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Thread: Entry-level planner training

  1. #1
    Cyburbian Plus dandy_warhol's avatar
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    Entry-level planner training

    Today is the first day for our new planner. He has his bachelor's in public policy but no real planning experience. I'm trying to figure out the best way to teach him about planning and what his job will entail.

    For those of you who frequently work with entry-level planners, do you have a set style of training? Phased approach? Sink or swim?

    He'll mostly be supporting the ZBA and Planning Commission. So I thought I'd start him out with the Zoning Code and Comprehensive Plan for some reading materials.
    In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies, but the silence of our friends. -Martin Luther King Jr.

  2. #2
    Cyburbian
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    P.O.V. from an entry-level planner

    I am a first-year planner with degrees that touched on zoning and city planning issues, but I did not have any planning experience before graduation. After graduation, I worked as an intern for a county that was updating their comp. plan. My main job was to help them collect data for various elements. When I was between projects, or just bored of staring at a computer screent, I would go sit at the front counter and just observe the Zoning Administrator and the Subdivision Administrator.

    Both the ZA and the SA were very patient. By watching them answer zoning and subdivision questions, I started to learn the details of the ordinances. I also picked up some of the nuances of how to handle "difficult" customers. Whenever the customer left, I would ask the ZA or SA why they had given the customer a particular answer or for more details about the situation. They were good about sharing the history of a property or some of the political nuances that weren't codified.

    Depending on the personality and learning style of your new hire, an approach similar to this might help them learn quickly. If you have a patient person who works the front counter, pair the new hire with them for an hour or two each day. It will give the newbie a break from reading code, but it's short enough to keep the more experienced planner from falling behind on work or going crazy.

    Almost a year later, in another city in a state far away, I still remember some of the "customer service" skills that I learned from the Subdivision Administrator.

  3. #3
    moderator in moderation Suburb Repairman's avatar
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    In addition to anf's suggestions...

    Include them in every meeting you possibly can, and give them ten minutes after the meeting to ask you questions. Heck, encourage them to ask questions during the meeting, but you might want to let those present know he/she is a brand-new planner beforehand.

    In general, make it a point to stop in and ask if they have any questions throughout the day--it creates more open dialogue and helps make them less intimidated about asking questions as they learn the ropes.

    I've had a lot of success placing entry-level folks with no experience into the platting area and variance area, with another planner helping him/her along. These two areas have the least subjectivity and often the most detailed code information. It helps them learn the code quickly, but doesn't drop them into making more nuanced decisions like you have in conditional uses and zoning changes.

    If you have someone fairly seasoned in your office, try to pair up the new planner with him/her as much as possible. It helps provide a mentor to the new planner, but may have the additional side effect of inspiring the seasoned planner to take a renewed interest in his/her job in an effort to pass on knowledge.

    "Oh, that is all well and good, but, voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same way in any country."

    - Herman Göring at the Nuremburg trials (thoughts on democracy)

  4. #4
    Cyburbian rcgplanner's avatar
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    I would second and third those recommendations. When I started at my current position (my first job) my Planning Director had me sit in on every meeting for the first month or so.

    I would start your new planner on small things, even if it is just answering a citizen's question on zoning. It will build their confidence and also get them familar with the zoning regulations.

    I would also have them during the next application cycle start reviewing plans. Have them work with a seasoned planner and review the plans and reports with them. Obviously they will have to do a lot of reading over the first few weeks, but be sure to give them a break from reading code if something pops up that they can handle. This is just my .02 as a new planner myself.

  5. #5
    Unfrozen Caveman Planner mendelman's avatar
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    Definitely start them with the comparatively simple tasks of zoning enforcement (but only plan review), answering front counter questions and ZBA report writing.

    In my first planning job, I was there about 2 months when the other entry level planner was fired and I got the "trial by fire" experience. I carried that darn zoning code book around with me alot. Plus, it helped that the Senior Planner was available for help whenever I needed him.
    I'm sorry. Is my bias showing?

    Let's not be didactic in this profession, because that is a path to disillusion and irrelevancy.

    Six seasons and a movie!

  6. #6
    Super Moderator luckless pedestrian's avatar
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    with my entry level person, I showed him what I needed to get done and how to do it and review everything that goes out the door that he writes before it goes or before he hits send - it's trial by fire but I , well, I was going to say "holding the hose" but if RJ is around, then I should say, "I am standing next to the fire hydrant to put out any fires he might be starting" -

    you learn best, really, by doing, but you need a shield and in your case, you are the shield -

    yes on bringing him to meetings, that does help -

    and to bring humor into this some more, though I know I am not in FAC: http://www.overheardintheoffice.com/...es/007161.html
    Last edited by luckless pedestrian; 16 Jul 2008 at 2:36 PM. Reason: saw Overheard in the Office and had to post it!

  7. #7
    Cyburbian
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    What not to do...

    My first County Council Meeting (where the public hearings for all planning & zoning cases were held) I sat behind the director who was about to retire. He read Field & Stream the ENTIRE MEETING. It was disheartening to see the leader of the department display such apathy.

    In retrospect, after attending many public hearing meetings, I don't blame the guy for trying to do something interesting or borderline productive while a bunch of people repeat the same thing over and over. But to a newbie, it's bad for morale. You don't want the new kid to get old and bitter too quick .

  8. #8
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    AICP Only Useful in Certain Large Cities

    In my state, after receiving my Masters, completing a thesis, I still have to take a bureacratic exam to be a planner.



    In this field, I have to have a supervisor sign off on requisite experience before I can even take the AICP exam according to the application.



    In my previous professional experience, my mentor had to have my credential in order to be a suitable supervisor.



    In this state and this county, as well as surrounding counties, appointees are usually political and, thus, have no specific planning experience.



    How is a professional planner supposed to get somebody to sign off on getting a credential that will upstage supervisors in local government where the majority of planners end up working, when they have verbally disparaged the credential as not necessary, do not support individuals taking the exam, and will not support attending any conferences in support of maintenance of said credential??

    Unless this standard is going to be enforced across the board, there will be no compliance in people who really have no desire to do anything at all. In this regard, it is not very surprising to me that small towns and rural areas refuse to institute any progressive planning techniques, update zoning, or do anything constructive in any way.

    It is extremely depressing and disheartening to know this now; hopefully somebody will get this message before changing careers in order to make an intelligent choice before embarking on a career change that will ultimately be unfulfilling...
    Last edited by upstatenyplnr; 31 Jul 2008 at 4:49 PM. Reason: too much info

  9. #9
    Super Moderator luckless pedestrian's avatar
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    Hi - I grew up in Dewitt, NY went to ESF-Syracuse University so I know what you are saying about your area, but see below in bold:

    Quote Originally posted by upstatenyplnr View post
    In my state, after receiving my Masters, completing a thesis, I still have to take a bureacratic exam to be a planner.
    first, finishing your degree program is only the start of your education - second, the planning exam is meant in part to have a standard knowledge base that we all have that our residents and clients can depend upon, many professions, including medical doctors and lawyers have exams after the education is completed

    In this field, I have to have a supervisor sign off on requisite experience before I can even take the AICP exam according to the application.
    this is akin to an apprenticeship and again, many professions require this, including the design and engineering professions

    In my previous professional experience, my mentor had to have my credential in order to be a suitable supervisor.
    for many years in planning, you did not needva master's degree to be a planner, now yes, I would recommend to students that they get one; I am one of those people who have made it to a directorship almost 9 years ago without one - but those of us without our master's have something you don't have yet and that is at least a couple of decades of experience - we have weathered things that your professors don't even know about! if you are smart, you will seek their knowledge as we are always happy to share, especially if you buy our beer!

    In this state and this county, as well as surrounding counties, appointees are usually political and, thus, have no specific planning experience.
    though is is rampant in Onondaga County, you will see this everywhere - I knwo I am being condescending but welcome to government



    How is a professional planner supposed to get somebody to sign off on getting a credential that will upstage supervisors in local government where the majority of planners end up working, when they have verbally disparaged the credential as not necessary, do not support individuals taking the exam, and will not support attending any conferences in support of maintenance of said credential??
    I know - many in here are working with this

    Unless this standard is going to be enforced across the board, there will be no compliance in people who really have no desire to do anything at all. In this regard, it is not very surprising to me that small towns and rural areas refuse to institute any progressive planning techniques, update zoning, or do anything constructive in any way.
    think baby-steps - Rome wasn't built in a day and it didn't go down in a day either

    It is extremely depressing and disheartening to know this now; hopefully somebody will get this message before changing careers in order to make an intelligent choice before embarking on a career change that will ultimately be unfulfilling...
    welcome to Cyburbia - keep reading and keep posting!!!

  10. #10
    I am a planning intern and I have been on the job straight out of university (BA Human Geography) for 2 months. I am working on a program that my provincial government has set up for me in effort to develop well-rounded planners. The provincial government gave me two huge binders with terms and other planning jargon but I find that hands-on experience is a far more effective teaching tool.

    At my agency we work with ~20 different municipalities so right now I am working with the largest city, currently doing work on LUB amendments and an IASP. I have an assistant city division planning manager as my supervisor so she gives me tasks that will help me get a grasp on what planning is about. I am attending Council and many other meetings, shadowing my supervisor. Also, I am going around the city and seeing how other departments work especially in relationship with planning. The "city division" I am currently on is meant to ease me into the basics.

    In the near future I will be moved to the "municipal division" (every other little municipality we work with) where I will be doing many more indepedent projects. I will also be going to Inspections and Licensing to do every planner's favorite work - permits.

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