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Internships and Voluntary Work Experience - Good Practice

Can employers do more to support graduates? Todays job market is competitive and graduates can be at a disadvantage due to their lack of work experience. It is important that the profession supports the next generation of planners, and provides work experience opportunities for graduates.

It is clear that, if properly managed, work experience can be of benefit to the employer as well as the candidate. Placements are already an established part of a students professional development, and universities are keen to build relationships with local employers. Some employers find this helps maintain an important link with universities, and an understanding of current planning education.  

Such placements offer a range of benefits to the employer, including;

  • inspire interest in the organisation, helping with short and medium-term recruitment strategies
  • offers additional resources
  • can help develop existing staffs supervisory and mentoring skills
  • provides valuable experience for both the worker and the employers
  • to ensure a return in the effort of both employer and candidate a minimum of three months appears to be the ideal

Selecting the candidates

Experience suggests that prior to offering a work experience placement it is useful to have some kind of interview process. Not only is this a useful way to meet the individual, it will help both parties to understand their motivation, opportunities, expertise and experience. It is important to ensure the placement is valued by both the graduate and the employer.

Not all employers advertise work placements (many approach universities when looking to take on students). Graduates should therefore approach a range of potential employers to enquire about opportunities. The RTPI's Linked In group is also a useful resource in promoting opportunities.

Work experience

Opportunities and experiences vary. Work shadowing - shadowing different people each day within the firm is cited as a useful approach for both students and graduates. It has the additional benefit of exposing the individual to may other parts of the organisation, helping candidates adapt to different work environments and organisational cultures.

Other points to consider;

  • it is important that candidates are offered the same opportunities as employed staff to learn additional important skills, such administrative and communication.
  • introducing candidates to all members of the team will help gain an appreciation of professional and office etiquette
  • individual candidates could try any number of different employment opportunities to explore what would best suit them.
  • by offering part-time work experience, employers can build up appropriate workloads.

Examples of graduate work experience schemes

Example 1:

"We always try to come up with a range of ideas - shadowing colleagues working on a range of different planning projects, attending site visits, taking photographs to support conservation areas and shadowing the duty planner when dealing with visitors. The intention is to give an overview of the work of the office, which includes administrative work relating to the tasks carried out. The experience is tailored to the particular individual and any requests they make to us."

"For placements looking for more detailed experience, and to make it worthwhile, then we recommend a minimum of 3 months experience. If there is a specific project then the time will be self evident. If the candidate its dealing with planning applications then it should be a minimum 4 6 months."

"We have attracted some high quality individuals who were given a clear mission and managed by an appropriate professional - they were to all intents and purposes treated as a qualified professional member of the team."

Example 2:

"We have considered other forms of payment other than a salary but employers must pay the minimum wage, even if candidates would be happy to work for less. It is important to recognize that voluntary placements do not necessarily attract excellent candidates, but they will attract those who can afford to volunteer for fixed periods of time."

Example 3:

"Taking on work experience placements can be time consuming but we have reaped the benefits of our approach. One person who came initially as a work experience student in 2007 returned as initially a casual employee in 2008 after graduating with a first degree and is now employed on a 1 year temporary contract (which I hope to shortly extend) as a junior planner. We are also assisting with his MA which will lead to RTPI accreditation."

"Another work experience student returned as a casual employee 12months later, to assist us with maternity cover after graduating. This experience helped them move to a permanent planning post with another employer."

" It has been an excellent experience for us as an employer and for the interns, who have all gone on to greater glory. I would encourage any organisation thinking of offering a serious chunk of time i.e over 3 months - to give it a whirl"


The RTPI is grateful to the contributions made by the following employers;

  • Arup
  • Edinburgh World Heritage
  • Morgan Tucker
  • Savills
  • Three Rivers District Council
  • Tunbridge Wells Borough Council

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