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Balancing study and work on an RTPI apprenticeship: Gemma's story

By Gemma Williams and Juliet Seymour

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.

Gemma Williams (apprentice)

Gemma studied Architectural History at the Bartlett School of Architecture for her previous degree. Gemma is currently working within the major applications team at London Borough of Southwark, while also completing an RTPI apprenticeship with London South Bank University to become a chartered town planner.

“I was offered the role as apprentice within Southwark Council’s planning department in October 2019 and was enrolled onto the MA Chartered Town Planner Apprenticeship degree at London South Bank University (LSBU) almost immediately, starting lectures a month after my interview. Like any job, there have been challenges, however the benefits of being able to work alongside studying have been tremendous and have kick started a career in planning that I had previously thought would take years (and a lot of tuition fees) to obtain.

The Chartered Town Planner Apprenticeship allows you to study for a Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI) accredited Master’s degree while also working in planning and earning a salary. After the completion of the two year course, I will move onto an end point assessment which is similar to the Licentiate Assessment of Professional Competence (L-APC). If successful, I will become a chartered town planner (MRTPI) with the same professional recognition and status as a qualified planner. 

My first year at LSBU covered a comprehensive overview of planning theory, urban design, planning law and for my specialism, housing and regeneration. These modules have provided a theoretical and academic underpinning to the work I undertake daily in the council’s planning department.  

It has been a challenge balancing studying while working and ‘spare time’ became a novel concept while trying to adapt to a four day working week, a day of lectures with assignments and coursework on top. There have been many late nights in LSBU’s library with my fellow apprentices trying to work out why Sketch-up won’t work as it did in our tutorial, or trying to remember the correct practice for Harvard referencing. These challenges have only been amplified by the need to work from home during the Covid-19 pandemic with work meetings, lectures and social activities all taking place through the same laptop in the same room.

A great benefit of the apprenticeship scheme, however, is working within a department full of experienced planners and having access to my colleagues' wealth of knowledge and expertise. Pre-Covid there were many lunchtime and kitchen conversations with colleagues who were always loaded with examples of case law or academic books that would help whatever issue I was facing.

Within the 15 months of being on the apprenticeship scheme, I have gained a wide breadth of experience within the Council’s planning department. This has included assisting in the preparation of the Local Plan and various other planning policy documents, helping with and leading consultation sessions, processing a variety of planning applications and gaining experience in pre-applications as well as taking cases to planning sub-committees. I have since been offered a permanent position within the planning department and am still receiving as much support and opportunity to develop as I did when I first started.

Outside of work, I was fortunate enough to attend the RTPI Young Planners Conference along with a group of apprentices who were invited to celebrate the start of the scheme, which is just a small part of the support the RTPI has provided throughout this process. As apprentices, we benefit from the free student membership of the RTPI, a dedicated End Point Assessment resource centre on the RTPI website with useful advice notes and guidance documents, and also informative webinars specifically targeted at those undertaking the apprenticeship route to becoming a chartered town planner.

The apprenticeship scheme does require a lot of learning on the job and sometimes can feel like you’re thrown in the deep end, being completely new to the profession, but it’s so beneficial for your professional development and I often forget just how much I’ve progressed  in a short space of time. Even with the challenges of balancing work and studies, it is a great way to gain a degree. You become immersed within the academics behind planning as well as the practice at the same time, bridging the disconnect that can occur when you study but don’t take up employment within that field immediately.”


Juliet Seymour (line manager)

Juliet Seymour has an MBA, an MA in Planning and an MSc. Juliet is currently the Planning Policy and Digital Innovation Manager in the Planning Department at the London Borough of Southwark.  Juliet is MRTPI, has mentored RTPI licentiates and represents the RTPI on the LSBU accreditation board.

“Southwark Council has an apprenticeship development programme and a graduate development programme. We currently have six apprentices working towards their RTPI and studying on a day release. Everyone is sponsored to get their RTPI accreditation. They have a mentor from the RTPI in addition to their supervisor and there is a training programme for all apprentices and graduates to learn the basics, to learn from each other and to practice their skills.

All of the apprentices and graduates really enjoy this opportunity and find it extremely helpful for improving their skills and aptitudes. This also helps to identify training areas and areas for improvement.

There are two school leavers who are doing planning degrees and four apprentices who have degrees and who are taking planning masters. The apprentices move around teams to gain experience and three of the apprentices with degrees have been promoted to graduates but are continuing on the apprentice programme. This opportunity for promotion and development is very motivational. 

Apprentices work on a wide range of work such as validating applications, determining fast track and major planning applications, spatial planning with maps, carrying out research, monitoring development and evaluating evidence, developing digital planning and helping with preparations for the Examination in Public into the local plan.  

This wide range of work is very popular as it helps with the End Point Assessment and it creates open-minded planners who can work across a range of disciplines to really understand all aspects of planning and development. It also establishes adaptable, agile team members who can take on work throughout the department as it rises and falls.”


For more information on the RTPI Apprenticeship Scheme click here.


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