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Thread: Too old to enter planning field?...advice?

  1. #1
    Cyburbian
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    Too old to enter planning field?...advice?

    As someone looking to enter the field but pushing into the fourties now, I could really use some input.

    Based upon your experience, do you believe it is possible to enter the field at an advanced age and still be successful .

    For instance, do you think you can really excell and move up quickly if you are motivated, intelligent, already well educated, the right person etc., or is it innevitably a long road of putting in your hours to move up slowly.

    Also do you all feel there is any ageism happening out there in the job market.

    Viewpoints from different fields and workplaces would definitely be appreciated.

    In fact is there some substantive area (e.g., traffic, land use, develpment) or workplaces (private versus public) that might be most appropriate in such a case.

    Thanks so much!

    P.S.: I know I am not necessarily "old", but I also don't feel all that "young" anymore:

  2. #2
    OH....IO Hink's avatar
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    I think anything is possible - but as you will see in many threads around these parts, the profession is tight on jobs right now. Experience is key. Without it, you are in a tough place. Unfortunately, you can be a great worker and move extremely slowly up the ladder in the government sector. The private sector that is not the case, but they are also much more hit or miss.

    I don't think at 40 you are going to see too much ageism, but I am sure you will be asked why you are changing your profession at 40 and what type of worker you were prior to the change.

    Good luck!
    A common mistake people make when trying to design something completely foolproof is to underestimate the ingenuity of complete fools. -Douglas Adams

  3. #3
    Cyburbian wahday's avatar
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    Well, I went back to school to get a planning degree and finished in 2007. I'm 42 now, so probably around the same point where you are when I decided to go back to school.

    I have an unusual job situation as I do planning (really community development which was an emphasis in my planning program, but not the one I pursued) for a community art center that takes an active role in helping to implement a Metropolitan Redevelopment Area Plan in our part of town.

    So, its hard for me to say what the job prospects would be like for someone entering a more conventional planning workplace. Overall, its a very tight market right now no matter who you are. I'm not sure I am aware of much ageism going on. At least not for folks our age... I think for planning (depending on the area you are talking about), 40s is an attractive age for employers. People have seen enough and have enough life experience to make informed decisions about planning related issues (as opposed to the impetuousness of youth) that are well thought out.

    All that being said, I am actually looking to transition more fully into a conventional planning career. My current situation can't last forever and I am concerned about developing skills and experience that are more directly translatable into a traditional planning setting. Otherwise, I may find myself in two years with a very specialized skill set that qualifies me for few potential positions. From the opportunities I am pursuing, I am definitely looking at a lateral move that would pay about what I make now or slightly more. But not a big jump. In some cases, though I will probably not pursue those options, it could involve a slight pay cut.

    One thing I did not anticipate when I decided to go back to school is that I would get out, be older than many cohorts, but not have much experience directly related to planning. I try to parlay my previous career experience into valid skills that relate, but it can be a hard sell.

    In the end, I may have to take a straight up city planning fairly low level job and work from there. Once I get in there, do the work and people can see what I am capable of, additional opportunities are likely to emerge. Or so I hope. Regardless, there is the municipal employment system with its pay grades and QoL increases and as a parent of two, that provides some promise of financial security I have never really had. Realistically, that may mean a few lean years. But the long term potential is good (better than my current situation), so I am going for it.

    Hope that is helpful...
    Last edited by wahday; 03 Aug 2010 at 5:11 PM.
    The purpose of life is a life of purpose

  4. #4
    Cyburbian
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    wow, I came back to add an addendum and already got such great input and one response addressed my change which was to please share any personal experiences, or experiences of others you know, who have gone through this.
    Thanks guys as I really appreciate it and pls. keep it coming as it really is incredibly helpful in order to make plans and to have reasonable expectations. Having said that, any extraordinary success stories also welcome

  5. #5
    Cyburbian ursus's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by Hink_Planner View post
    I don't think at 40 you are going to see too much ageism, but I am sure you will be asked why you are changing your profession at 40 and what type of worker you were prior to the change.
    This is true. My first boss as a planner had decided to go back to school and finish his degree in planning after a stint as an elected official. He was in his late forties when he went back, and did very well. By the time he was my boss he was only about 5 years ahead of me in the workforce. The market's tight, but age will not necessarily be against you...
    "...I would never try to tick Hink off. He kinda intimidates me. He's quite butch, you know." - Maister

  6. #6
    Cyburbian illinoisplanner's avatar
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    I think you will be fine. You just have to have that drive and enthusiasm. And be sure to have plenty of planning-related experience as well. No matter what your age, employers in this market (and any market) want people that know what they're doing when it comes to planning. Education is not a substitute for experience, so be sure to get that planning-related experience and also highlight your past experiences as they relate to planning. An internship would be very helpful. You may have to start at the bottom, but if you're good enough, you probably won't stay there for too long.
    "Life's a journey, not a destination"
    -Steven Tyler

  7. #7
    Member
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    hope not ...

    hi. So i am 44 and am just completing a planning PhD. I don't think you are too old. In the end degrees these days get your foot in the door, but its the experience that people are looking for -- make sure you get that out there. I woudl as well suggest embracing social media as a way to do that (i just started a blog -- pradical.org). And, in the sense of "traditional planning", as long as you aren't bound to one city, there will be something. If you are even more mobile, there are interesting jobs internationally as well (I live in Canada, and we weren't hit as hard as the states, so there are jobs here as well). Ido a lot of work for UN-HABITAT based out of Nairobi which is the UN agency working on urban issues. Again, if you have something that differentiates you from the crowd, you can find something for sure.

    Good luck!

    Doug

  8. #8
    Cyburbian Cardinal's avatar
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    As others have mentioned, it gets easier if you have any prior experience that you can translate into planning. This is a broad field, so that may not be too difficult.
    Anyone want to adopt a dog?

  9. #9
    Cyburbian
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    I have a friend who taught high school for a number of years, got burned out, went back to college and got a second degree in planning and entered the planning field in his mid 40's. Teaching high school certainly prepared him for the trenches and he was grateful to be able to make the transition into another field.

  10. #10
    Cyburbian Veloise's avatar
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    Became a planner at age 21 with a bachelor's degree. Used it for a bit, then Reaganomics happened and I spent a couple decades being self-employed and doing publications.

    Returned to planning at age 43.

    It's not a Gen Y thing. "A coffee bar, like, on every corner, like, that'd be awesome!" Don't think of it as catching up, but do develop some sort of passion that will help 'splain to the doubters.

    HTH

  11. #11
    Corn Burning Fool giff57's avatar
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    I got my URP Masters at 40, so go for it.
    “As soon as public service ceases to be the chief business of the citizens, and they would rather serve with their money than with their persons, the State is not far from its fall”
    Jean-Jacques Rousseau

  12. #12
    Cyburbian
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    In my experience, some areas of planning can be very technical (trnasportation planning, maybe current planning redlining plans) but others require a generalist's perspective, an understanding of the interactions of economics, social trends, and the built environment; and an ability to get things done in a political or bureaucratic environment; and project management and people skills. Depending on what you did before, some skills may be a great sell for moving into planning. Project management? Supervising people? Acheiving results in a bureaucratic/corporate/political world? Budgeting? Working with the public, sales, teaching, etc? Analysis of some kind? Recommending a course of action? Some of these skills sell better than someone just out of grad school with limited work experience. Be ready in cover letters and interviews to make the link for potential employers.

    Another thing I might say is that, in addition to school, if planning is fairly new to you, extensive reading of publications (planetizen, planning magazine), attending conferences (APA, CNU, etc.), trainings, etc. can make you more conversant in latest trends and practice, both at the big picture level and the day-to-day level. To be honest, my MA is not in planning and I learned much of it thru conferences, on the job, thru reading, and just keeping interested in what was going on in communities around me or that I was interested in ...

  13. #13
    Cyburbian
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    "A coffee bar, like, on every corner, like, that'd be awesome!"
    You mean there's more to it than that?

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