I was fortunate to land a decent job at a CDC before I finished my program. It was enough to get my feet wet, make good connections in the affordable housing/CD universe, and led to a great offer from a city (tabled due to state oversight on hiring). While the last 5 months have left me scrambling I did not piss about my lack of options, there are plenty if you are willing to do what Hink suggests and most importantly be humble about it. In the meantime you fill your pockets by doing whatever you can do, for me that was working at McDonald's...laugh if you will but it was a paycheck and kept me in the job market.
I just landed a very good position luckily doing something I have a passion for. How did I get this opportunity? Pressing the flesh constantly and working my network of contacts in the field. Two people really went to bat for me so I could get an interview and I nailed it. In the end it was down to two people so why did I get the offer? It really came down to personality and willingness to learn and play nice with others.
A master's degree in any field doesn't guarantee you a job. This economy sucks but the key is being open minded and flexible to what's out there and being persistent.
Just my $.02
"He defended the cause of the poor and needy, and so all went well. Is that not what it means to know me?" Jeremiah 22:16
When we talk about the economy being terrible are we really talking about the national economy or internationally? I mean different nations seem to invest in their public infrastructure differently, so I am assuming that the market for planners would be different from USA, to Canada to OZ to Europe, right?
I think the situation stinks in the US because we rarely invest in the public sector.
As for myself, I will use planning as a means to make money until I can position myself to leave for good. I don't know all the details, but I'm working on it.
Still, if straightforward engineering and architecture is becoming the new form of planning, then we will continue to see the same old physically based planning as the past century bent only on design, construction and growth. There are too many other issues besetting our cities right now including growing poverty, increased racial and ethnic diversity, crime, and and an increased elderly population that we have to deal with and we haven't even come up with half the solutions yet.
I worked up to 3 night meetings a week, sometimes on subjects not even related to my job, just because they needed warm bodies to handle crowd control or be meeting facilitators.Weekends,too.
Cancelled vacation after vacation because another planner quit. Worked weekend after weekend because another planner quit. Got called into work on vacation to make minor changes to reports a secretary could have done.
Worked more than one holiday,like New Years Day, because of a last-minute directive of the county commission, for something not directly related to my position.
Posted zoning placards at the other end of the county on a weekend for a hearing because the county commissioner buddy of the applicant didn't want to make the applicant do it.
Worked public hearings until midnight or 2 a.m. and was back at work at 8 a.m. just because they could make me do it.
Not only ran a whole public hearing with a bunch of pissed-off people but took the minutes when the secretary went home sick. And packed up all the recording equipment at 2 a.m. after my bosses left me alone in a public building in the middle of the night.
Picked up a sick kid at school and took him back to the office to sleep under my desk because I was not allowed to leave work and take him home.
Missed long-planned family dinners, parties, Cub Scout parties for my kid, because of public hearings that went too long and were continued to another night.
Is it any wonder I got fricking BURNT OUT???? Don't ever,for a minute, assume public planners are "just" bureaucrats, sucking off the public tit, etc. I worked my freaking ass off for those jurisdictions. I am incredibly insulted every time I see some blanket criticism of government planners. I had offers to work in the private sector for up to $50,000 per year more which I didn't take because I had a small child and an elderly mother and could not travel as they required. Most of the people I worked with didn't get to take all those "coddled" holidays. I guess it depends on where you work, but they were so lean here in FL you wouldn't take the job! And planning students need to know this happens! p.s. it's all unpaid overtime since you're salaried!
OH, and once had to handle a Sunday afternoon community meeting for a fellow planner who had a rehearsal for his church play (really, that was stupid) and I was directed to do it, and had to take my kid since he was 6 and my mom was unavailable to babysit; then I got got grief from the boss even tho' I didn't have any option for child care, and the kid was perfectly behaved.
Last edited by Zoning Goddess; 31 Jul 2011 at 10:27 PM. Reason: sun. meeting update
Yes, there ARE exceptions to the rule that you just described (and I have similar such stories on the private sector side). I would say roughly 75-80% of the planners, both public and private, did not have the same war games to trade.
Let's be honest though, work is work is work. Headaches aside, how much PLANNING output can you get in a 9 to 5 model with far more days off? Theoretically it comes down to less than 2,000 hours a year (50 weeks/year x 40 hours/ week). On the other hand, you can get a lot more out of a worker who works longer hours during the week and on the weekend with fewer vacation days.
Does it leave time for other commitments? Not as much. Is it healthy? Not necessarily. We have talked about government being leaner and meaner in our new economy. I don't think it is enough to just trim back staff. Competition will be very tough if not harder than it was before the recession. That's why I don't agree anymore with telling planners to hold out until "it gets better." We will eventually be hiring again, but the older 9 to 5 model just won't cut it. I think more public offices will either be officially open later and/or it will be assumed that MOST public workers (planning or not) will have to work longer hours. I don't think there will be an "end date" to this planning mess but we will come out of here very bruised and battered.
"This is great, honey. What's the crunchy stuff?"
"M&Ms. I ran out of paprika."
The worst example from my experience was having to cancel New Year's eve with friends and family because the city manager wanted all senior staff present at city hall on 12/31/99 "just in case" the Y2K bug turned out to be real...don't ask me what role a planner could play in the response ("eh, are property lines going to disappear?") because the City Manager couldn't answer the question either.
The problem now is that even the best and brightest (like my husband, in my opinion, with ivy league degrees plus impressive work experience) are having an extremely difficult time finding work. We're trying to relocate back to where we used to live, but if you are not a local candidate, don't even try.....even if you are more qualified than people in the area. So the result? He's become increasingly frustrated and figuring out how he can get out of planning. The bureaucracy he experienced, terrible public sector work environment (not a universal thing, but definitely bad where he was), economic climate of development and general public sector planning, etc, combined with the incredibly ridiculous job market now, has really left a bad taste in his mouth and is questioning where he should go from here. And I'll say, it is looking more and more like planning is not it.
Me on the other hand, I haven't had any trouble finding work at all and have had to turn down job offers over the last few months. I attribute that to being in transportation planning, which seems to be in more demand at the moment. Completely different world now than public sector land use planners.
Back on topic, I am not going to tell anyone to not pursue their desire, whether to be a planner or anything else. I will be honest and tell them that this is a bad time for planners, with plenty of good people being laid off and intense competition for jobs at all levels, in both the public and priave sector. But it is not different from civil engineering, architecture, and many other professions, whether related to development or not. Go in with your eyes wide open, but if it is your desire, follow it.
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I'd also like to add that I had an interesting experience working with the public sector as a planner. I was considered an in-house planner, working at City Hall full-time, but was employed by a consulting firm who was contracted to do all the planning work. I had the same schedule (holidays, etc) as City Hall employees, and had consultant based benefits (vacation, sick). I was required to do late meetings, weekend work, etc, just as a planner employed directly by the City would have been. The reason why I didn't mind the late meetings or other off-hours work was that, as a consultant, I was able to get comp time for it. It made the long days/nights feel somewhat worth it.
Unfortunately, I left that job b/c the idiot new mayor came in and insisted that contracting the planning department out was costing the City more money, only to find that the opposite was true. Paying the decent SF Bay Area public employee salaries PLUS providing the nice benefits, CalPers, etc was actually going to drain more of their money, and it has. Oh well.
Where I live now, huge layoffs have been happening in the local government - both with the city and regional planning agencies. The word around town is that more and more entities are going to go the route that my previous city did - contract out the planning review, whether entirely or just for the larger projects their in-house staff can't handle. It will save them money by not having to dish out the benefits, which from our experience, is where the majority of the cash flow issues are rooted.
What does this do? Possibly opens up more opportunities for consulting planners. Not a guarantee, but a huge possibility. The public cuts are terrible, but no city or county can go without planning, and outsourcing could provide a lot of options. A potential backfire is creating an even more competitive job market - those who were laid off will all be seeking the private gigs. I don't know, it is a vicious cycle, I guess.
I will admit that I''m coming across as harsh and unsympathetic. However, I got into this profession with only a BUP and have had to battle it out for internships, full time jobs, and contracts from day one. I was fortunate to get into the profession before the bust, but I will never have the opportunity to work a more pleasurable 45-50 hour work week. Non stop from college, I have pounded the pavement, knocked on the door, and worked the room. Non stop for most of my short planning career, far more doors have slammed in my face than opened, hours have been cut back, budgets cut, never had comp or flex time. I really don't know anything else, so I have always been somewhat on the defensive, if not survival mode. I'm not so much complaining at this point: that's the price I paid sticking in this battered and dysfunctional profession.
#2. Cardinal, when was the last time I had a paid day off for Columbus Day, Presidents Day, Veterans Day, etc. in the private sector? NEVER. Go to What are your Weekend Plans thread over the past few years, and more often than not MANY of you in the public sector have enjoyed those days off. Yes, there are exceptions, but c'mon, we in consulting still have FAR fewer days off in general.
#3. I have no problem working a longer work week provided I am compensated fairly, and I agree no planner should have to put in the extra time and headaches for low pay. Maybe that's one of the reasons I am considering other occupations in the near future, even if its a complete break from planning.
"This is great, honey. What's the crunchy stuff?"
"M&Ms. I ran out of paprika."
You cannot be serious. This whole business about having the public sector move in line with the private is just awful. Cities are broke I know but we're talking about the public having to pay for a lot of the mistakes of politicians and their corporate backers.Unfortunately, I left that job b/c the idiot new mayor came in and insisted that contracting the planning department out was costing the City more money, only to find that the opposite was true. Paying the decent SF Bay Area public employee salaries PLUS providing the nice benefits, CalPers, etc was actually going to drain more of their money, and it has. Oh well.
This whole outsourcing of public sector to the private is moronic. Sorry.
Same logic, private investors investing in charter schools use to de-fund the public school system and route it to their union busing, de-professionalization of teachers project.
Indeed. Replace it with the liberty loving marketplace!Quite the opposite. Right now the U.S. is actively looking to kill the public sector.
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I do not think it is moronic, but I also don't think it is the best scenario for every place. I assure you that California is different than Texas. However, there are environments where economically, it does make sense. Here, in a resort area where I live, the regional planning agency is going through yet another round of layoffs and is planning to contract out work - they will maintain some planners, but not enough to handle the work they have. That doesn't mean it is forever, but it does allow the agency's finances to get in order while still being able to provide a necessary service to the public.
When I was a contract planner, since I was there full-time in City Hall, no one knew I wasn't just another City employee. It doesn't change anything about how business gets done, or the quality of work. In fact, we were told our customer service and quality of work was much better than other surrounding departments, which I believe is because we had to - if we wanted the public to support us, and the council to continue to renew our contract, then we had to make sure we did everything right.
Anyone want to adopt a dog?
I too have to disagree - to an extent. Many smaller communities can't afford full-time planning staff, but find themselves in a huge bind when a developer (or two, or three) comes along in better economic times with a large project. In such cases, it may not make sense to hire new employees for the City/County that may not be warranted after those larger projects are approved (or abandoned, as such projects often are).
Outsourcing planning staff can be a bad thing at times (especially when outsourced to a firm that feels it has to justify every dollar they budgeted by providing asinine comments). However, for the most part, in my experience outsourcing hasn't been a hugely terrible thing for the profession. Many of the outsourced planners I work with are, in fact, superior to their government-employed equivalents, and often have a much broader perspective than agency staff (i.e., since outsourced planners tend to work in multiple jurisdictions, they're exposed to different ways of doing things - something that entrenched agency employees do not get the benefit of).
Only thing I'd add is there are increasingly more indicators that teh gubmint is getting more and more strangled, and in addition the economy is not picking up and likely will not soon. That means few near- and medium-future prospects as well. If your bartending skills are not up to snuff to wait for years for something to break, hard thinking is in order.
Pay for planners or almost any other profession is dictated by supply and demand. The pay for nurses was terrible through the 1980s' and most of the 1990's until a shortage developed and the pay increased.
The barrier to become a planner is low. The skills required can easily be acquired by people from other fields. For those a chose a specialty in an area that in demand like community and economic development there are still plenty of jobs open around the country. Why? Because so few people have chosen to go into this field. In Arizona I can think of 3 ED jobs open and they are all having trouble finding qualified applicants with experience. They are getting a ton of applications but few qualified for the job based upon previous work experience.
"You merely adopted the dark. I was born in it,..." -Bane
Just so there's no misunderstanding about where I stand (tongue in cheek), it comes down to this: I think most students in planning programs now should change their majors. I think most young planners should look into related professions. It's not going to get easier, planning is becoming less and less relevant, and its simply not all it's cracked up to be, anyway. It's the 5% of planning that gets written about in books, talked about in schools, and heralded as success stories everyone can aspire to. Well, the facts are the facts. Most planners will never do anything remotely cool. Most of their career will be spent on pretty banal stuff, like angled parking and bulbouts, and that's if they're lucky enough to work for a progressive community. Most of the work is the numerous arcane little tasks of keeping their small slice of government working. Sure they work hard, long hours. They're part of the machine, and the machine will take everything you have. But this doesn't mean they're doing anything really important or worthwhile. Sure, it's a job, and we need to make money. But that's not part of my argument. My argument is that planners shouldn't encourage students to go into planning, under nearly any circumstances. Just about every reason that students have to go into planning isn't valid. It's just more idealistic clap-trap they repeat from some Calthorpe, DPZ, et al. book they read in their planning theory class.
Last edited by chocolatechip; 01 Aug 2011 at 6:46 PM.
Also, from my vantage point, planning is not dead. The only way it will stop is if we scrap the system entirely. I see room for the profession to grow, but as I said in an earlier post, we're just waiting for the right opportunity.
We need to take a long-term look at how things stand. The work that planners do is harder and harder to justify financially. If some of the work they do still needs to get done, they will be done by other professionals, who are already being trained to think about the environment, politics, and a more holistic awareness of the community and landscape. And even if they don't look at things like we do, the end result will probably be the same, because after all, we were never decision makers.
Further, now that almost every intelligent person understands the damage done by sprawl and the decreasing chance of its resurgence due to permanently rising gas prices, the need for planners to raise awareness about the primary problem with the last 50 years of development is dwindling to nil.
I dunno about others' experiences, but in my experience, any engineer that attempts to do planning simply does engineering in water colors. I pity the agency staff person that has to review the text they write in support of such plans. I pity the attorneys that have to pick up the engineer's EIR after public review and have to deal with that mess. And I pity the community that has to live with that engineer's design. I also pity the developer that has to deal with all the messes that an engineer pretending to be a planner causes.
If there's an engineering firm doing well with planning tasks, it's usually because they have a full time planner on board (if not several). More often than not, engineers (in my experience) are glad to have planners on board.
In other words, the planning profession isn't going anywhere. It may change in certain ways (and more in some places than others), but by and large the profession is way too large to simply disappear or become irrelevant as you suggest. (I do, however, feel for the planners who are working in "tea party"/anti-government communities).
Again, just my opinion, and I know chocolatechip will disagree, which is fine