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Helping employers to grow their own planners

18 February 2016 Author: Andy Levene

The housing shortage has been in the news for some time, but there’s now an increasing recognition of the range of factors causing it.

For example, UK Government housing minister Brandon Lewis and skills minister Nick Boles have issued a call to develop an “ambitious” action plan to address skills pressures and other constraints that are limiting house building and infrastructure development. The two ministers say they want the construction industry to look at whether current business models are holding back the industry from developing the skills it needs, as well as to consider new models of construction including offsite manufacturing. As Brandon Lewis has said, potentially “thousands of jobs are up for grabs”.

The RTPI has been on the front foot in addressing these issues. A new apprenticeship in town planning technical support, written in partnership with the Construction Industry Council (CIC) and set at level 3 (equivalent to two A Levels), is designed to widen access to the profession, provide an alternative non-graduate entry route (we know for example that some local authorities in particular are struggling to fill their graduate vacancies), and enable employers to ‘grow their own’ talent.

Of course, it’s not just about housing. As the economy picks up and more commercial and private development gathers pace, it means more business for planning and property consultancies and more development proposals for local authority planners. All of this is welcome, but also places already overstretched planners under even more pressure.

Apprentices can help to relieve the strain on local authority planning departments by tackling many of the administrative and support tasks that might otherwise fall to more established planners. Employing a young person with little or no prior experience of planning can also brings many other benefits to a consultancy or local authority, for example a fresh perspective and a new eye on processes, policies and working practices.


The new town planning apprentices at Chichester College.

Currently, most of the employers involved in the scheme are local authorities, and even though the apprentices only started last autumn they are already proving their worth. Here’s Caroline Derrick of Sedgemoor District Council:

“[The council] is tackling the challenge of a severe shortage of skilled workers in the planning system 'head on' by growing its own experts via an innovative town planning apprenticeship scheme, developed and delivered in partnership with Bridgwater College.

The 'trainee planners' contribute to the day to day work of the Development Control team through the processing of a variety of planning applications and carry out other duties associated with the planning application process. The trainee offers an opportunity to improve productivity, fill skills gaps, professionalise the technical support function and provide increased career and progression pathways. This, in turn motivates the staff, energises the workplace and reduces staff turnover. 

After two years, successful apprentices will be eligible to apply to study for a [part-time] degree course at a university of their choice, such as the BSc (Hons) MPlan Urban Planning/Master of Planning programmes offered by UWE."

Similarly, here’s Jenny Nell of Winchester City Council:

“Since joining the organisation late 2015, our town planning apprentice who works in both development management and strategic planning has become a valued member of the teams. Having a young person on board brings fresh dynamics and ideas and Greg is eager to investigate issues and make suggestions.”

So, from a standing-start the RTPI town planning apprenticeship is beginning to have an impact. But if the apprenticeship is to be sustainable we need to do more. While we have experienced a lot of interest from employers, we need more of them to convert this interest into recruiting an apprentice. If as a sector we fail to generate more apprenticeship starts from September 2017 then the future of the apprenticeship will be in doubt, as it may not be viable for partner colleges to continue to deliver the programme.

One question that a lot of employers have asked us relates to options for progression for the apprentice after they have completed the two year apprenticeship. As a result, we are exploring the possibility of developing a new degree apprenticeship in town planning. Degree apprenticeships, a new government initiative launched in 2013, are increasingly popular with undergraduates who want to obtain a degree without incurring the debt that now comes with higher education.

A degree apprenticeship would enable the technical apprentice to remain in employment whilst working towards their degree on a day release basis. The initiative comes with financial incentives for employers, and crucially enables employers to develop and write the content ensuring it is fit for purpose and meets the needs of the planning industry. Degree apprenticeships are already proving popular across the wider built environment sector.

In addition, in order to help grow a pipeline of future planners we have introduced an RTPI Future Planners Bursary award for graduates and a schools education programme – all part of our Future Planners initiative.

Lastly, employers are increasingly aware of the apprenticeships levy that is looming on the horizon. Set to be introduced in April 2017, all UK employers will be liable to pay the levy which will be set at 0.5% of annual payroll. The Government is introducing this levy to support the target of three million new apprenticeship starts by 2020.

So if as an employer you want to get a return on the cost of the levy, grow your own future talent, give more young people an opportunity, and contribute to a healthier, more diverse planning industry, then why not consider the new apprenticeship in town planning?

To find out more about how apprenticeships can work for you, contact:

Andy Levene

Andy Levene

Education and Careers Officer, RTPI