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Thread: Skills of an entry-level planner

  1. #1
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    Skills of an entry-level planner

    Even after exhaustive job searching, I'm still not sure what skills and knowledge employers are looking for in an entry-level planner.

    I'm very new to the field, graduating with a B.A. in anthropology, and I've been trying to pick up the linguo of this field to construct a picture of what it is I would be doing in reality and how I could possibly be a better fit. I want to know three things: 1) what do these job descriptions translate to in reality and 2) where I can get that knowledge and 3) a general question: besides GIS, what is the skill/knowledge that helps someone get through the door in urban planning ? It looks like knowledge of zoning, am I correct ?

    For example, what does "working with zoning ordinances, subdivision regulations, the comprehensive plan & a variety of related documents" translate to in reality ?

    What does it mean to "work with zoning ordinances ?" Are you researching zoning ordinances and/or writing reports on them ? Where can I get that knowledge ?

    Or for another example, "Under general supervision, administers the zoning requirements of the Unified Development Ordinance (UDO). Performs professional planning work of moderate difficulty in analysis of technical data, developing, and revising plans, studies, and ordinances; reviewing development proposals; or implementing and monitoring zoning progams" Same content of questions as with the first example: what does it mean to "administer and monitor the zoning requirements of the UDO" ? Am I going to have to know GIS or is it just statistics ?

    Or this example: "City Planners I/Land-Use Specialty perform moderately difficult and responsible professional planning assignments ranging from developing and evaluating land use plans." What is the work involved in developing and then evaluating a land use plan ?

    I've read many threads as to the day of a life of a planner, the student lounge, but I'm still not sure. Any help shedding light on these descriptions from your own experiences I would appreciate greatly.

  2. #2
    Super Moderator luckless pedestrian's avatar
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    Anthropology is a great line of sight to the planning profession - you will surely "get" people quickly and understand your public well - this degree will serve you well

    But I would suggest you either take some courses in planning - planning history, planning (land use & environmental) law as well as some economics, stats, and intro classes in the design/engineering professions - a little dab into geology, botany and soils will also help

    a planner is truly a jack of all trades

    in answer to your questions (and it's great to see how a job description really looks to someone, considering I have posted a similar one in here myself), if it's truly an entry level position, then that means they don't expect you to have professional background - some of the phrases you posted allude to a need for experience. so is this really an entry level position - did they expect an internship experience? if they expect an internship, that's another way to get experience for you and learn more about what happens in a planning office

    in responding to the phrasing below, I think the key components (at least it's what I want from people) is that you want to learn, listen well, take direction, have a good work ethic - you want your skill sets to show that you are organized, can create systems to track information and trends, have technical writing skills to convey information to lay people - like I say, if it's really an entry level postion, then they know you need to be trained so they really should just be asking for planning classes, hence my advice to take those classes

    good luck, keep us posted


  3. #3
    Cyburbian cch's avatar
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    Like LP said, if it is entry level, they can't expect you to have experience doing that stuff. But you should have knowledge of what it involves.

    "Working with zoning ordinances" really means you are able to read and understand the rules of what is allowed in each zoning district, so if somebody comes in and asks "can I put mini-storage on my property?", "Can I convert my house into a two-family rental?", "can I split off some land for my son to build a house?", "Can I build a 20' tall garage for my RV?", etc., you'll know how to answer their questions. You'll know when to tell them they need to apply for a conditional use permit (CUP), to do what they want to do, or possibly apply to rezone their property. And, when people do apply for CUPS or rezonings, you'll be able to write up a staff report, explaining the situation, and present the information to boards and/or committees. Also, every once in awhile the text of the zoning ordinance is changed, so they may expect you to make suggestions and work on making an ordinance that makes more sense, in some cases.

    I'd suggest you look at the website for your city or a city you're interested in. Their zoning ordinance is probably available online, and you can read through it and see what I'm talking about. Maybe even attend a zoning committee meeting (or whatever they call it where you live) to see how that process works. They are always open to the public.

    Likewise, city land use plans are sometimes available online. If not, you could go to your city hall and ask to look at it. It is basically a color-coded map (with accompanying text, that varies in length) which shows where different land uses are planned to go in the future (residential, commercial, industrial, agricultural, etc). To develop it is a pretty involved process, and it is doubtful you'd ever be expected to do it all on your own. It usually involves inventorying transportation and utility infrastructure (current and future) and natural features, population projections, public input meetings to see how the taxpayers feel, working with a technical committee appointed by the mayor, etc.

    I hope this has cleared some things up for you.

  4. #4
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    But I would suggest you either take some courses in planning - planning history, planning (land use & environmental) law as well as some economics, stats, and intro classes in the design/engineering professions - a little dab into geology, botany and soils will also help
    Thanks for the lowdown, sirs/madams luckless and cch. Sounds like I need to get my butt to grad school, which is a whole other topic.

    Those translations are a really good reference point for me. I think I'm a little more confident now or at least some of the fear is gone.

    The context I'm asking all these questions is within Los Angeles, the environmental and transportation planner's dream. That part about the environmental and transportation planner's dream is a joke by the way in reference to the looming environmental problems and commuting culture within Los Angeles to show that I know something. I hope I impressed someone.

    But in all somewhat seriousness, job-wise, the city's planning assistant position is open and continuous, but it requires having been paid full-time for 4 years as a planning aide (is public sector really strict on those qualifications ?).

    I've read a lot of these threads and some people say that downtown revitalization projects are hiring like crazy. I wonder in what context they are referring to.

    From anyone's experience, is it just tough trying to break in as a planner in as big a city as L.A. ? The second question to that would be: when/how did you begin your planning career ?

  5. #5
    Cyburbian cch's avatar
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    I'm guessing LA Planning Assistants don't get paid enough to make up for the cost of living out there, but I could be wrong.

    I grew up in iowa, got a BS in Community and Regional Planning, and then happened to get my first job in my hometown, as a transportation planner for a regional planning commission. I applied for a ton of jobs, including some in the Portland, OR area (supposedly a planner's dream area) and other relatively big cities, like Minneapolis/St. Paul, Kansas City, etc. Seems I only got calls to interview at the smaller locations, though. But, starting off at an office of 7 people, in southeast iowa, turned out to be a good thing, cause I was exposed to so many different aspects of planning, we all helped each other out, and things weren't too stressful. Since that job I've gone to graduate school, and worked for a couple different counties, in northern illinois and southern wisconsin, where we've got major development pressures and it is a whole different ballgame compared to where I started.

    I'm sure some people break into large metropolitan areas for their first job. But, when I was looking for my first job it seemed pretty much impossible.

  6. #6
         
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    Quote Originally posted by Systems of Pressure View post
    Sounds like I need to get my butt to grad school, which is a whole other topic.
    There are many excellent professional planners that do not have a planning related graduate degree. There are other ways to go about getting the job you desire. That may require reading some basic planning text books. I know there have been some threads here regarding these types of books in the last year.

    Talk to someone at the local/regional/state APA chapter. Many chapters have professional development officers who should be able to give you some direction.They may know of internships or entry level positions where you can get some real experience.

    Don't be afraid to call local planning offices to see if they could use some help. You never know what special project they may be working on and need someone to help for a month or two or three. Just because they have not advertised a job does not mean they don't need help and they may even have some funds in their "professional services" budget for such needs. You might not get paid much or not at all but you will gain some valuable knowledge. Its a way you can see if it is really something you would want to do before investing years of your life and large sums of money on a graduate degree. Best of luck!

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