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Career development: After completing a planning apprenticeship

Planning apprenctices / iStock-946637086

As part of National Apprenticeship Week (4-8 March), The Planner spoke to five people who had completed the RTPI’s apprenticeship scheme or moved on to a different education opportunity after one year of the scheme. We found out what their apprenticeship was like and what kind of work they do now.

Alison Balsdon, planning technician at Devon County Council, studied the planning apprenticeship for one year before starting an Open University course in planning.

Q: Where did you see the apprenticeship role advertised and what made you apply for it?

A: I first learnt about the town planning apprenticeship at a careers fair. Whilst there, I was able to talk to Devon County Council’s (DCC) apprenticeship team as well as current apprentices concerning potential opportunities. From this, I was also provided with leaflets regarding different apprenticeships and where to look for upcoming positions. After the event, I became increasingly interested in the town planning apprenticeship and researched the role and career path further. When the role was then advertised on Gov.co.uk and DCC’s website, I was extremely eager to apply.

Q: After one year of your apprenticeship, you became a permanent member of staff, how did that come about?

A: Near to the end of the first year of the apprenticeship, I was offered the chance to start an Open University module alongside another planning apprentice. From the experience we had gained over the past year and our previous qualifications, this was a natural progression that would enhance our career progression.

Q: What do your studies involve now and why did you switch?

A: My studying is now carried out through distant learning of both textbook work and online materials. I spend four weeks studying for the necessary assignment and one week writing it. This first module (Journeys through a changing world) covers areas including the Arctic (Climate Change), the Nile (Water Security, Flooding and Powers) and the Amazon (Biodiversity and Natural Resources). I decided to switch to this course as it enables me to progress my career further with the opportunity of completing another module and eventually a planning master’s degree.

Charlotte Fry, case office, strategy and commissioning, South Somerset District Council. She studied at Bridgwater and Taunton College.

Q:  What kind of work did your studies involve?

A: My studies included assignments on different areas of planning, including building control, planning policy, sustainable construction, and health and safety.  It involved a lot of research interpreting information and putting it in my own words. My assessments could range from 10 pages to 35, which was my biggest - there were four/ five parts to each assignment and no word limit.

Q: Were you looking for a job / career in planning?

A: I stated my career in planning support, which involved helping planning officers with system problems and training on new processes. I was then asked to help the planning policy team in producing the maps for the local plan and then helping with some other work. I applied for a job within the team to further my knowledge and career.

Q; Do you have any advice for people looking for apprenticeships, or seeking a role in planning?

A: I think doing a qualification whilst working is a really good way of furthering your career. It helps you with on-the-job information and means you have further knowledge of work.

Ella Hammond, assistant strategic planner at Bovis Home. She studied at Bridgwater and Taunton College.

Q. Where did you see the apprenticeship role advertised and what made you apply for it?

A: Before I started the Town Planning Technical Support apprenticeship, I was already working for Bovis Homes as an administrator for the strategic planning department, following the completion of two business administration apprenticeships with the company. I was interested in planning and knew that I wanted to progress my career further. My line manager is a member of the RPTI and found details of the Town Planning Technical Support apprenticeship on the RTPI website.

The opportunity to develop my planning knowledge whilst gaining on-the-job experience was a no brainer for me! Over the two-year apprenticeship course, I was a strategic planning and development co-ordinator, an administrative role supporting the strategic land team, which covers the whole of the business’s operating area (national).

Q: What sort of supervision and support do you get?

A: I attended college for one day every two weeks. The tutor gave us the necessary information on various topics to enable us to complete assessments; set out the requirements for each assignment; and set deadlines to keep us on track led the class. The tutor was available on email and by phone on the remaining days to provide us with additional support.

Within Bovis Homes, I work alongside practicing chartered planners who provided me with additional support and supervision when completing college work and assistance with day-to-day planning tasks. Bovis Homes has an internal learning and development team who have given me support and supervision during my studies.

I also had huge support from the other students within the class. The class was made up of students varying in age, experience and backgrounds ranging from public sector planning officers to strategic planners for housebuilders to small planning consultancies. The assignments varied on topic and others who had more experienced in a certain job or sector would help others who didn’t.

Q: Is it what you expected it to be?

A: The apprenticeship was more in depth than I had expected it to be. As it was a level 3 qualification, I expected it to be more of an introduction to planning but instead it delved into most aspects of planning and analysed planning law and policy which helped huge amounts when it came to practicing planning at work.

Emma Blunt, former technical administrator (cited as current in the piece) at Quattro Design Architects, but started her new role as a planning consultant at SF Planning on 1 March.

Q: What does the job entail – what sort of work are you doing?

A: My current job involves a lot of technical administration, however I am also the main point of contact for the majority of my team’s planning applications and I deal with the submissions and liaison with local planning authorities. I also assist clients with overcoming planning issues on a range of projects.

Q: Were you looking for a job / career in planning?

A: After around six months of being in my current role, I realised how much I enjoyed planning and this was when I began looking into furthering my studies to obtain more knowledge on the subject. So yes, I would say I was looking for a job in planning.

Q: Do you have any advice for people looking for apprenticeships, or seeking a role in planning?

A: I would say that if you enjoy a challenge, planning is an ideal career choice. The BTEC Town Planning & Technical Support NVQ is a really good place to start, particularly because the course involves such a variety of topics, which provide knowledge on the construction industry as a whole.

Sarah Richards, property management assistant, Sedgemoor District Council. She studied at Bridgwater and Taunton College.

Q: What does the job entail – what sort of work are you doing?

A: As an apprentice planning technician my role covered a wide variety of different tasks including:

  • registering and allocation of planning applications;
  • being responsible for a small caseload of minor planning applications;
  • covering our landscaping department;
  • providing general planning advice to members of the public;
  • discharging planning conditions,
  • setting up for development committee: and
  • providing general support to the development management and enforcement teams.

I also spent a short time in our planning policy team to assist with the submission of the local plan to the planning inspectorate.

Q: What sort of supervision and support do you get?

A: At college, my tutor made the sessions very interactive by discussing current planning issues and carrying out some group work. He was very passionate about planning which made the teaching very enjoyable. As there isn’t much opportunity for one to one support outside of the college sessions, my tutor made sure he was accessible by email if we had any questions to assist us with our assignments and that the resources required were available online for us to view. Within the council, both my manager and team leader were incredibly supportive and provided encouragement by giving me regular feedback on how well I was doing in my training. When I first started they organised site visits with senior planning officers in both the enforcement and development management teams to give me a greater insight of the role.

Q: What does your current role involve and has your apprenticeship been proved useful for it?

A: In my new role as a property assistant, I assist with beach concessions; right to buy valuations; facilities management tasks; carrying out car park inspections; reporting street lighting issues; managing our commercial properties; and dealing with tenant. Not only have I managed to transfer the skills/knowledge gained from my planning apprenticeship but there has also been a small crossover as I am able to assist our rights of way officer with the right of way planning consultations received and carry out planning research for the team.

* These are abridged versions of interviews with Alison, Charlotte, Ella, Emma and Sarah. The full interviews are available on The Planner Jobs website.

Starting out as an apprentice: Alison Balson

Starting out as an apprentice: Charlotte Fry

Starting out as an apprentice: Ella Hammond

Starting out as an apprentice: Emma Blunt

Starting out as an apprentice: Sarah Richards

Future planners to be able to study degree-level apprenticeship

The first degree-level apprenticeship to train chartered town planners has been given the green light by the government.

The RTPI said employers in England will be able recruit candidates immediately to start the Level 7 Chartered Town Planner degree apprenticeship this autumn. Over 80 employers have expressed interest in employing apprentices and at least six universities are working to offer the apprenticeship from September 2019.

Read more here on The Planner.

Information about RTPI apprenticeship schemes can be found on the institute's website.

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