I began my degree in urban and regional planning at Heriot-Watt University hoping to take up the optional sandwich year placement between my third and fourth years. But as my third year drew to a close, scarce opportunities and keen competition meant that I was unable to secure a placement. This was disheartening, and the prospect of entering the dwindling job market a year early was not a welcome one.
As an alternative to a placement, I pinned my hopes on gaining some practical experience over the summer to enhance my insights of the real world of planning and improve my skills. This too was a tough task, with both public and private employers frustratingly reluctant to recruit summer students. It seemed my persistence was unlikely to pay off.
Finally, however, I secured a six-week planning internship at RFA Development & Planning in Edinburgh. I relished the chance to experience the working world and to gain a perspective of private planning. During my time at the consultancy, I was able to learn more about the role of planners and begin to better understand the interdisciplinary nature of the profession.
On my first day, I was asked to compile research for a large project, and so began assessing various plans, policies, economic studies and even golfing reports. This was a good reminder to me of the broad range of ideas and topics that planners must cover to ensure a holistic and integrated approach to development.
During the internship, I was entrusted with drafting planning statements and representations on local development plans, as well as researching existing applications and development opportunities. I was also involved in site visits and business development meetings, and received a high level of mentoring, support and advice from those with whom I worked.
What I relished most about my weeks at the consultancy was being able to apply my planning skills and knowledge practically. At university, not only are we often unaware of how much we've learned, but we also often fail to realise how quickly knowledge and expertise can be built up in practice.
In addition, the public sector's role in planning is common knowledge among planning students, but that of private companies is often overlooked. All planning students should appreciate the breadth of the work that consultants carry out and the opportunities available in the private sector. I highly recommend that others seek experience in this sector.
My internship has reinforced to me the value of a career in planning and is proving beneficial in my understanding and motivation during final studies. I am grateful to my employer for accommodating me, and I strongly urge other students to persist in finding opportunities to engage in practical planning experience. It may be tough getting them, but persistence pays off.
Jenny Wood, a student representative of the Scottish young planners network, is in the fourth year of her BSc in urban and regional planning at Heriot-Watt University.