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Planning Apprenticeships in Scotland

Craig McLaren is Director of Scotland, Ireland and English Regions at the RTPI.


Scotland’s 4th National Planning Framework (NPF4) was adopted on 13 February. RTPI Scotland has been broadly supportive of its aims and ambitions, however, the key challenge that we have highlighted is resourcing its implementation and delivery. This is especially critical as a recent update from RTPI Scotland shows that the planning service is the one of the most severely affected of all local government services in terms of budgets with a reduction of 38% since 2010 and a quarter of planning department staff lost since 2009.

Also, the future demands on planners are increasing. The 2019 Planning Act has introduced 49 unfunded duties to local authorities which could cost between £12.1m and £59.1m over 10 years to implement and it is estimated by research commissioned by Skills Development Scotland that over the next 10 to 15 years the planning sector will have demand for up to 730 entrants.

To this end, last year Planning Minister Tom Arthur supported RTPI Scotland, Heads of Planning Scotland and the Improvement Service to undertake research looking at how to develop the pipeline of people entering the planning profession in Scotland. The key findings of the Future Planners report included a need to:

  • promote and reinforce the importance of planning as a career by developing materials in career messaging and job advertisements; pursuing targeted promotion at universities; and undertaking regular engagement in secondary, further and higher education.
  • broaden routes into the profession; explore how to increase the number of overseas students studying planning in Scotland being able to take up jobs; and expand opportunities for young people interested in planning careers to gain work experience
  • explore how to retain planners through career progression and benefits such as allocated training time, regular professional development opportunities and payment of RTPI fees.

In taking this forward RTPI Scotland is leading on the development of a planning apprenticeship. It is currently Scottish Apprenticeship Week, so perhaps timely to review what progress has been made.

We are learning from England where the RTPI-accredited Chartered Town Planner apprenticeship programme, launched in 2019, is already providing training to over 400 apprentices.

The demand for a Scottish scheme has been evidenced with all planning authority respondents to a poll giving support to the principle for an apprenticeship scheme. The introduction of apprenticeships is seen as being important in offering another route into the profession, particularly when there are fewer graduates entering the public sector.

There is political backing to explore this with the Minister saying in an answer to a Parliamentary Question: “We recognise the value such an apprenticeship scheme would bring and we are engaging with the Royal Town Planning Institute to support introduction of a planning apprenticeship scheme in Scotland.”  Also, the need to increase the number of planners was highlighted by a number of MSPs during the parliamentary debate on NPF4, following briefing from RTPI Scotland.

And this led us to submitting a detailed business case to the Scottish Government prior to Christmas setting out the case for specific Chartered Town Planner Apprenticeship in Scotland. It is built on a solid evidence base and shows how it will support Scotland’s planning system to deliver the country’s strategic green recovery and net-zero transition goals.

We are hopeful that we will be some way down the line on this when Scottish Apprenticeship Week comes around in 2024!

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