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Thread: What is your take on public vs. private sector jobs?

  1. #1

    What is your take on public vs. private sector jobs?

    I have heard that there is more creativity allowed in the private sector as opposed to traditional jobs with state and local governments. Does anybody have experience with both and have an opinion on this matter?

    While it seems that it's easier to find a job with a city or town, I almost feel as though I would be more fulfilled by pursuing employment with an advocacy group or some focused agency.

    Thoughts?

  2. #2
    Cyburbian The District's avatar
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    let me answer the creativity question in this way--in the private sector, the goal is to make money. therefore, if your creativity brings in more income, a good employer will be happy to let you be creative. this may not always be the case in the public sector, where the de facto goal is to advance the goals of elected officials; they may not want you to be creative! they may be more interested in maintaining the status quo.

    clearly, there are creative public sector jobs and noncreative private sector jobs. but on an organizational level, and in a market like this one, any creative ideas that generate more income are likely to be more appreciated in the private sector.

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    your bank account certainly wouldn't be hurt by pursuing work in the private sector...

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    Cyburbian Plan-it's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by warderjack View post
    I have heard that there is more creativity allowed in the private sector as opposed to traditional jobs with state and local governments. Does anybody have experience with both and have an opinion on this matter?

    While it seems that it's easier to find a job with a city or town, I almost feel as though I would be more fulfilled by pursuing employment with an advocacy group or some focused agency.

    Thoughts?
    It depends on what aspect of planning you work in and who you work for. I am with a county in Metro Atlanta in an office that is dedicated to long-range planning. We have a very creative office even though we are in the public sector. The $ will be better short term in the private sector, but you will get much better retirement benefits on the public side. It all washes out in the end.
    Satellite City Enabler

  5. #5
    Cyburbian Tide's avatar
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    I am biased since I've been in public sector for 10 years. In public sector you get to see the projects through to completion. The consultants just give you the plan it's your job to see it out. My rewards are in the little things that I see making the community a better place to live and the long term good that can come from my actions. Private sector usually has more tools and more room for big ideas but the daily and yearly implementation of public planning is a tricky process that requires dedication and political savvy. I enjoy the politics and the challenges daily, but then again I do not have too many road blocks in my way as other on this board have had in the past or face today, my council believes in me and believes in planning at the moment and I hope that stays for a long time.
    @GigCityPlanner

  6. #6
    I'd say it completely depends on your position and place of employment. All of my work experience has been in the public sector and I would say I have always been encouraged to provide creative input and bring new ideas to the table. This is most likely a tribute to my forward-thinking supervisors that have welcomed my ideas whether it has been to revamp a website, make reports more graphically stimulating, propose and implement progressive new policy directions, or consider team-building outings/exercises/techniques. I'd say the key is to seek out employers that welcome creative input, assess when and where your input may be best received, and follow through with solid execution.

    One other thing, avoid getting pigeon-holed as the GIS/CAD/modeler/Illustrator tech person that just focuses on one area. Building up skills with each of those tools is essential and may help you get your foot in the door but you must be able to broaden your horizons with some other skill sets (esp. written and verbal communication skills) if you hope to advance (i.e generate, share, and build support for more of your creative ideas).

  7. #7
    Cyburbian CDT's avatar
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    I had a short stint in the private sector and have ten years in the public sector. I feel like I have a lot more control over design in the public sector. It may depend on region too. Certain regions private sectors have more design latitude than others. I'm in the midwest and private sector planning jobs are another term for: civil engineers. Not many planners do private sector planning around here. They're just a handful and end up doing a lot of work that isn't really planning. Been there, done that. I don't have experience with private sector planning in a region that values planning on the front end of a project. I prefer public sector though because you get to have the final stamp and really craft the project before it gets to the commission or council.

    Also, to piggy back on Tighty Whitey, a lot of planners in the private sector wind up doing CAD work so private sector firms can feel like they're getting a two for one deal with their employees.

  8. #8
    Cyburbian
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    Quote Originally posted by CDT View post
    A lot of planners in the private sector wind up doing CAD work so private sector firms can feel like they're getting a two for one deal with their employees.
    I really disagree with that statement. CAD is an extremely important tool with site design. As an urban designer, I use AutoCAD all the time from design development to CDs (construction documents) to design boards to image boards. Some of these projects are touched up in Photoshop and/or hand-rendered before sending them to the client. My office does not use ArcGIS, so I also do all of my mapping in AutoCAD. Yes, it is not as fast as ArcGIS (and there are no databases attached to the data) but it still gets the job done. It also a bonus if you know how to work with Microstation, since that is the cad software of choice for most engineers and is not at all like AutoCAD.

    In the private sector, I am also asked to take on many different projects that I think have little to nothing to do with planning. I have done tree surveys with arborists, worked with a wetland scientist doing calculus for stormwater basin designs, and I have attended workshops on plant material (all of which will help me down the road when I go back for an MLA). CDT, to rephrase your statement, I think some planners end up doing related/non-related planning work so that the CLIENTS can feel like they're getting a two for one deal with their consultants.

    In consulting, if two clients are paying you to jump off either side of the same bridge at the same time, you are going to find a way of doing it without pissing either one of them off

    To go back to the original post, I agree with most of what has been said. I would prefer to work in the private sector because I am partly interested in the business of a running a company and I get to juggle different types of projects. Creativity is found on both sides of planning, and I don't think it's necessarily limited to design work. However, as a gainfully employed consultant/independent contractor, I don't diss the public sector side either, since that is where most of my contracts come from. I think it is imperative that all planners have some public sector work, even if it only for a few years. I am looking to switch into a public sector job (doing current planning which is not glamorous but is the bread and butter of planning) for a few years before grad school. I want to have this public sector experience under my belt so that it will make me a more credible consultant to potential public sector clients down the road
    Last edited by nrschmid; 24 May 2008 at 8:37 AM.

  9. #9
    Cyburbian CDT's avatar
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    I guess I should have clarified. I never meant to imply that CAD is not a useful tool, in fact I didn't say that at all. Many of the planners in my area are doing CAD work for architects. It's not at all planning related, as you mentioned. In my area planners are not valued in the private sector. I only know a handful of private planners (maybe 10) in my metro area of 1 million (I am sure there's a few I don't know). Most of them are doing non-planning related work (i.e. CAD work related to building construction documents or program statements for new buildings, etc) In other regions the planner will design the subdivision and hand the plan to the CAD techs who will draw out the design on CAD, the planners do not do that. I am sure that it's very different depending on the region. I guess if someone wants to do that kind of work, it's certainly up to them but my masters program in planning didn't include training on autoCAD, microstation, program statements or anything like that and I've never seen that as planning work. I am married to an architect and I don't like to do things I believe architects are better trained for, but like I said everyone has their interest area and I know several planners with joint architecture and planning masters degrees. That's not my forte but it's very useful in the private sector and is a good added-value.

  10. #10
    Cyburbian donk's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by warderjack View post
    While it seems that it's easier to find a job with a city or town, I almost feel as though I would be more fulfilled by pursuing employment with an advocacy group or some focused agency.
    Quote Originally posted by jpguevin View post
    your bank account certainly wouldn't be hurt by pursuing work in the private sector...
    In the above instance working for an NGO probably pays less than a public sector job.

    While my bank account is doing better since I moved to the private sector, my total compensation package is about the same (public sector pensions do have their benefits).

    I have to agree, if you have experience and want to see if you can push the envelope and can produce high quality work, then private sector is the way to go. If you want a steady pay check, be told what to do and how to do it by people who don't know what needs to be done, then public sector is for you.

    If you want to be a martyr for planning, push a specific agenda, work tonnes of hours with local activists, eat homemade cookies and coffee then working at an NGO maybe for you.
    Too lazy to beat myself up for being to lazy to beat myself up for being too lazy to... well you get the point....

  11. #11
    Cyburbian
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    CDT, I agree that there are regional differences regarding planning and CAD work. Most of my CAD projects are planning projects first: I don't work on CDs for buildings or retaining walls, that would be done by architects, landscape architects, or engineers. Whether its trail design, subdivision design, or commercial site design, I would do the conceptual and design development work on trash and then transfer the final product into CAD to make CDs.

    The first "planners" were architects, landscape architects, engineers, and surveyors, and they physically "planned" the communities. I've been lucky to learn some of these skills with a non-design degree. Planning as a separate degree didn't really take off until after WW2, which is why fewer planning programs today stress the design and technical skills that are really a bigger part of architecture/landscape architecture programs.

  12. #12
    Cyburbian Michele Zone's avatar
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    I haven't had any kind of planning job. But I have seen it said in these forums that sometimes folks in the private sector have their hands tied by the people who have hired them as consultants. In my own research (as a student) I saw an example of that and the wording the consultants used strongly implied to me that they were covering their butts -- ie they all but said "given the constraints of what we were hired to give our opinion on, this is the best option". I don't think it was the best option. But they weren't hired to consider what was best. They were hired to "pick a site" (well, three sites actually) after local governments had already largely predetermined where the sites in question would be based on essentially political motives. Kind of like being asked to name a price, anywhere from $1.97 to a $1.99 -- "name a price, any price, but stay within those bounds. Okay?" Then they do a whole lot of research and give their official word that $1.97 is absolutely the best price for this commodity (given the constraints in question, of course). And they produce charts and what not to back up their official pronouncement.

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    Cyburbian tsc's avatar
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    I can't speak for the private sector, but I find my public work is a good outlet for creativity. I think most likely in the private sector you are more bound by money....and the creative tasks are saved for higher level staff.
    "Yeehaw!" is not a foreign policy

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    Cyburbian Raf's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by tsc View post
    I can't speak for the private sector, but I find my public work is a good outlet for creativity. I think most likely in the private sector you are more bound by money....and the creative tasks are saved for higher level staff.
    Most of my public sector clients have pretty much zlich on the creative side, that's what i do for them. They pretty much Sheppard projects through the system and process applications. As for creative tasks saved for higher level staff? Depends. At my office in the private sector, our principals are very hands on and pretty much direct staff to be creative and step in when they need to. I mean seriously, you can't expect a principal who bills $200 plus an hour to be cranking out land use concepts for a strait week now would you? That's what the underlings are for.
    follow me on the twitter @rcplans

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    Cyburbian MacheteJames's avatar
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    I don't find that there is a lot of room for creativity as a junior-level public sector planner. Perhaps opportunities for creativity arise as you advance, but I employ little in the way of creativity in my work. It's actually a lot more of public admin than anything else - overseeing local boards, writing grants, working the planning counter, etc. A disclaimer, though: my background isn't in urban design or landscape architecture. When I worked for a developer, however, there was more room to make a mark on the final product... because you're creating something, as opposed to regulating someone else's project.

  16. #16
    Cyburbian wahday's avatar
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    I have never had a public sector job. Worked for a short period for a private firm and now work for "The Other" area - the third sector - non-profits (maybe you consider this also private sector).

    I love my job currently and it affords the most freedom and creativity of any position I have ever held - pre-planning or now. My private firm experience was actually fairly limited creatively, though not too bad (I did a lot of graphics work and writing, historical research, etc.). My biggest complaint was that the firm was very poorly managed. They were bad with delegating work, retaining good employees, training people to move up the ranks and time management. I was actually interning there during my last semester and, although they offered me a full-time position, I just couldn't take the office environment. There were a number of us who had just begun there and now, three years later, all 4 that remained have left for the same reason.

    Which is a long way of saying that the specifics of the office culture have a large impact on creativity and job satisfaction. It could look like the most interesting job in the world but still be a craphole once you get in there, depending on the way things operate. If they took more of a design "team" philosophy, for example, I think the work would have been a lot more exciting, dynamic, and taken advantage of many of the un-taped skills we brought to the table (we were mostly developing Sector Development Plans under contract for the City of Albuquerque, so the potential to do some very exciting things was high). As it was, the structure was very top-down with some seriously Old School planners in charge.
    The purpose of life is a life of purpose

  17. #17
    Cyburbian MacheteJames's avatar
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    One point I neglected to mention was that while the nonprofit CDC where I worked afforded a lot of freedom and opportunity for creativity, it was also a place that was in a constant crisis mode. It made for a very chaotic and at times highly stressful working environment. Lots of internal power struggles between board members with their own agendas, just like politicians in a municipality. It was also a place where it's assumed that you're left leaning, politically, and someone who isn't probably wouldn't be comfortable in that environment.

    Nonprofits sometimes try to do too much with too few resources and without compensating staff adequately for all the headaches, like working weekends all the time. Every sector has it's own pluses and minuses.

    I think the optimal work environment would be a nonprofit that had its sh!t together, a clear mission, and compensated its staff well. It's odd how little nonprofits are discussed here, considering that quite a few planners work for them as neighborhood planners or project managers for housing development.

  18. #18
    Cyburbian tsc's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by CPSURaf View post
    Most of my public sector clients have pretty much zlich on the creative side, that's what i do for them. They pretty much Sheppard projects through the system and process applications. As for creative tasks saved for higher level staff? Depends. At my office in the private sector, our principals are very hands on and pretty much direct staff to be creative and step in when they need to. I mean seriously, you can't expect a principal who bills $200 plus an hour to be cranking out land use concepts for a strait week now would you? That's what the underlings are for.
    I guess my since my background is Landscape Architecture...and as I know it...the uppers get the fun parts...and the underlings convert sketches to CAD.

    I think it all depends where you work and the key is to find a place that you can use your creative juices if you want. I also feel that a creative person will do that no matter where they are.
    "Yeehaw!" is not a foreign policy

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