You have an interest in the world around you and want to make it a better place for people and communities. You want to play a part in shaping the future of your nation, your region or your neighbourhood. You are looking for opportunities to climb the ladder in a secure profession.
If you are a school leaver considering university, an undergraduate course in town planning ticks all these boxes. If you are at university and pondering long-term career choices, a postgraduate planning masters opens many doors. If you already work in a planning environment, there are plenty of opportunities to achieve professional membership or enhance your skills.
Planning is central to the government's drive to build sustainable communities. Planners are at the forefront in regenerating rundown towns and cities. They find the sites for the three million homes the government wants built by 2020, along with the associated workplaces, shops, transport links, energy supplies and public facilities they need.
At the same time, planners are responsible for ensuring that development does not damage vital heritage, environmental and countryside assets. Above all, planning expertise will be vital in coping with the effects of humanity's biggest challenge - climate change. The vast range of activities that planners pursue can be gleaned from our "What Planners Do" section on pages 4 to 7.
Trained planners will be in high demand over the years ahead. A skills shortage has built up over the past 20 years, which means that graduates entering today's job market are spoilt for choice. By 2011, experts estimate that there will be twice as many planning posts available as there are staff qualified to fill them.
Today's planning students are in no doubt that they made the right choice. Vicki Lavender sees planning as a way of shaping the built environment and improving the lives of local communities. This year she is working on a placement with consultancy Arup before returning for her final year at Newcastle University. "The course has enhanced my communication, presentation and problem-solving skills," she says.
Chris Smith has completed his urban studies degree at the University of Sheffield and is now studying for a masters in planning. "I always enjoyed geography at school, but I wanted a more specialised degree that would give me excellent career prospects," he explains. "The integrated work placements have been particularly valuable. It is one thing to learn about planning in theory, but an altogether more revealing and illuminating experience to see planning in practice."
If you're interested in following in their footsteps, check out our section on undergraduate and postgraduate studies on pages 9 to 13. You'll find more details of the types of activities planning students are tasked with and more on how people's prospects are shaping up, as well as lists of courses meeting the academic standards set by the Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI).
For graduates completing accredited planning courses, the RTPI's assessment of professional competence is the next step on the road to chartered membership. Over a two-year period of work experience, candidates receive support from employers in building on the skills, knowledge and understanding acquired at university and demonstrating their ability to apply these in practice.
It is not only entrants to the profession who should be considering the benefits of planning courses. For established practitioners, further studies can provide marketable extra qualifications as well as a convenient way of meeting continuing professional development obligations. The list on page 14 provides a taster for the hundreds of opportunities in this area.
Finally, the Employers' Zone starting on page 15 offers a detailed insight into what entrants and practitioners can expect from top employers in the sector in the way of professional assignments, further training opportunities, pay and benefits and recruitment policies. As ever, a huge field of opportunity is revealed.