What the new planning apprenticeship scheme will mean for you

The launch of the Royal Town Planning Institute's (RTPI) new degree-level apprenticeship programme this autumn should open up the profession to more entrants and boost its diversity, say observers.

Apprenticeships: programme aims to attract entrants from wider range of backgrounds to planning profession
Apprenticeships: programme aims to attract entrants from wider range of backgrounds to planning profession

The route to becoming a planner is traditional and well-defined: candidates study for an RTPI-accredited degree then embark on two years working in the field to achieve chartered status. That is about to change with the introduction of a new route into the profession. Earlier this month, the RTPI announced an apprenticeship programme that it said is expected to start in September this year and will be the first to offer the chance to secure a planning degree and chartered status while learning on the job.

Offering budding planners a degree-level apprenticeship will bring the profession into line with other built environment disciplines. Hannah Blunstone, director of the planning team at consultancy CBRE and co-chair of the RTPI’s Chartered Town Planner Apprenticeship Trailblazer Employer Group, which helped develop the apprenticeship scheme, said: "CBRE has an established apprenticeship programme with the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors which is really successful. From a planning perspective, it’s something we’ve always wanted to see coming forward."

Announcing the programme, the RTPI said apprenticeships will last three to six years and be completed in five. Philip Ridley, co-chair of the trailblazer group and head of planning at Suffolk Coastal and Waveney District Councils, said apprentices are likely to study at universities on a day-release basis and employers will be expected to offer a wide range of experience to ensure candidates emerge from the programme as competent planners.

In this sense, the scheme looks likely to mirror the training programmes already offered by some employers, whereby trainees with non RTPI-accredited degrees study for postgraduate planning qualifications while working. The new apprenticeship programme will be open to existing graduates, but will also cater to candidates who want to go straight into work after completing A-levels. Ridley said the programme is intended to attract entrants from a wider range of backgrounds into the planning profession. "One of the real advantages of this is having a more diverse workforce," he said. "It’s fair to say the majority of the planning profession is white and middle class. This opens up opportunities for people who had no notion of going to university."

Apprentices in the UK are entitled to at least minimum wage, and a large part of the attraction of a planning apprenticeship is likely to be the opportunity to earn a salary while working towards chartered status. Ridley said he expected to pay apprentices a salary that starts in the low £20,000s and rises to the level of a typical graduate planner once the apprenticeship is completed. Any UK employer with a wage bill above £3 million already pays the government’s apprenticeship levy and is able to fund tuition, training and assessment costs through this scheme. These costs are also covered for firms employing fewer than 50 people, while mid-sized employers are expected to pay ten per cent of these costs. All salary costs are covered by employers.

The Planning fees and resources survey of local authority planning chiefs (Planning, 15 February, p18) found that 80 per cent of respondents said they were finding it difficult to recruit development management professionals, while 68 per cent reported problems finding policy and plan-making professionals. Could an apprenticeship scheme help tackle this shortage of planners? Paul Seddon, president of the Planning Officers Society (POS), which represents public sector planners, said he welcomed efforts to attract more entrants into the profession and he expected appetite to employ apprentices to be high among council planning teams. "Whether the resources are there to employ them, that’s the continued challenge," he said.

Nevertheless, Seddon said the POS is keen to work with the RTPI to promote local authority apprenticeships and ensure "an opportunity to promote public sector planning as a career". He added that the POS would be keen to explore whether apprenticeships could take place across more than one organisation, so "groups of local authorities might work together or we might work with the private sector to give that breadth of experience."

The RTPI said more than 80 employers have so far expressed interest in employing apprentices and at least six universities are working to offer the apprenticeship from this September. Sam Thistlethwaite, associate planner at consultancy Barton Willmore and chair of the RTPI in the North East, said he is hopeful that the scheme will encourage more people to enter the profession – both on the whole and from a wider range of backgrounds. "A degree in planning has been a long-proven route into the profession," he said. "But the RTPI has to be adaptive and meet demand."

Thistlethwaite said there will always be those who choose the university route, adding that apprenticeships are simply about providing more options "This isn’t going to be a system that replaces your traditional degree, it will be complementary," he said. "Some people will want to have the university experience and do it that way."

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