Urban planning community

+ Reply to thread
Results 1 to 20 of 20

Thread: Is planning a dying career?

  1. #1
    Member
    Registered
    Jan 2011
    Location
    Back in the Midwest
    Posts
    20

    Is planning a dying career?

    Hi All,

    In 2009, I graduated with a Bachelors of Urban and Regional Studies, with hopes of someday becoming a bona fide urban planner. I had an internship that lasted one year, and then an "AmeriCorps" position that also lasted one year. Since then, I have been working at a pizza shop ever since. I applied for 5 different grad schools to get my MURP, and got accepted to all 5 schools. However, in my job search, I haven't come across a single job with the word "planner" in it, and very very few jobs looking for somebody with an urban studies or urban planning background. I'm pretty sure that I won't be going for my MURP after all. And after reading "The unemployed planner support thread" on this forum, I'm seriously having my doubts about the future of planning altogether.

    Quick side story: My ex-girlfriend hasn't even graduated college yet, with a sociology/psychology double major, but she has already been offered a job at a domestic abuse center FT at $16/hr. I would kill for that kind of opportunity! Not that I'm jealous or anything , but this is really making me reconsider my field of expertise.

    So, my questions for all of you are:
    • Has anybody gotten their Bachelor's in a planning-related field, but gone on to do something totally different?
    • Has anybody lost their faith in planning and decided to "re-specialize" themselves in a different field (like human services)?
    • Has anybody done something non-traditional with their planning education, such as starting a non-profit or something like that?
    I'm still young, so I don't feel hopeless. But I'm not feeling very good about this 8-month gap in my resume... and it's only growing. Any stories or ideas would be greatly appreciated. Thanks!

  2. #2
    Cyburbian
    Registered
    Jul 2008
    Location
    Wherever
    Posts
    1,186
    What you are describing is typical of a lot of people who receive liberal arts degrees. Many people end up doing work that is completely unrelated to what they went to school for. What was important is that they got their Bachelor's in the first place.

    Planning is definitely in a transitional period but I wouldn't say it is a dying profession. Planning will always be necessary but politics and the economy dictate how much demand there will be and also what form it will take. It sounds to me you're still uncertain to as to what you even want to do in the future. If planning is truly your passion, go back to school. The jobs will come eventually, especially if you're flexible and able to move to them. If planning isn't what you see yourself doing, figure out what you want to do and move on from there.

  3. #3
    Cyburbian btrage's avatar
    Registered
    May 2005
    Location
    Metro Detroit
    Posts
    6,420
    Quote Originally posted by Blide View post
    What you are describing is typical of a lot of people who receive liberal arts degrees. Many people end up doing work that is completely unrelated to what they went to school for. What was important is that they got their Bachelor's in the first place.

    Planning is definitely in a transitional period but I wouldn't say it is a dying profession. Planning will always be necessary but politics and the economy dictate how much demand there will be and also what form it will take. It sounds to me you're still uncertain to as to what you even want to do in the future. If planning is truly your passion, go back to school. The jobs will come eventually, especially if you're flexible and able to move to them. If planning isn't what you see yourself doing, figure out what you want to do and move on from there.
    Well said. Your post should be the standard reply for all of the "Future of the Planning Profession" threads. I'm kinda getting tired of them all.
    "I'm very important. I have many leather-bound books and my apartment smells of rich mahogany"

  4. #4
    Member
    Registered
    Jan 2011
    Location
    Back in the Midwest
    Posts
    20
    Blide, I understand that there are many people in the same situation that I am, but please don't give me the brush-off. I do genuinely want to become a planner. There's absolutely no doubt about it in my mind. However, in contrast to what many people might say, I don't think a person can just expect that "the jobs will come" if they get an education. That may have been the case 20 years ago, but not today. It just seems way too risky to go back to school and rack up even more debt (I'd be around 75k under) in hopes that there will be more job openings for planners when I'm done.

  5. #5
    Member
    Registered
    Oct 2006
    Location
    Saint Paul, Minnesota
    Posts
    2

    Is planning a dying career?

    What a question! I think a few things about this, all at once
    (1) Planning is in rough times politically, but hasn't it always been? Not a reason to be disuaded.
    (2) Do people w planning degrees go into non-land use jobs? Absolutely. There's lots of options!
    (3) You can't find any job postings w the description "planner" ?!?! Well friend, youre looking in the wrong places then. Have you looked at http://www.mnapa.com/jobs.php
    There are always planning openings in Minnesota. Entry-level is a little trickier -- but I think Dakota Co (Hastings, MN) has an entry-level spot open -- give it a look.

    Good luck.

  6. #6
    Cyburbian
    Registered
    Jul 2008
    Location
    Wherever
    Posts
    1,186
    Honestly though, graduate school is always a gamble. You go in assuming the investment will pay off in the end but there's no guarantee that it will. It definitely increases the chances of you achieving your desired outcome though.

    You basically need to decide for yourself whether you want to stay in this field. Frankly no one here knows what's in store for the planning profession in the years to come. You'll definitely get a lot of cynicism on these forums but keep in mind this is also a place for people to vent.

    I completely understand where you're coming from though. The planning profession is an awkward situation in that it is dependent on both the economy and politics to generate jobs. Right now things are stacked against the planning profession but that can easily change. Basically planning is a profession of boom and bust. It all boils down to how comfortable you are with that prospect.

  7. #7
    Planning is not just in a "transitional" period. There are fewer planning jobs, and many planners have had to make a permanent switch to other careers. Planning grads are not finding work; based on my connections with the most recent graduating classes, a generous assessment is only about 1 in 10 get a planning job, and that's from the best planning school on the west coast.

    So while I try not to be too pessimistic, I don't think saying that planning is merely in a "transitional" phase is truthful. There are simply no more 'generalist planner' jobs. Any hiring at the municipal level is going to be filled on a contractual basis, probably through a private company. Any planning jobs being advertised are in the environment and transportation sectors. Unfortunately, these are not entry level jobs, and more schooling isn't going to get you closer to that unless its in engineering.

    Planning schools that emphasized the "generalist" mantra have largely failed to prepare students with the skills to survive as useful members of municipal government or private firms. The ones that have survived have very clear-cut technical skill sets.

    The thing that younger kids tend to forget (or never realize in the first place) is that, just as there was a glut of home building, so there was a glut of planning jobs. Planning as a profession was inflated, matching the building sector boom. Just as empty housing stock needs to be reabsorbed, all the fat has, and will continue to be, trimmed off from the bloated planning sector. Planning was never meant to be as big as the APA thinks it should be. There were never that many planning jobs in the first place, and it was only about 5-6 years of a housing boom that convinced some people that it would ever be that way permanently. Kids whose balls dropped during the 2000s don't know anything different, so I suppose it's a surprise to see the housing market crash and now have to pay the piper and work itself back to a reasonable level. The same is true for planning jobs, because 90% of planning is tied to development.

    So yeah, I guess if you want to say planning is in a transitional period, you're right. But the transition is down, then flat.
    Last edited by chocolatechip; 27 Apr 2011 at 8:15 AM.

  8. #8
    Cyburbian HomerJ's avatar
    Registered
    Dec 2010
    Location
    I'm gettin' there
    Posts
    946
    I graduated this past May with a bachelors in planning and after nearly 2 years of interning with different municipalities I was able to land an entry level job in planning. It took that long and probably over 250 applications to finally land a job, granted I am willing to admit a little bit of luck may have been involved as well.

    My two cents: If you already have a bachelors in UP, why go for an MURP? If you can't find a job now (and construction dependant jobs like planning are doing terrible right now) I wouldn't put all my chips into getting an MURP. What if the economy for planners doesn't improve by then? In my opinion, your two best options are 1) continue the job you don't like now while you search for an internship/entry level job. You might not like it, but it's probably the safest course of action. Or 2) Look at other graduate degrees that will make you marketable to more than just planning departments. I myself have been putting some serious thought into a PA or PP degree for this reason.
    Insanity in individuals is something rare - but in groups, parties, nations and epochs, it is the rule.

  9. #9
    Cyburbian Coragus's avatar
    Registered
    May 2002
    Location
    Kzoo . . . for now!
    Posts
    1,137
    Quote Originally posted by Blide View post
    Planning is definitely in a transitional period but I wouldn't say it is a dying profession.
    I agree with this sentiment. My first agency had 6 planners when I worked there, now they have 3. My last position was eliminated after budget cuts in 2007. My current gig had 4 planners three years ago, now we have 2.

    Planning as a career is part of the local government landscape, but as development has generally fallen off, there just hasn't been a need to keep staffs up.
    The cookies are worth the drive

  10. #10
    Cyburbian Cardinal's avatar
    Registered
    Aug 2001
    Location
    The Cheese State
    Posts
    10,043
    Planners are in the same boat as architects, civil engineers, and construction workers, among others. That has been the nature of this recession. Graduate school is going to benefit you, the only question is how much. A good graduate program does not train you to be a planner. It teaches you how to apply your knowledge and reason to different issues. That is transferable to many fields.
    Anyone want to adopt a dog?

  11. #11
    Cyburbian hilldweller's avatar
    Registered
    Jan 2005
    Location
    Land of Confusion
    Posts
    3,766
    Quote Originally posted by chocolatechip View post
    There are simply no more 'generalist planner' jobs. Any hiring at the municipal level is going to be filled on a contractual basis, probably through a private company.
    This is absolutely not true. The majority of jobs in local government are in fact "generalist" jobs. Granted the recession crushed planning and there are much fewer of these jobs available, but those few (at least in municipal government) are usually generalist positions are opposed to specialty positions like environmental/transportation/GIS, etc. Municipalities seek generalists because they are looking for individuals capable of juggling all of the various aspects of planning.

    I don't know how things are in California but on the east coast most municipalities do their own hiring. Temporary/contract positions are very rare. Municipalities leave positions unfilled rather than fill them through contract hires.

    Quote Originally posted by chocolatechip View post
    Planning schools that emphasized the "generalist" mantra have largely failed to prepare students with the skills to survive as useful members of municipal government or private firms. The ones that have survived have very clear-cut technical skill sets.
    Planning schools emphasize the generalist "mantra" because it is a criteria for accreditation. And rightly so IMO, because they should be producing well-rounded planners rather than planners with a narrow specialty focus and not much depth of overall knowledge. I will agree that being a technician is really important if you are looking to obtain a job in the private sector, but if that's the case you should go to school for landscape architecture, engineering, or architecture rather than planning. Planning education is geared towards the public sector, and I don't think that is a bad thing.

  12. #12
    Cyburbian ColoGI's avatar
    Registered
    Jul 2009
    Location
    Colo Front Range
    Posts
    2,517
    Quote Originally posted by btrage View post
    Well said. Your post should be the standard reply for all of the "Future of the Planning Profession" threads. I'm kinda getting tired of them all.
    Exactly. If you can't use the "search" function, or for some reason think your question applies only to you, or think your situation is unique, maybe you shouldn't be a planner.

  13. #13
    Cyburbian wahday's avatar
    Registered
    May 2005
    Location
    New Town
    Posts
    3,899
    A lot of great advice, opinions and feedback here.

    To echo what others have said, I think that many of the skills planners hone and use professionally are still relevant and needed, but its true that they may not come with the "planner" name. This may be more true of graduate degrees where, as cardinal notes, you are trained to apply a skill set to varying situations, but I'm sure any experienced planner with an adaptable mindset can do the same thing (convincing an employer of this is the challenging part).

    I will say that one thing graduate school also helps with is connections. You get to dabble in a variety of real-life planning situations in grad school and those activities can lead to networks and potential employment opportunities. Also, many towns with strong planning programs have municipalities, non-profits and private firms that draw from that talent pool through internships or direct hires. I also did two contracted planning jobs during grad school so I had some real world experience even before I graduated. All of that can open doors, though one needs to be careful about what kind of debt you rack up in the process in determing whether it is worth it for you.

    It may also be necessary to widen the scope of what you can do beyond jobs that have "planner" in the title. For example, I know that there is a community land trust up in Duluth that is doing some remarkable work rehabbing old homes to very high green standards and creating permanently affordable housing. Much of the organization's work involves work that planners are well suited for, though they might not call it that (http://www.landtrustduluth.org/). Its a very diverse field that extends well beyond site review and zoning enforcement.

    I don't know how far afield you are looking, but Duluth is also a fairly depressed economy (as is much of neighboring Michigan) and so the view from there may be bleaker than elsewhere in the country. Are you considering leaving the area for a job, or are you committed to that area?

    Lastly, know that, in my opinion, much of our entire economy is undergoing a huge shift and its likely that a great many fields are looking very much planning right now in terms of percentage of graduates hired. It doesn't necessarily mean there is something wrong with planning or that its on its way out, just that the economy has largely halted in many areas with zero job growth at the moment, or even negative growth. That may change in the coming years.
    The purpose of life is a life of purpose

  14. #14
    Cyburbian Cardinal's avatar
    Registered
    Aug 2001
    Location
    The Cheese State
    Posts
    10,043
    Quote Originally posted by wahday View post
    ...I don't know how far afield you are looking, but Duluth is also a fairly depressed economy (as is much of neighboring [I][B]Michigan[/B...
    Er... Michigan neighbors Duluth?

    Hilldweller mentioned contract positions. I think he meant that communities would be contracting with private planning firms to provide development review and other planning services. That is very common with small communities in the Great Lakes States (Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, New Mexico, Iowa, Illinois, etc.)
    Anyone want to adopt a dog?

  15. #15
    Cyburbian wahday's avatar
    Registered
    May 2005
    Location
    New Town
    Posts
    3,899
    Quote Originally posted by Cardinal View post
    Er... Michigan neighbors Duluth?

    Hilldweller mentioned contract positions. I think he meant that communities would be contracting with private planning firms to provide development review and other planning services. That is very common with small communities in the Great Lakes States (Michigan, Wisconsin, Minnesota, New Mexico, Iowa, Illinois, etc.)
    Well, 2 hours to UP anyway. I just figured if one was looking to move within the region, Michigan is on the radar. Looking more closely, though, I guess the closest metro area is quite a ways away. Guess I'll look at a map first next time Too many of you damn Michigan people in here to be geographically challenged about the area...

    And now I have learned that New Mexico is one of the Great Lakes States! - or did you put that in there just for me?

    Even so, Albuquerque also does a lot of contracting with private firms for planning work. We're about 3/4 million in population and I don't know if this is typical for cities of our size, but we're also fairly poor, so that probably knocks us down a few pegs.
    The purpose of life is a life of purpose

  16. #16
    Cyburbian
    Registered
    Dec 2006
    Location
    midwest
    Posts
    2,818
    I make a big distiction between the generalist planner and the jack-of-all-trades-even-if-it's-not-directly-planning/techie. The first group does not work within one planning niche, but can take coursework in many different specializations (land use, economic development, historic preservation, environmental, transportation) to bring a holistic approach to PLANNING problem solving. Yes, there still is and alwas will be a need for the generalist planner but that does not mean there are jobs waiting to be filled right outside the college doorstep. I think the biggest limitations with generalist planners is (1) lack of depth in a specialization and (2) greater difficulty showing how those skills are transferable to non-planning professions. It's not impossible but more difficult.

    The second group has many similarities to the first but with a far greater emphasis on using current technologies and trends to planning issues AND non-planning issues. I think I fit squarely in this second group. True, I apply a holistic approach to planning issues, but then again I take my transferable skills learned working as a planner and apply them to projects in unrelated fields that have no connection with planning. I never say no to a project, which is partly why my projects could be more engineer-based, landscape architecture-based, energy-based, etc. I didn't follow the "policy route" in school or the "design route" in school, I just taught myself what I could on my own time, earned experience, bottled it, and am now going now a new exciting path. Is it a planner job? Nope, but I have the building blocks taken from several planning projects to make connections in new industries demanding that work. I think it's somewhat easier to make a transition into a new and unrelated career path because I never defined my experience only as a planner...if that makes any sense.

    I agree with chocolate that the planning profession needs to downsize relative to the demand. There are plenty of students who are trying to double major or take electives and gain as many skills as they can to enter the marketplace. I used to be very supportive of this as it's never bad to have too many different skills. It's very hard and disappointing when all of this hard work doesn't land an entry-level job, let alone a dream job. The problem with too much school is too much school sometimes. People have to get their feet wet, knock on doors, and take the unrelated skills to weave something that IS planning-related. I think this trend will continue as we come out of the recession and the planning industry realizes that we still DON'T need as many planners even though we are growing. It takes gumption, grit, and determination to succeed, even if that's through an unorthodox approach like mine. Unfortunately you can't really pick the right school or the right professor and hope that the stars are aligned in the right position for you to succeed.

    Moving up any career ladder requires credibility, and I think far too many planners think they can only build credibility through direct and relate able experience. You can build up credibility in other areas and show your willingness to take on new skills. I worked 2-3 internships doing GIS work (which I also taught myself) before I landed my first planning-planning internship. If you worked for a housing agency, a historic preservation planning group, a pro-forma consultant, and demonstrated a willingness to learn skills that can look more favorable to a potential employer who does park planning. It's not a guarantee but at least you are thinking outside of the box rather than waiting for the right park internship to come along (which everyone else wants).
    Last edited by nrschmid; 27 Apr 2011 at 2:17 PM.
    "This is great, honey. What's the crunchy stuff?"
    "M&Ms. I ran out of paprika."

    Family Guy

  17. #17
    Cyburbian
    Registered
    Mar 2008
    Location
    Fort Saint John, British Columbia
    Posts
    44
    Quote Originally posted by nrschmid View post
    the planning industry realizes that we still DON'T need as many planners even though we are growing.
    I'm curious to hear thoughts regarding the role of the universities in creating an oversupply of new planners. I've heard rumblings in Canada of both Carlton and Calgary considering new undergraduate planning programs.

    Personally I feel that universities do not accurately reflect market demands and have been flooding numerous fields with more graduates than needed. It seems even more evident during recessions when they all feel the need to ramp up 'production' to meet the educational demands (and pad their profit margins) of individuals opting out of the workforce in favour of school.

    *granted there are fields that never have enough graduates

  18. #18
    Super Moderator luckless pedestrian's avatar
    Registered
    Aug 2005
    Location
    in a meeting
    Posts
    8,760
    I thought this thread was around this article that recently came out: http://places.designobserver.com/entry.html?entry=25188

    I know the author from college and he was a housemate in the lat 80's - insightful but I don't necessarily agree with everything he says

  19. #19
    Quote Originally posted by tingbudong View post
    I'm curious to hear thoughts regarding the role of the universities in creating an oversupply of new planners. I've heard rumblings in Canada of both Carlton and Calgary considering new undergraduate planning programs.

    Personally I feel that universities do not accurately reflect market demands and have been flooding numerous fields with more graduates than needed. It seems even more evident during recessions when they all feel the need to ramp up 'production' to meet the educational demands (and pad their profit margins) of individuals opting out of the workforce in favour of school.

    *granted there are fields that never have enough graduates
    Your feeling is shared by many, even among the higher education community. The Chronicle of Higher Education has ran numerous articles about various academic fields producing more graduates that can possibly be absorbed by those industries, and the ethical implications for those institutions. The biggest example is PhDs in the Humanities. You have to understand, universities have no incentive to make it look like you'll have trouble getting a job out of school. This is why they advertise how many of their grads find work out of college, and if the numbers don't look good anymore, they stop advertising it altogether. The problem is that there's really no direct, straight forward accountability on those schools, even public ones.

    Entire faculty departments depend on the number of students wanting to get into their programs. The fewer students they have coming in, the fewer jobs there are. Universities, even public ones, are in the business of selling education. From their perspective, more education is always the best choice. Sometimes colleges seem to make a responsible choice; for instance, Cal Poly SLO is scaling back their undergraduate planning program and expanding their graduate offering. I'm sure there are many reasons, but one result will at least be fewer planning undergrads looking for work. The planning grads will have more diverse experience and provide a higher return on educational investment, since they're more likely to go straight into a related profession and pay it forward to their professional community and alumni.

    But not all programs are like this. Universities who built the capacity to educate a number students previously absorbed by inflated industries are continuing to produce useless degrees. Just because they give you a degree for it, doesn't mean it's worth anything.

  20. #20
    Cyburbian
    Registered
    Jul 2008
    Location
    Wherever
    Posts
    1,186
    I think part of the logic too is that having an excess of students ensures that only the best move forward in the profession. This is especially true in the humanities where only like 20-25% of PhD students ever get tenure track positions. But with things like nepotism being so prevalent, there's no guarantee that the best will rise to the top.

    The system is definitely flawed. It is also telling that the most in demand fields can't even produce graduates fast enough. Like Nursing programs are extremely competitive, partly because there's not enough faculty to train enough people to meet the demand in the field. Higher education is just slow to adapt to market needs.

+ Reply to thread

More at Cyburbia

  1. On death and dying...
    Friday Afternoon Club
    Replies: 29
    Last post: 30 May 2012, 1:38 PM
  2. The Dying Dollar
    Friday Afternoon Club
    Replies: 13
    Last post: 21 Apr 2011, 11:00 AM
  3. Replies: 6
    Last post: 27 Nov 2009, 1:56 PM
  4. Is amateur radio dying?
    Friday Afternoon Club
    Replies: 7
    Last post: 19 Feb 2008, 2:24 PM
  5. Replies: 8
    Last post: 15 Nov 2006, 1:00 PM