Talkin' 'bout my generation

Talkin' 'bout my generation

by aurora planning

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay 

Having previously written a blog for us on the value of work experience, we are delighted to welcome our former intern Martin Walker back this month to share some insights on how the planning profession is perceived by his peers, and how to attract more young people into this. We were particularly struck by Martin’s comments on the scope for people from a wide range of backgrounds to contribute to the planning system and, in doing so, address many of the issues that are important to his generation. In the words of Taylor Stevens:

“Where I am today is my starting point. Who I am today is my starting point. My failures and successes of the past, my fears and hopes of the future are all shadows. Today is my reality, and I’ll use it to create my world.”

On which, over to Martin.


Aurora Planning recently made a call for their profession to nurture the next generation of planners to prevent a skills shortage in the sector. They also highlighted the importance of giving experience to prospective planners – something which was invaluable to me.
As previously discussed in Aurora's February Spotlights, the Skills in Planning Research Paper, commissioned by Skills Development Scotland, set out recommendations to raise the profile of planning and attract more students and young people into the profession.
To summarise the key headlines from the report:

  • there is an impending skills gap as older planners retire and a shortfall in new planners;
  • there is a lack of awareness for planning opportunities;
  • planning does not have its own distinct identity and is a “hidden profession”; and
  • there are limited linkages between planning schools/universities and employers.

The findings of this paper prompted me to critically explore my own thoughts from my time in planning so far and what can be done to inspire the next generation of planners.
As part of my research for this blog, I also sought out insights from my colleagues on the University of Dundee MSc Spatial Planning with Sustainable Urban Design course as many come from different backgrounds and experiences of planning.
An important point raised in the Research Paper is that planning does not seem to be part of the taught curriculum, or promoted by careers advisors, which leads to an overall lack of awareness of the profession. This is something I can relate to studying geography as an undergraduate, which is a common discipline for planners to have a background in. Although planning did not specifically feature within my geography degree, I realise now that many elements of planning were strongly linked to taught modules without any explicit reference being made to it. For example, we were taught about sustainable urban drainage systems when learning about water resources; environmental justice taught me about how people in different places can often be a victim to the way land is used and managed; we learnt about the development of urban areas and their inequalities; and how health is impacted by the places we interact with every day.  Yet there wasn’t an explanation as to how planning can provide a solution to many of these issues we face in society and its inextricable links to these topics.
When asking my colleagues what they perceive to be the biggest challenge for getting young people/graduates to become interested in planning there was a recurring theme of the need to simply make people aware that it exists:
Planning is something that most people aren’t aware off” – Ivan
“Actually letting people know it exists” – David
Young people do not fully appreciate the role of the planner” – Harry
“Young people don’t really know what the work of planners entails. It’s not a profession which is talked about publicly very often” – Gemma
Looking within Scotland, the lack of awareness of planning is perhaps highlighted by the small number of institutions which offer planning as a taught course. Currently only three universities in Scotland offer planning courses - Dundee, Heriot-Watt and Glasgow (Post Graduate only). For many planning jobs, there is an expectation that applicants will have an RTPI accredited degree and related work experience, which may present a barrier for many.  For example, there could be many young people or graduates in Aberdeen who could be interested in planning but there are no further education opportunities unless they choose to relocate, which is surprising given that it is the third biggest city in Scotland. Planning is also a relatively small sector, meaning that opportunities for work experience in both public and private sectors are not easy to come across. I was fortunate that I was able to carry out my internship with Aurora Planning while also studying at Dundee University entirely online, but it may not have been possible to manage this pre-pandemic. Some may not have the economic resources to afford moving or commuting to another city and funding a full or part-time MSc course. For this reason, I welcome the strategy in the Research Paper to introduce an apprenticeship scheme, to create as many different routes into planning as possible.
Planning graduates are highly employable, with 9 in 10 ending up in employment or further study six months after graduating. So encouraging more young people to study planning would help manage the difficulties for young graduates, especially in the COVID era, of finding employment after graduating. It’s likely there are many who would find planning a fulfilling and enjoyable career but simply do not know how to get involved.
A possible solution to this lack of awareness is incorporating planning into all areas of education, from school through to university, and having specific taught components about how the planning system operates and how it can benefit everyone. In hindsight, I realise now there was more emphasis on ideas relating to planning during school when discussing issues such as the use of brown and greenfield sites in geography class, but there wasn’t a clear link made to the planning system. Looking beyond geography however, planning affects everyone and is a cross-disciplinary profession where people of all backgrounds can contribute, as highlighted by Connor:
I had no idea planning benefited and wanted graduates from different backgrounds until I enquired about entry requirements to the course, which is a shame as planning effects everyone regardless of background.”
Planning attracts people from a variety of disciplines, which is highlighted by the fact that only one person on my course of 15 had previously studied planning. Rather the backgrounds of people on the course range from engineering, architecture and geography to sociology and psychology. It is important that planning is emphasised as a profession suitable for all backgrounds, as there are a variety of skillsets which can effectively work in a planning environment. A key message that Maggie and Pippa would highlight to me during my internship is that planning does not work in isolation and you need to be aware of the range of sectors and different interests that planning works with and affects. There would be no better way to deliver this message than to make planning feature in a wide range of university courses that many young people may choose to study after school. This would make the connections to the profession early on, therefore making planning an option for all, and not just those in disciplines relating to the built environment.
Thinking about what could motivate young people to enter the profession, a clear definition of what planning is and how it affects people is crucial. Currently planning does not appear to have its own distinct identity and has become a “hidden profession” within the wider built environment:
“I think because it is such a broad and overarching topic it makes it difficult to define. It is sort of intangible and there is a distinct lack of connection and participation for most people but especially younger folks to the planning system.” – Sarah
In the present day, many young people are becoming more aware of the challenges the planet faces and the need for a transition to sustainable choices and places, but they are perhaps less aware of how planning can help achieve this:
I am unfamiliar with British early education curriculum, but I imagine that there is much potential to raise awareness and gain interest in planning when educating younger generations on the sustainability crises we face today.” – Dante
If young people were aware of the tools that working in planning can give them to shape places and make where they live more sustainable, there would undoubtedly be a greater supply of planners who want to make an impact and are driven by achieving sustainable towns and cities and improving the quality of life for everyone who lives in them.
Thanks for reading!


Many thanks also to Martin and all of his fellow students who contributed to this blog, and we wish you all the best in your future planning careers!
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