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A lockdown apprenticeship: getting to grips with the world of planning during a global pandemic

By Cara Collier and Lauren Miller

The RTPI aims to promote a wide variety of views in its blog section. The views expressed by authors are their own and do not necessarily reflect the views of the RTPI.

Cara Collier (apprentice):

Cara studied Geography (BSc) at the University of Southampton for her undergraduate degree. Cara is currently working as a planning policy technician at the London Borough of Havering, while also completing an RTPI apprenticeship to become a chartered town planner.

"Lockdown has brought with it many lessons. For some, bread making. For me, planning. I started my first professional role, after graduating with a geography degree, in January 2020 at the London Borough of Havering as a planning policy technician. I knew very little about planning or local government, but was excited to learn more and find out whether this could be my future career. My line manager Lauren Miller, development planning team leader, was engaging and involved from the start, knowing I was new to planning and was keen to support my progression. Her support has been vital while I was getting to grips with the world of planning, alongside the transition to working from home which came early on in my career.

The Chartered Town Planner apprenticeship route was offered to me at entry point 2 soon after I started at Havering. I thought this was a great opportunity to accelerate my learning and put me on track to become a Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI) accredited town planner. I knew this would support my career in the long term, and be a beneficial qualification to allow me to progress into a planner or senior planner role. Lauren was very supportive of this, and the responsibilities she would undertake alongside it. Guidance offered by the London South Bank University’s (LSBU) apprenticeship team helped both Lauren and I to understand fully what was involved and to feel more confident about what to expect, especially due to the university’s plans to teach online for the foreseeable future.

I was, at first, apprehensive about the way online learning would work alongside my current role but I settled into it quickly, being so used to attending webinars and training online through Havering, and the new ways of communicating that is now second nature to us all. The support I have received from Havering has been exceptional, with equipment being supplied to enhance my work-from-home station, IT services helping with any issues or new software needed, and encouragement from many colleagues who have gone through similar journeys of a part-time qualification.

The team at LSBU has also provided extra support, setting up and placing more importance on seminar and working groups to make connections with other students, allowing for more flexible learning arrangements with pre-recorded content and extensive online resources, as well as enthusiastic staff doing what they can to engage with students in these difficult times. This has made my first semester run smoothly, with no doubts that the rest of the apprenticeship will follow suit.

Being able to learn alongside practical working has been a new but important experience. I am able to apply what I learn straight away in my role, while also having some base knowledge and a practical angle to contextualise the topics we are discussing in lectures. I have already learnt so much since my start last January and I am excited about the new modules I have just started on Planning Law and Housing Regeneration."


Lauren Miller (line manager):

Lauren is a chartered town planner with over 12 years’ experience in planning policy in London.  Lauren is currently the development planning team leader at London Borough of Havering and has previously worked at the Royal Borough of Greenwich and Castle Point Borough Council. Lauren has a particular interest in supporting new planners through the early stages in their career and has previously mentored Licentiate Members of the RTPI.

"As soon I was aware that the RTPI was working with universities to put together a chartered town planning apprenticeship I knew this was the way forward. It offers a fantastic opportunity to encourage more people into the planning profession and help address the recruitment and staff retention issues that many local authority council departments have faced.

In early 2020 just as it looked like the London Borough of Havering would be able to support the planning apprenticeship route, we were hit with the first Lockdown. My initial concerns that this was going to delay things were fortunately misplaced and in September 2020 Cara, along with four other colleagues started their apprenticeship with LSBU.

I’ve been really impressed with how the university and the apprentices have embraced online learning with enthusiasm and dedication. I am so pleased that during a really challenging time, Cara and her fellow apprentices have been able to continue working towards chartered membership of the RTPI with little disruption.  Resilience is a pre-requisite for a successful career in planning and our apprentices have certainly shown that this is skill they already have."


For more information on the RTPI Apprenticeship Scheme click here.

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