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Careers 🎩 Expectations for 4 years of planning experience

Messages
18
Points
1
i work for a small city - under 100k and i am approaching my 4th year on the job as an entry-level planner. there are only a few planning members, i am the lowest ranked.

my core responsibilities include preparing planning reports for some development projects (application intake, project analysis, and report writing) and doing policy research for upper level planners.

for the past year, i have felt that my professional growth has stagnated or is growing at a marginal pace. i do not feel challenged or that i am learning that much. i often feel that a sizeable portion of my time is spent on revising my reports to make it read consistently with government land use policy.

is this normal? do bigger cities offer more stimulating work?
 
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Hink

OH....IO
Staff member
Moderator
Messages
16,383
Points
59
No work is truly stimulating, unless you really love it. I have found that you really have to work to find what you like about the job you are doing. Break it down into smaller tasks that could be enjoyable. Look for small wins. Take each day and task at a time.

I think that there is always some expectation that a job is a job. There is a point where the job isn't worth it any longer and there are likely greener pastures elsewhere. With that said, whatever else you find will still have portions that are just work.

It is normal to feel bored, or tired, or stagnant. Jumping ship will only invigorate you for a short period if you cannot find the mindset to embrace whatever it is you are doing.

Good luck!
 

MD Planner

Cyburbian
Messages
3,058
Points
49
I'll somewhat disagree. Sounds to me that you've maxed out where you are. They have an expectation of your position and that's it. Nothing wrong with that but if you want to do other things then you may need to move on. Alternatively, depending on your department's leadership you may want to have a conversation about what else you want to do while still performing your current duties. It's a win win for everyone if you can complement the other planners and allow them to do even higher level work. But you need to be prepared to move on if you want to do other tasks.
 

gtpeach

Cyburbian
Messages
2,256
Points
25
I tend to agree with both of the previous commenters! You need to really know what the expectations are for your department/your role. It could be that there just isn't a lot of exciting stuff happening in the department, or it could be that local government planning in your locality just isn't all that exciting. Local government planning is a lot of review, and not a lot of creativity. Even at higher levels of responsibility, it's still a lot of reviewing things against policies plus maybe navigating challenging politics within certain projects.

Are there things other planners are doing that you want to learn about or be involved with? Do you have ideas for how you could expand your role in the organization without stepping on anyone's toes? Other things you could be doing?

If you have some of those ideas, I would schedule a meeting with your supervisor/department head/whoever makes the most sense to discuss what you would like to take on. Depending on how receptive they are, you may be able to start building some new skills.

But someone's still got to do the less exciting review work. So having realistic expectations for how much your work may change is important. And knowing when it's time to move on to do something different, or get a higher level of responsibility is also good to keep in mind.
 

MacheteJames

Cyburbian
Messages
1,016
Points
23
Current planning can be a grind. It can be dull. Managing the entitlements process for land use applicants is not the sexy side of planning in the way that, say, leading an interagency and consultant team to accomplish a neighborhood rezoning can be.

It sounds like you're in a small pond, that the city you work for has you where they want you, and that folks there may not be terribly invested in your growth as a professional. That means YOU have to be. Do you live in the city you plan for? If not, potentially consider getting involved in your own city or town's planning processes - I sat on a local board once and found it super fulfilling and interesting in a way that my day planning gig at the time just wasn't. I did not feel bound to interpreting codes as a functionary, because as a volunteer board member, you have a different charge and, frankly, more clout than staff.

If relocation is a possibility, a position within a Tier I city planning department (like a Chicago/LA/NYC/Atlanta) may be a lot more dynamic and fulfilling due to the deeper talent pool that these cities draw from for planners and the tendency of strong-mayor, big city planning offices to have a whole lot of power and a mandate to do big moves (versus the smaller, less ambitious, "caretaker" style of planning you sometimes see in smaller locales.)

Hope this helps.
 

DVD

Cyburbian
Messages
15,501
Points
53
I'm in a bigger city. The work is not more stimulating. We actually break up our planners into minor site review, major site review, long range, zoning/variance application staff. You are stuck in one little group doing just one thing. A lot of the entry level planners have never written a staff report or presented to a public board. Skills I think every planner should have, but they are really good at reading a bad code and interpreting it.
 

glutton

Cyburbian
Messages
504
Points
15
Agree with pretty much everyone honestly - there are different sides of it. I think it boils down to a few possibilities:
  • Scenario 1: You may have grown bored of one type of planning work (current planning/development review) and may instead want to try a different type of planning work (ex: long range planning or non-land use planning like urban design, housing, environmental or transportation).

  • Scenario 2: You may have grown bored of your employer or employer type (local government). You may wish to conduct some informational chats with people in other planning sectors, like private sector consulting, non-profits (both policy think tanks and advocacy/neighborhood groups), academia, real estate, or transit agencies.

  • Scenario 3: You may be bored of your location. I'm not sure how old you are, but I know in my 20s I was pretty fidgety and had a goal of experiencing different cities and places by 30 while I was still young, single, and mobile. If that sounds like you, start looking around. A lot of people are moving right now due to Covid and rents have gone down significantly in many of the larger cities, making them more accessible than before.

  • Scenario 4: You may have gotten bored of yourself and are experiencing a quarter-life crisis, mild depression/anxiety (whether from teleworking, Covid, or just in general), or are just simply stuck in a rut in your personal or emotional life and that's playing out at work. If you are struggling with having a fulfilling personal life outside of work, this can easily become a spiraling problem at work and might require some personal introspection, development and/or therapy.

  • Scenario 5: Maybe you're just bored or irritated with the profession entirely. Maybe you don't like working from home or desk work in general and want more direct people to people contact where you're out in the field more directly helping people (ex: nursing). Maybe you want to feel more technically challenged (ex: data science). Maybe you want to be a full-time parent for some time (ex: SAHM). Either way, this would be a larger question of career change.
Taking the time to figure out what exactly the issue is and which of these scenarios you best fall into will help you figure out your best next step. As others have mentioned, it could also be as simple as maybe you're just due for a promotion and change of projects, tasks, and roles/responsibilities.

Good luck! Let us know what you figure out :)
 
Messages
3,006
Points
25
Taking the time to figure out what exactly the issue is and which of these scenarios you best fall into will help you figure out your best next step. . . .
Let us know what you figure out :)

@ TheUnemployedPlanner

g's set of 5 scenarios for self-assessment are nothing short of superb. You'd have to pay an employment counselor some good money to get the same thing!

I hope you spend some time analyzing the scenarios, and although the outcome may be too personal to publicly share, please let us know how things are going.

 

P_Johnson76

Cyburbian
Messages
259
Points
11
I left my job after about a decade because of the same thing. I was doing code review and our council had no will to get anything new, so I didn't get the chance to learn new planning theories. I took a job at a consulting firm and got stuck doing land entitlements for developers which was in my wheelhouse but I never got the chance to learn how to make plans it do anything remotely different. When I realized I had no chance to grow there I started applying for city jobs again but being 40 with no other planning experience outside of current planning has hurt my prospects.

I want to get into doing plans for cities or neighborhoods but never learned and I'm afraid no one will hire me now. And then to get back into a city I have more than enough experience so they either find someone cheaper or promote from within.

My advice? Move now to get experience so you don't pigeon-hole yourself like I did.
 

glutton

Cyburbian
Messages
504
Points
15
My advice? Move now to get experience so you don't pigeon-hole yourself like I did.
Agreed. I don't know what OP's martial status, gender, age or family circumstance is, but I will say as someone in the transition right now that the older you get, the harder it is to just get up and move and try new places and new experiences. Things like marriage, kids, and aging parents get in the way, particularly for women.
 
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