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Thread: How will the recession impact planning salaries?

  1. #1
    Cyburbian
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    How will the recession impact planning salaries?

    With so many people looking for work (laid off, recent graduates, and even employed like me looking for other jobs) how will this impact salaries as the economy starts to recover? Over the next 5-10 years I see development rebounding. With the current market over-saturated with job seekers willing to work for far less (not to mention less money to go around) will this lower the scale industy-wide? I see plenty of opportunities for advancement, but the starting block might be lower than before the bubble.
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  2. #2
    Cyburbian beach_bum's avatar
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    Ok, I'll bite...well I definely see a change in starting also, for example, finding an internship or even better a paid internship has become tougher recently and there are not enough entry level positions to go around. Industry-wide I agree, we will not see the salaries that we saw during the boom times for traditional development jobs, but I do see salaries staying steady as our profession changes with the times. Planners are multi-talented people and fit well into to the whole sustainability/alternate energy/green movement. I see more LEED APs, more green buildings, more new homes being advertised as energy efficient. I really see the land development industry moving closer to function and impact of development as opposed to form and look of development.
    "Never invest in any idea you can't illustrate with a crayon." ~Peter Lynch

  3. #3
    Cyburbian
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    Quote Originally posted by beach_bum View post
    Industry-wide I agree, we will not see the salaries that we saw during the boom times for traditional development jobs.
    Do you mean traditional jobs working for developers? What do you think about the salaries for public and private sector planners?

    The media portrays planning to be a "hot" profession that sees a lot of potential in the future. However, I think in this case potential equates to job satisfaction, career growth, but not necessarily salaries. Granted, people do not go into planning to make a ton of money. I think there has always been a critical shortage of jobs in planning: a commnunity or a firm only needs so many planners to get the job done, yet planning schools continually churn out more and more students, many who are lured from other careers with the promise of making better communities. A glut of students and a shortage of jobs increases competition.

    There are other planners who either retire or leave the profession, which might free up jobs (depending if the company wants to keep them open). But even in good times, I wonder how the rate of planners retiring/leaving compares to the rate of new planners entering the profession? In landscape architecture, many predict there will be a lot more vacancies over the few years as the rate of LA's retiring/leaving is greater than new landscape designers entering that field.

    With the recession shaking out experienced planners from their jobs, the food chain has collapsed: directors compete for senior planning jobs, senior planners compete for mid-level, and down the line. As long as there are a ton of people with more experience competing at all levels, competition for jobs will be intense, and I think it will take many many years, way after the country recovers, for this food chain to rebuild itself. Unfortunately, you can't cap the number of people willing to enter the profession, so the competition is still going to be great even for internships. With so many people at all levels willing to settle for less, this eventually will drive down the salary even more. I agree with Dan, planners should work hard to prevent this from happening.

    Personally, this profession has always been an uphill battle for me. True, I am still a youngin', but if I'm going to have to compete even harder for less pay, I am probably going to jump ship and get out of planning all together. There are a lot of other career fields that I am interested in. I'm giving it another few years to see how this recovery turns out before making up my mind.
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  4. #4
    Cyburbian Veloise's avatar
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    Part-time planning jobs

    Have noticed several of these in recent searches. (Interestingly, from the revolving door jurisdictions.)

  5. #5
    Cyburbian MacheteJames's avatar
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    I'm with you on that, nrschmid. If salaries collapse and/or I find that I won't be able to move up due to the collapse of the "food chain", it'll force me out of the field. There's too much educational investment and the job is too all-encompassing for it to be worthwhile with depressed salaries. The work just takes too much out of you.

  6. #6
    Cyburbian Emeritus Chet's avatar
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    IN my experience, the salaries do not decrease. The job is eliminated. It takes fingers and toes to count the number of planners that I know that were let go in the last 2 years.

  7. #7
    Cyburbian beach_bum's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by nrschmid View post
    Do you mean traditional jobs working for developers? What do you think about the salaries for public and private sector planners?
    Well I meant development in the traditional sense, the bread and butter for many development firms, at least those in my region were subdivions and road projects. Now that the traditional (suburban) development patterns are being challenged by the recession, real estate prices, a shift in how we use energy, etc, planners must adapt, we must think about how we can fit into this post-recession world. I am not entirely convinced that things will be like they were doing the boom times and the real estate bust has illustrated what these develoment patterns have contributed to the current situation.

    So as for public sector employees, I see that jobs maybe eliminated, but salaries will be steady like Chet said.
    "Never invest in any idea you can't illustrate with a crayon." ~Peter Lynch

  8. #8
    Cyburbian Coragus's avatar
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    Saleries will first be frozen. After that, they will appear to decrease as the cost of benefits start to increase. In other words, you'll technically receive the same money, but your share of the insurance will start to increase, so your NET pay will actually decrease.

    That's assuming your job isn't eliminated.
    Maintaining enthusiasm in the face of crushing apathy.

  9. #9
    Cyburbian Cardinal's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Coragus View post
    Saleries will first be frozen. After that, they will appear to decrease as the cost of benefits start to increase. In other words, you'll technically receive the same money, but your share of the insurance will start to increase, so your NET pay will actually decrease.

    That's assuming your job isn't eliminated.
    Absolutely true. This has been the condition for a while. Municipalities began to cut back or eliminate increases by about 2003-4, while simultaneously seeking to have employees pay a greater share of health insurance costs and eliminate perks such as cash payout of unused sick time. These practices began to creep into private sector planning in 2007. Now I know many planners who have been asked to reduce hours, further impacting their earnings.

    The next thing I expect to see is greater use of contract or limited term employees, often with no benefits, as communities or companies seek to get work doen while minimizing costs. Also, out-of-work planners may be accepting jobs that pay less in order to have any work. When a planner III accepts a planner II position, they will tend to get assigned higher-level tasks. Employers will begin to expect this level of work at the lower pay grade. More wage compression.

    I'm not sure where it will end. Not just planners, but many people are going to end up working harder for less money, at least for the next couple of years.
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  10. #10
    Cyburbian
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    Quote Originally posted by Cardinal View post
    The next thing I expect to see is greater use of contract or limited term employees, often with no benefits, as communities or companies seek to get work doen while minimizing costs. Also, out-of-work planners may be accepting jobs that pay less in order to have any work
    Do you think there is a threshold where planners might have to give up the profession and move into a different field? Machete noted that there is simply too much of an investment with a graduate degree to make it easy to flip flop between careers. Planners are very devoted to the field, but I think there is a threshold where enough is enough. I am lucky to work as a planner with just a bachelors. I'm giving it another few years, but it doesn't make any sense to me to compete harder for fewer jobs when the pay is less than the working wage. If I'm going to suffer that amount of stress and anxiety I would rather do in a profession that a had a much higher financial return on investment.

    Cardinal, what is your outlook on planning profession after this recovery phase. Do you think more and more planners will be contracted over the long haul? Will the competition always be this fierce?
    "This is great, honey. What's the crunchy stuff?"
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  11. #11
    Cyburbian Cardinal's avatar
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    What is happening to planners is happening to everyone else, so I don't see much of a point to switching careers (assuming you would not be going into biochemistry or a handful of other exceptions). I suspect that many communities are going to be reluctant to go back to prior levels of staffing, expecially outside of development review. Smaller communities may even outsource this. It probably means more work for consultants, but we will still compete in an arena where price is significant.
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  12. #12
    Cyburbian MacheteJames's avatar
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    This thread is pretty timely because I just saw a job posting for a senior planner position at a municipality in upstate NY that offered a base pay of around $35,000. Yikes. IMO, it looks like a blatant attempt to take advantage of the economy to offer a lowballed salary.

  13. #13
    Cyburbian Plus
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    HEADLINE: Planning department set to be axed
    http://www.pressdemocrat.com/article...set-to-be-axed

    Wow now that is the salary impact - laid off.
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  14. #14
    Cyburbian
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    Private planning firms have not has as many public bid opportunities because an easy place to start slashing government planning budgets is spending on professional services category. This translates to fewer consulting dollars out there and more firms competing for less work. I've heard through the grapevine that most bigger private planning firms in Boston region have laid off staff. Because my company is small and losing one person would affect the potential for incoming work (all professional staff develop new business), all salaries across the board were cut, with higher ups taking larger percentage cuts. My public planner friends in the area have had salary and hiring freezes. If these salary effects continue, we may a reduction in the gap between private and public sector wages.

  15. #15
    Cyburbian
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    After giving it considerable thought, I think this recession is going to leave a damaging, and potentially permanent, mark on many areas of planning, especially those concentrations dealing directly with development (long-range planning, current planning, code enforcement, and environmental planning). As some of you have noted, this may eventually lead to either lower salaries or shortage of jobs.

    Planning is a growing profession. Although planning schools are not flooded with applicants like law school, accounting, or health care, I am very concerned that the number of professionals will continue to exceed the number of positions available. An oversupply of labor leads to increased competition for fewer jobs. This industry has always had this problem, but I think the disparity is even more severe in this current economic downturn.

    I don't think there is one quick fix to this problem. However, I think this problem needs to be addressed to APA (and possibly PAB and ACSP). Schools should consider tightening admissions temporarily to lower the number of planners entering the profession since there are so many recently graduated students and working professionals struggling to find work. However, my recommendation is not without flaws.
    1. Tightening admissions might discourage some people from entering the profession. However, there are many other avenues to becoming a planner apart from a planning degree.
    2. This method may be unpopular with the planning academic community who rely on student tuition dollars, thus making cooperation even more difficult.
    3. It does not address the much larger picture of how to balance the existing labor supply of practicing planners with the scarcity of jobs.

    I did not attend the National APA conference last month, so I don't know if this was even addressed. If it weren't, I think considerable attention needs to be devoted to the future of the profession in relation to the recession. This is already being discussed at considerable length in the AIA and ASLA.

    What are your views?
    "This is great, honey. What's the crunchy stuff?"
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  16. #16
    Cyburbian mike gurnee's avatar
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    We older planners had this problem before. When Reaganomics came in, grants for planning or requiring planning were decimated. There were chapter conference sessions on alternative careers for planning degrees. Thank God I was in a CDBG entitlement community at that time.

    Oh, the need for planners came back.

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    Cyburbian dvdneal's avatar
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    I think as long as people keep multipling more planners will be needed. I would love to see some stricter standards for what it takes to be a planner. Some of the people I've met, you can only shake your head in despair and confusion. I think the we want experience and we won't pay you attitude will change, but I still don't like it.

  18. #18
    Cyburbian
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    Quote Originally posted by dvdneal View post
    I think the we want experience and we won't pay you attitude will change, but I still don't like it.
    Can you elaborate on this?
    "This is great, honey. What's the crunchy stuff?"
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  19. #19
    Cyburbian dvdneal's avatar
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    I tend to see this more in public sector employment than anywhere else. Many places are asking for the greatest amount of experience possible - I don't blame them, but they are offering salary that is lower than what I make now and I don't meet their experience demands. I don't consider myself the most experienced planner, I'll leave that title to the guys in the 10k post club. I just think for the people applying to fill these jobs, they should be offered a competive wage. I understand if you have no job, you take what you can get - I've been there a few times. At the same time, if the company wants to keep talent of that level, you have to pay for it.
    Some examples,
    The NY job posted above
    A job in TX paying $20/hour for 4 years experience

    I understand there are reasons to take jobs like this - if you have nothing, or want to move to that location. I also understand giving a break to rural communities that can't afford higher salaries. For me, it just comes down to - if you want the experience, pay for it, degrees and time aren't cheap.

  20. #20
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    I think that salaries, especially on the public side, will remain stagnant for a while.

    The greater challenge, to reiterate what was said above, is the increased competition for fewer slots.

    My last place of employment, we had people with Director experience working as project managers. At my current place, we just hired two interns who I will oversee whose resumes are VASTLY more impressive than my own. They were both unemployed for about a year, and are taking their masters', years of varied experience, and, in one case, an AICP, to do my data entry at $8 an hour. As someone who keeps an eye on the job market, that scares the crap out of me.

    As someone who is very well compensated for a public sector planner, I am also concerned from a personal standpoint about the impact of these salaries on my (or more importantly, my spouse's) standard of living. I am more interested in the nature of the work than the nature of the salary, but it concerns me when I have to do work that I hate to pay the bills....just my two cents...

  21. #21
    Cyburbian Montannie's avatar
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    The planning field slowing down...

    permanently? I don't think so. Eventually we'll start to emerge from this downturn. People will start buying stuff again, wanting newer, bigger, better houses, etc. It might take a long time for the housing boom to rise up again to the point where it was a year ago but as pointed out earlier, as long as people keep making babies, we'll keep having jobs. People need places to work, places to live, places to recreate, and thankfully, planning is at the center of all of that. Perhaps as society starts to refocus on quality of life over quantity of stuff, we'll actually get better, more meaningful jobs designing, approving, and building better places and spaces. I'm sure the jobs will be slim for a while, like in any field, but I'm certainly not planning on moving out of the planning world for good.

  22. #22
    Cyburbian
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    wow this whole thread is reallyyy depressing for someone about to enter a masters program

  23. #23
    Cyburbian FueledByRamen's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by RatchetyPlan View post
    Private planning firms have not has as many public bid opportunities because an easy place to start slashing government planning budgets is spending on professional services category. This translates to fewer consulting dollars out there and more firms competing for less work.
    I somewhat disagree with this. In my region (DFW), cities are taking this opportunity of slowed (but not stopped) growth to do planning projects. We have more work than we can handle (right now...knock on wood).

    I think that two things are happening (at least in my region):
    1. The types of planning work that cities are farming out is shifting. Parks/Open Space Plans, District/TOD Plans, Bike/Ped Plans, etc. are much more common right now than Comp Plans.
    2. The number of consulting firms is decreasing. Mid-size firms (250 to 1000 employees) are getting bought up by larger firms (Jacobs buying Carter-Burgess, for example).

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