPI qualification. As mentioned earlier, this should be one of the main priorities for any young planner.

Moving into the private sector from a local authority development control role potentially has two advantages. Not only is it likely to increase your chances of becoming chartered; it may also offer you the additional creative work you are seeking. Many planning practices have urban design, surveying or research departments which can often involve creative work.

In addition to this, the emphasis on servicing an array of clients in the private sector and meeting their expectations, requires an ability to think outside the box.

4. What kind of professional development training should I expect from my employer? How do I ask for it?

CJ Obi: Although some companies will have their own tailored training programmes, others will work in affiliation with external individuals that provide training. In addition, the CPD is an ongoing process of learning [http://www.rtpi.org.uk/education-and-careers/cpd-for-rtpi-members/] set out by the RTPI, which involves some work-based training.

Young planners may seek support with the following: managing their time effectively, improving leadership skills, work tendering, public speaking and developing strong relationships with internal and external stakeholders.

If a company does not routinely provide this training, in most cases it can easily be sought by requesting it. Doing so would demonstrate your keenness to progress your career and a company will recognise the value you will be adding to the practice, as a result of you increasing your competence.

Book a one-to-one at the Young Planner's Conference

Young Planners’ Conference delegates can book a 20-30 minute slot with CJ and colleagues for confidential careers, CV and interview advice by contacting [email protected]

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