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Thread: Public or private: which has more opportunity?

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    Public or private: which has more opportunity?

    I have another very important question for you seasoned industry insiders. Which sector has more opportunity for growth and promotion in the industry, public or private? I have received a job offer from an engineering/landscape architecture firm and will likely receive an offer from a county development review department. Both positions are entry level and deal with permits and zoning review whether itís accepting applications or researching them. The question is, happy are you in each field? Which field do you tend to gravitate?

    I hope there are a decent number of private planners on Cyburbia; I'm new so not as familiar with the community here. My feeling is that the private firm may offer more benefits, advancement potential, and a better work environment (this office seems very cordial and relaxed). Which side of the development counter would you rather be, accepting or preparing applications?

    Maybe I got off point a bit, I'm interested in knowing which field you all prefer but am primarily interested in which sector has more growth opportunity.

    My own long term goals involve a MURP degree and ending up in a career focused more on urban design than a policy.
    Last edited by NHPlanner; 25 Sep 2006 at 10:22 AM. Reason: double reply

  2. #2
    Quote Originally posted by Rambler View post
    Maybe I got off point a bit, I'm interested in knowing which field you all prefer but am primarily interested in which sector has more growth opportunity.

    My own long term goals involve a MURP degree and ending up in a career focused more on urban design than a policy.
    If you're interested in design over the long run, the private firm may be a good bet as it might provide an opportunity to dabble with their landscape architecture department. In my experience, there's very little design work in the public sector. That being said, it's almost universally true that public sector positions will provide better benefits and work hours (albeit with fewer opportunities for short term pay increases). Advancement in either case should depend on the quality of your work, since the positions are entry level.

  3. #3
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    Here's another related question, how many of you out there are planners in a private firm?

  4. #4
    Quote Originally posted by Rambler View post
    Here's another related question, how many of you out there are planners in a private firm?
    Was -- switched to public.

  5. #5
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    I'm at a private consulting firm now, don't have any public experience, but I think the exposure to so many projects has taught me more than I would expect in the same time at a public agency.

  6. #6
    Cyburbian Planderella's avatar
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    I've been on both sides and I'm currently in the private sector. I really don't have a desire to go back to the public sector, unless I'm at a very high level. I worked in land use and zoning for 2.5 years and found myself with the same types of cases over and over again. I couldn't see myself doing that for decades like some of my coworkers. When the opportunity to work for a local engineering/planning firm came along, I jumped at it. Granted I have my moments, but I wouldn't give up the experience I've learned in the private sector for nothing. I've been exposed to all kinds of planning - transportation, environmental, comprehensive, etc. etc. If you work for a private firm, particularly one that's small, you'll be exposed to a lot more than if you work in the public sector. The pay is better, benefits may be comparable, you may have less holidays, longer hours, and may have to work on weekends. But all in all, I don't regret my decision.
    "A witty woman is a treasure, a witty beauty is a power!"

  7. #7
    Quote Originally posted by SpringfieldMonorail View post
    If you're interested in design over the long run, the private firm may be a good bet as it might provide an opportunity to dabble with their landscape architecture department. In my experience, there's very little design work in the public sector. That being said, it's almost universally true that public sector positions will provide better benefits and work hours (albeit with fewer opportunities for short term pay increases). Advancement in either case should depend on the quality of your work, since the positions are entry level.
    To add to this, it depends on how big the municipality is and how they are currently staffed. Certainly the experience of the existing staff (# of near retirement workers) would indicate possible upcoming chances for promotion. You could be entry level in each private or public for only a year or two depending on your skills/abilities and output.
    Who's gonna re-invent the wheel today?

  8. #8
    Cyburbian michaelskis's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by SpringfieldMonorail View post
    Was -- switched to public.
    Why did you switch to Public? In the next year or so, I plan on going the other direction. For the most part, I have a great job in regards to the city that I work for, the pay and benefits, and many of the people that I work with. However, I now live an hour away from work and have been doing Zoning and Code Administration for three years. I donít want to hit 5 years.

    Does public sector experience help with getting jobs in the private sector?
    Not my monkey, not my circus. - Old Polish Proverb

  9. #9
    Cyburbian Planderella's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by michaelskis View post
    Does public sector experience help with getting jobs in the private sector?
    It certainly doesn't hurt, especially if you stay in the same geographical area.
    "A witty woman is a treasure, a witty beauty is a power!"

  10. #10
    Quote Originally posted by michaelskis View post
    Does public sector experience help with getting jobs in the private sector?
    I would think that you would be able to see what each private sector companies niche and specialties are and cater to them if you have worked with them previously. Also you have seen proposals from their competitors and know how to make better proposals. You should have a leg up as far as knowing what your clients (the public sector - mainly) want, as you are now on the other side of the table. Good luck
    Who's gonna re-invent the wheel today?

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    Cyburbian tsc's avatar
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    I think it really depends on where you are working... and what level. In government your experience between local and county can change the type of projects you work on. We have many new grads who say that their peers who went private spend most of their time just cranking out EIS's. In our office, the spectrum of projects is varied. I work in public and where I am there is opportunity to advance. I used to work, however, at a gov job that didn't have room to advance. Living in a big metro area can make a difference.
    "Yeehaw!" is not a foreign policy

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  12. #12
    Quote Originally posted by michaelskis View post
    Why did you switch to Public? In the next year or so, I plan on going the other direction.
    A) Tons of lifestyle improvements: better location (I can walk to work, and was able to sell my car), better hours (no more night meetings), better benefits, more time off, etc., etc.

    B) It was a unique public sector opportunity to do exactly what I want to do - long range planning for sustainable transporation modes - so it's not a code enforcement/grunt work job, and it's a position where the projects vary greatly from year to year.

    To be honest, after just a year and a half where I was previously, I felt as if I'd learned everything I was going to learn there. Yeah, I was able to get experience in a varied range of tasks, but I realized that everything basically settled into one of only several broad tasks anyway. Once I became skilled at each of these broad tasks (LOTS of subdivision reviews for lots of different towns, for example), it was looking pretty stale moving forward. Lots of paying lip service to planning 'best practices' in my planning documents, redevelopment plans, etc., but at the end of the day always having to make sure that the same old shyte was permitted anyway. And it was clear that advancement would simply mean more client 'glad handing' rather than more advanced planning projects. Although I suppose that's true to varying extents everywhere.

  13. #13
    Cyburbian cch's avatar
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    Trust me... doing development review for a county is a mundane job that requires no more from you than an understanding of applicable ordinances and good customer-service skills. There may be the opportunity for promotion, to a job where you supervise the development review people and take the heat when a sticky situation comes up (like a big-money developer who doesn't agree with the height restriction on his giant shrine to himself). You should definitely go with the private firm. That is where the money is at and I'm 99% sure it would be a more interesting job, where you'll get to be more creative.

  14. #14
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    Quote Originally posted by cch View post
    Trust me... doing development review for a county is a mundane job that requires no more from you than an understanding of applicable ordinances and good customer-service skills. There may be the opportunity for promotion, to a job where you supervise the development review people and take the heat when a sticky situation comes up (like a big-money developer who doesn't agree with the height restriction on his giant shrine to himself). You should definitely go with the private firm. That is where the money is at and I'm 99% sure it would be a more interesting job, where you'll get to be more creative.
    Thats what I've been thinking as well lately. Thank you. I suppose its a moot point now anyway, I start on Monday at an engineering firm that I have a very good feeling about. Cheers.

  15. #15
    Cyburbian michaelskis's avatar
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    Opportunities in Private Sector V Public Sector

    Looking at the classifieds on APA and several other sites it seems that there are way more Public Sector jobs than private sector planning jobs. Do you feel that this is true for your area?

    Additionally, when applying for a position, should you wait until there is an opening or just jump in with a cold call. Would the views be different in the private v public sector? I imagine that there would be more flexibility to hire additional staff in the private sector since public sector budgets need Action by Council to be amended or approved.
    Not my monkey, not my circus. - Old Polish Proverb

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    Cyburbian Bubba's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by michaelskis View post
    Looking at the classifieds on APA and several other sites it seems that there are way more Public Sector jobs than private sector planning jobs. Do you feel that this is true for your area?
    Appearances can be deceiving – not all “dark side” job openings are advertised. Vacancies or new job openings are sometimes filled by word-of-mouth. My current employer (at least in my group) likes to try to hire people that we know and are comfortable with; when there's an opening, we will target one or two folks, and then if nothing pans out, we will advertise the position.

    Quote Originally posted by michaelskis
    Additionally, when applying for a position, should you wait until there is an opening or just jump in with a cold call. Would the views be different in the private v public sector?
    Cold calling (if that fits your personality) works in the private sector - you never know when you might stumble onto an unadvertised opportunity.
    Last edited by Bubba; 11 Oct 2006 at 9:47 AM. Reason: spelling
    I found you a new motto from a sign hanging on their wallÖ"Drink coffee: do stupid things faster and with more energy"

  17. #17
    Cyburbian Planderella's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Bubba View post
    Appearances can be deceiving Ė not all ďdark sideĒ job openings are advertised. Vacancies or new job openings are sometimes filled by word-of-mouth. My current employer (at least in my group) likes to try to hire people that we know and are comfortable with; when there's an opening, we will target one or two folks, and then if nothing pans out, we will advertise the position.



    Cold calling (if that fits your personality) works in the private sector - you never know when you might stumble onto an unadvertised opportunity.
    That's exactly how I got my job.....word of mouth. I was recommended by a friend, contacted for an interview, and offered the position the next day. Most of my other colleagues in the private sector have gotten their jobs that way. I've said this in just about every other thread you've started about the private sector and I'll keep saying it - you have to NETWORK, NETWORK, and NETWORK.


    About the flexibility in hiring staff.....keep in mind that private firms are businesses and they are out to make a profit. While they may not need Council action or whatever to approve hiring, a new position still has to be justified through the amount of projects that the firm has or will obtain in the future. Also keep in mind that you will no longer be protected by Civil Service, so you can find yourself pink-slipped easily if the firm decides that they can no longer retain you for budgetary reasons, project load, or whatever.
    "A witty woman is a treasure, a witty beauty is a power!"

  18. #18
    Cyburbian michaelskis's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Planderella View post
    About the flexibility in hiring staff.....keep in mind that private firms are businesses and they are out to make a profit. While they may not need Council action or whatever to approve hiring, a new position still has to be justified through the amount of projects that the firm has or will obtain in the future. Also keep in mind that you will no longer be protected by Civil Service, so you can find yourself pink-slipped easily if the firm decides that they can no longer retain you for budgetary reasons, project load, or whatever.
    I think that is one of the things that I find so fascinating about the private sector. Where you loose job security you gain in possibilities, (Higher risk = higher opportunity). With public sector there is a limit regardless of how hard I work. I donít get paid more (no overtime permitted), I donít get better reviews, and there is no potential of moving up unless someone leaves or retires.

    In short the only incentive in my current position to work is to keep my job. However, from what others have said, there are incentives in the private sector in terms of overtime, bonuses, and opportunities that are made available depending on how hard a person works.

    Having worked in sales in the past, I loved being on commission! In the private sector, the better the idea is sold to a municipality, the more work the firm has, the more money that comes into the firm, the more valuable an employee is.

    I could be wrong though.
    Not my monkey, not my circus. - Old Polish Proverb

  19. #19
    Quote Originally posted by michaelskis View post
    In the private sector, the more money donated by the firm to the appropriate political party in a municipality, the more work the firm has, the more money that comes into the firm, the more valuable an employee is.

    I could be wrong though.
    Fixed based on my experience in Nueva Jersey.

  20. #20
    Cyburbian IlliniPlanner's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by SpringfieldMonorail View post
    Was -- switched to public.
    I've been in the public sector all of my career. The one thing that I would say is that the communities I have worked for have had relatively small departments. This, in turn, provided me a very well-rounded career, dealing with redevelopment, design, historic preservation and economic development. Along with various positions which provided supervisory experience.
    One lot of redevelopment prevents a block of sprawl.

  21. #21
    As a prospective, I'm wondering what kind of jobs do you do in the private sector -- are you all mostly working on writing applications, or is there site planning going on? What do planners do at large firms like Sissaki, etc... where ther are so many architects and landscape architects?

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