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Exchanges

Exchanges give individual planners the opportunity to gain overseas experience which benefits them and their permanent employer. The Institute advises on exchanges with other countries and we are happy to suggest suitable places to which a qualified planner might direct an application. That said, finding an exchange is not an easy process to go through and it is as well to be realistic about what can be achieved. We hope the following information will guide you.

Europe

Unless you speak the local language very fluently (including knowledge of planning terminology), there is little prospect of finding an exchange in another European country. Within the EU, there are occasional opportunities for inter-government secondments where British planners skills are needed. In such cases, interpreting and translation are provided to facilitate the exchange, but this is rare. Employers hesitate to take on someone who is at a double disadvantage through not speaking the language and lacking experience of the local system of planning administration. Finally, in most other EU countries, planning education is very different from the UK planning schools curriculum, and employers might be puzzled to find someone claiming to have an undergraduate degree in planning, when such a thing does not exist in their country. That said, in more enlightened circles (for example, among the RTPI's fellow-members of ECTP-CEU, the European Council of Spatial Planners) there is growing recognition of the solid commitment in UK courses to sustainable development, the integration of spatial planning with economic and social policy at every level, and multi-disciplinary working the planner as member of the built environment team. These skills are worth stressing.

USA

Exchanges to the USA are also not easy, again, because of differences in the systems of planning administration and in the case of the US, a less-than-favourable immigration climate. Because the prospect of organising a full job-plus-lifestyle exchange with the US are so poor, the RTPI and the American Planning Association (APA) have run a special short programme matching US applicants with a planner in Britain or Ireland.

Each participant spends two weeks working side by side in the other's office and living in his/her home. It is an inexpensive and, by all accounts, instructive and enjoyable way of achieving contact with planners on the other side of the Atlantic. To apply contact the APA.

Australia & New Zealand

Australia and New Zealand have been popular exchange destinations for British planners because they feel at home in the planning systems there. If we receive a request from an Australian or New Zealand planner to find a UK partner, we circulate it.  But it has to be said that there are very few such requests at the time of writing (2014). There are three reasons for the present situation:

  • there are fewer planners in the Antipodes than here by a factor of ten - the pool is therefore smaller to start with;
  • the sterling-dollar exchange rate has long been unfavourable to Australian and New Zealand planners. Their salaries are lower than ours to start with, mainly because UK salaries have risen in line with rising costs of housing, public transport and food: all these cost a lot more in Britain than they do in Antipodes, so salaries are not the whole story. But unfortunately, once converted to sterling, these salaries do not go very far. We should explain that in an exchange, the partners continue to be paid their home salary for various reasons to do with contracts of employment and continuity of service. Planners in New Zealand and Australia now tend to prefer to give up their jobs and come over here to take temporary jobs in British planning at local salaries, rather than exchange. (This is also an option for British planners, and RTPI can advise on this, too; see final section);
  • the Institute has no mechanism for advertising the details of members actively seeking an exchange with an Australian planner. We are glad to report that we do have a contact in the New Zealand Planning Institute (see the dedicated exchange page on the NZPI website). We must however still caution that the pool of potential exchangers there is much smaller than in the UK.

What to do next, and how it works

If you are particularly committed to the idea of an exchange and have a suitable country in mind, the Institute will endeavour to help you pursue the idea. We advise you to be patient and keep you expectations modest it can take a long time to organise.  The usual arrangements for exchanges are:

  • Exchanges are on a job-to-job basis, with the consent of the two employers. The employers undertake to offer participants as wide a range of experience and planning activities as possible
  • Salaries continue to be paid by the home employer. (Exchange partners could be invited to join the host employers staff on a limited contract, but this is rare and not necessarily advantageous)
  • Participants adopt the day-to-day work arrangements, statutory holidays, and other conventions of the exchange employer
  • Exchanges can last three, 6 12 or 24 months, the term being agreed at the outset and thereafter not changeable except in dire emergency
  • Travel and all incidental costs are borne individually by each exchange planner
  • Participants are responsible for ensuring that their tax, pension, and superannuation are in order (usually taken care of automatically with salary payments continuing)
  • Participants must take out appropriate insurance to cover health, travel, and possessions for the full duration of the exchange
  • It is usual to offer to exchange homes and contents for the duration of the exchange, but this is not essential, and each pair of exchange partners may arrange accommodation to suit themselves.
  • If homes are exchanged, the two participants continue to meet the basic costs (rent/mortgage, buildings and contents insurance, for example) of their own homes and vehicle(s). They come to some arrangement in advance about running costs (heating/lighting, telephone, minor car repairs etc). It is advisable to have a contingency plan for domestic disasters e.g. flood, fire, major car repairs etc. It is essential to inform the company(ies) insuring the car, home and contents that you are involved in a professional employment exchange.

Profile

In order to give a prospective partner a good idea of what is offered, it is recommended that a personal profile is prepared. This is preferable to a CV because it gives a fuller picture including some domestic information which it would not be appropriate to give on a CV.

The Institute can supply a sample profile if needed. The personal narrative should fit on two sides of A4 paper (to keep copying and faxing costs down), and should include the following information:

  • About yourself (including a photo, if you wish)
    name
    age
    qualifications
    what you hope to gain from an exchange
    employment preferences e.g. working in a large city
    location preferences (any cities/regions or states preferred - and any you want to avoid )
    UK applicants: state country preference
  • employment
    job title
    employer
    scope of present job
    location of office and number of people in it
    current planning issues
    level of seniority/approximate salary
  • about the area
    population and area of town/city
    attractions and characteristics of town/city and surrounding region (you could include a photo!)
    distance to and links with major cities
    climate
  • domestic circumstances
    location, amenities, and size of residence offered
    or suggestion for alternative accommodation arrangements
    if applicable, introduce partner and children (give children's ages)
    whether car exchange is offered
  • what to do if interested
    provide contact details: address, home, and work telephone and fax numbers; e-mail address
    Give telephone numbers in the international format: 44 for the UK followed by the area code without the 0, then the number. You may also wish to state whether or not work telephone or fax numbers can be used to protect confidentiality in the early stages of negotiations.

It is helpful to give the time zone/hours behind/ahead of Greenwich Mean Time or - for UK participants - to indicate the difference between GMT and the time zone in the target country. This information is given in many diaries and in UK phone books in the international dialling code section, or you can use a site such as TheTimeNow or TimeAndDate.

If you can't wait ...

As mentioned above, there are some possibilities for UK trained and qualified planners to work in Australia and New Zealand without exchanging. All the RTPI advice on finding work overseas is accessible from  the RTPI International pages on this website and includes comments based on the experience of our members.