Anna Relph, associate director at Turley, discusses the recent introduction of the Chartered Town Planner Degree Apprenticeship and how it could help provide a solution to the planning sector’s skills gap challenge
Requiring people who want to start a career in the built environment to have a master’s degree before they can become town planners has created two pressures for the planning sector. The well-trodden skills gap issue is one. Improving our diversity and inclusivity is the other.
The introduction of the Chartered Town Planner Degree Apprenticeship in September 2019 could help address both by removing this barrier and allowing more people to begin a career in planning. It’s a significant change for the sector – and one that should be widely welcomed.
Yet for the planning sector to effectively address the diversity and skills challenges it faces, the introduction of qualifications like this need to be matched by a commitment across the industry to engage with people who may never have previously considered a career in planning.
Apprenticeships, skills and diversity
While degree apprenticeships are common across a host of industries – from construction trades through to financial services – they are a route to work that the planning sector has been slow to adopt.
The sector has taken a step in the right direction by introducing two levels of planning apprenticeships. Students now have access to alternative routes when starting a career in planning. They can decide to undertake an apprenticeship after sitting A-Levels or after completing an undergraduate degree. By removing the financial barrier that higher education poses, we can access a bigger pool of potential talent than previously possible.
Degree apprenticeships can be very appealing to graduates looking to receive a higher education qualification while gaining real-life experience and being paid. The on-the-job skills offered to apprentices should be almost identical to what the industry offers masters graduates. At Turley, our apprentices hold the title of ‘assistant planner’, as they fulfil very similar responsibilities. When offered in this way, apprenticeships can play a key role in getting more people into the planning sector at a time when resources are strapped in many areas of the profession.
Providing more routes into the sector through apprenticeships is also beneficial because it allows us to engage with a greater, more diverse pool of talent. Having people from different socio-economic backgrounds, of different genders and ethnicities, and those with disabilities can help the sector create more accessible and resilient spaces. The more voices we can incorporate into the planning process, the more likely we are to create places that will meet the needs of an increasingly diverse population.
Recruiting apprentices from a broader demographic is a significant part of achieving this aim. It allows us to cast the net wider than those who have already chosen a career in planning and are studying for qualifications to get them there.
This is not to say offering a degree apprenticeship on its own will be a silver bullet. As an industry, we need to further improve awareness of the planning sector to young people.
To make degree apprenticeships work, the industry should be proactive in approaching students in degrees that are relevant or adjacent to planning, such as geography at undergraduate level. In tandem, we also need to improve our engagement with pupils at school to educate them on the planning career options. This is something the Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI) do through various initiatives, including “Agent Plan-it”, a series of podcasts and online resources designed to introduce Key Stage 2 children to town planning and how it affects daily life. The RTPI also provides learning materials to help teachers gain an understanding of what town planning is, to expand the scope of the curriculum in both primary and secondary schools.
At Turley, we already work with schools and are scoping a more proactive school outreach programme. We also regularly attend career days and events with partner universities to talk about careers in planning and offer workplace opportunities, whether two-week placements or a flexible contract of one or two days a week. Our regular guest lecture spots at universities across the country help us educate students on real-life planning issues and give insights into what day-to-day life in the career is like.
Creating an effective apprenticeship scheme will help us widen our talent pool and address the skills and diversity issues the sector has long struggled with. But this has to be coupled with effective engagement with children at a young age to make them aware that the career even exists, as well as advertising the many benefits and opportunities of a career in planning.
While the planning sector has been historically slow on the uptake, the work being done by the RTPI and the Chartered Town Planner Degree Apprenticeship is helping to advance the qualification in the industry. By embracing the change, employers could go far in addressing two of the sector’s most significant recruitment challenges.