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Thread: Urban planning or civil engineering for an international career

  1. #1
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    Urban planning or civil engineering for an international career

    Hello Everyone!

    Basically, I want to know - if I want to work on planning projects internationally, would a civil engineering degree suit me better than an urban planning degree? My impression so far is that planning degrees (at least in Australia, where I come from) often focus on local (state/national) laws and regulations which means the skills are less transferable to other countries. Also most planners (in Australia anyway) most planners work for local/state governments. As well as that, the international companies that I would be interested in working for AECOM, PB etc seem to be more interested in hiring engineers.

    Aside from my international aspirations, I suppose my main interest in urban planning lies with transport planning and design. In other words, highway, subway, rail, mass transit etc. Correct me if I'm wrong but the complex transport modeling and traffic forecasting courses tend to be mostly found in engineering faculties. As well as that, most of the positions I have seen advertised for 'transport planner' specify an engineering degree.

    I guess you could sum up my dream career as something like helping to plan and design public transport solutions in emerging Chinese cities.

    I should also just mention that I'm already 24 with one degree under my belt (Bachelor of Asian Studies, major in Chinese language.. so my Chinese is fairly fluent) so I wonder if age is going to be a factor...

    Anyway, thanks for reading, any suggestions or advice you guys have would be very much appreciated.

    Peter

  2. #2
    Cyburbian
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    Quote Originally posted by panayotaki View post
    Hello Everyone!

    Basically, I want to know - if I want to work on planning projects internationally, would a civil engineering degree suit me better than an urban planning degree? My impression so far is that planning degrees (at least in Australia, where I come from) often focus on local (state/national) laws and regulations which means the skills are less transferable to other countries. Also most planners (in Australia anyway) most planners work for local/state governments. As well as that, the international companies that I would be interested in working for AECOM, PB etc seem to be more interested in hiring engineers.

    Aside from my international aspirations, I suppose my main interest in urban planning lies with transport planning and design. In other words, highway, subway, rail, mass transit etc. Correct me if I'm wrong but the complex transport modeling and traffic forecasting courses tend to be mostly found in engineering faculties. As well as that, most of the positions I have seen advertised for 'transport planner' specify an engineering degree.

    I guess you could sum up my dream career as something like helping to plan and design public transport solutions in emerging Chinese cities.

    I should also just mention that I'm already 24 with one degree under my belt (Bachelor of Asian Studies, major in Chinese language.. so my Chinese is fairly fluent) so I wonder if age is going to be a factor...

    Anyway, thanks for reading, any suggestions or advice you guys have would be very much appreciated.

    Peter
    If you're keen to work in a place like China where most of work involved is masterplanning, detailed design and construction, you're better off armed with a civil engineering degree.

    Urban planning is generally more focussed on the regulatory and community development aspects of the built environment, while civil engineering/architecture are geared towards providing you with technical capabilities to develop the city, for e.g. develop a ballast-less railway track system for high-speed rail, optimisation of railway and public bus timetable schedules, use of OD models to forecast population projections, etc.

    While some UP degrees do allow you to take transport modelling courses, I do find that if you want exposure to the full range of subjects in transport systems, it's far better with a civil engineering degree mixed with courses in transport planning, traffic engineering and road/railway design, coupled with transport economics and policy.

    My 2c worth.

  3. #3
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    Hi joshww81,

    Thanks a lot for your reply. I guess what you said kinda confirms what I thought originally. Would I be right in thinking also that in a place like China most of the work (especially the straight-up planning) is going to be done 'in-house' by government agencies and with perhaps only some small projects contracted out to international corporations?

    Also, noticed that you are in Singapore. Can I ask what your background is - engineering/urban planning etc. and what sort of work you do? I rather envy you - I'm interested in urban planning in a high-density context, because it's something that is sort of a taboo in Australia.

  4. #4
    Cyburbian
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    Check your PM.

  5. #5
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    Im pretty curious about the same topic...

    Im currently working as a transport planner/engineer in Australia but want to shift into Asia (Singapore would be great).

    How did you manage to find work in singapore, and how does it compare to Aus in terms of $ and scope of work.

    Also curious how much experience one should have before taking the "leap".

    Cheers.

  6. #6
    Cyburbian
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    Quote Originally posted by frozenzeus View post
    Im pretty curious about the same topic...

    Im currently working as a transport planner/engineer in Australia but want to shift into Asia (Singapore would be great).

    How did you manage to find work in singapore, and how does it compare to Aus in terms of $ and scope of work.

    Also curious how much experience one should have before taking the "leap".

    Cheers.
    Hi frozenzeus!

    Finding work in Singapore is slightly easier for me as I'm Singaporean, so I did a reverse migration back home.

    Comparatively, I would say I have greater take-home pay as my taxes here are lower and things (minus accommodation) are generally cheaper. You don't need a car to get around; there is the option of public transport.

    In terms of workscope, I'd say things are different but I can't compare oranges with oranges as I worked in the private sector in Melbourne but public sector in Singapore. Anyone can come along if they wish to experience something different. There are fresh overseas grads in the statutory board I work in down to people with years of experience, so I guess there isn't a magical number.

  7. #7
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    thanks Josh - I've been looking for some info on Singapore for awhile, but its hard to find someone who works there!

    I'm considering taking the plunge and moving over to Singapore and looking for work, but i can only identify a small bunch of firms there and the main govt bodies (URA and LTA). So its really hard to tell if theres a big job market. Dont know if there are recruiters either?

    I'm weary of going there and it falling flat quickly because of the small job pool - though please correct me if im wrong. Did you find it hard to land work, or did you land a job from Aus and then move?

    Also curious what field you specialise in of planning.

    Thanks heaps mate!

  8. #8
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    and just to help answer the original question

    I would go with an engineering degree, though having said that you can get into transport eng/planning without one. I have a 4 yr planning degree and landed a job no problems as transport engineer grad. I am doing a specific masters now in Transport Eng to supplement this slight change of career though.

    Engineering degree is going to be easier in terms of finding work overseas, but if your not cut out for doing all the structural engineering crap then go a planning degree and youll be fine.

    I think it shold said that eng degree will be harder than a planning degree though.

    In terms of having an eng degree but then lacking planning knowledge - dont worry about it, i dont think firms care that much, they know ur smart if u have an eng deg.

  9. #9
    Cyburbian
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    Quote Originally posted by frozenzeus View post
    thanks Josh - I've been looking for some info on Singapore for awhile, but its hard to find someone who works there!

    I'm considering taking the plunge and moving over to Singapore and looking for work, but i can only identify a small bunch of firms there and the main govt bodies (URA and LTA). So its really hard to tell if theres a big job market. Dont know if there are recruiters either?

    I'm weary of going there and it falling flat quickly because of the small job pool - though please correct me if im wrong. Did you find it hard to land work, or did you land a job from Aus and then move?

    Also curious what field you specialise in of planning.

    Thanks heaps mate!
    Ah I see. I work at URA, or rather used to. I'm currently on a 2-year hiatus to undertake my Masters in Transport at the Technical University of Munich, which has a campus here in Singapore. So they fly their lecturers down to teach. You can guess which field of planning I'm most interested in.

    You are right in saying that there is a small job pool here (note: there is NO urban planning course available in Singapore! The closest is a postgraduate Master of Architecture in Urban Design.). This is partly caused by the smaller economy but mostly - I feel - by the planning system. You see, our development control guidelines are quite stringent with minimal scope for flexibility of interpretation. In that regard, the typical private sector job of writing reports to supplement planning applications is almost non-existent.

    In that sense, most of the planning work pertaining to Singapore is found in the public sector among the government agencies, i.e. URA, LTA, but also in other agencies like NParks, HDB, PUB and JTC. Planners in the public sector mostly do urban management work - i.e. there is a certain development project and they will manage and coordinate its early development process, e.g. firming up land uses, site boundaries, who's doing what, etc. There is some scope for physical planning - i.e. the master planning of greenfield/brownfield sites - as well as urban design and they can be found in URA, HDB and JTC.

    The private sector in Singapore caters mostly to an international clientale, and it's not uncommon to hear of planners flying overseas as part of the project team to undertake the planning projects. Most planners are involved in two ways. Firstly, as project managers/coordinators where they manage/coordinate the overall planning process between the client, engineers, architects, etc. Second, they also contribute in terms of master planning which may include site design as well as projection/forecasting of future population/jobs and identifying the type of housing/industries, etc to be developed. Some typical planning firms are RSP, Surbana and CPG. Because most of the planning work is focussed on the design/spatial aspect, they tend to prefer engineers and architects to fulfill this role.

    You can check out the Singapore Institute of Planners (www.sip.org.sg) website for more help, or even contacting them directly. That was how I got introduced to planning in Singapore. Else feel free to PM me.

    Hope this helps!

  10. #10
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    do they have a tendency to hire westerners or do they try keep the workforce local?

    Any other tips if I'm going over there cold looking for work?

    I'm probably going over there with the intention of getting in traffic engineering/transport planning so will see how it goes.

    Its very hard to hear stories of westerners going over and making it in this industry so its difficult to source information. I had an interview with the URA when I was a grad but didnt get the job, but I have more experience now so hoping moving there will make the difference.

    I might email SIP and see if they can offer any leads too.

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