Tips on Gainful Unemployment for New Planners

Ann Forsyth's picture
In the United States the stimulus package will eventually kick in to create jobs for planners-in housing, transportation, design and such. However, in upcoming months students graduating from planning schools face a situation they typically had not planned on-where unemployment is relatively high and employers are hesitant about taking on new people. As I have been pointing out to my students, this is not the first time in the history of the world that such a situation has occurred. The following tips draw on my own observations of successful strategies for weathering such downturns.

Learn from artists, actors, and writers that early in one's career the way one obtains money does not necessarily reflect one's core contribution to one's craft. Unless one has independent wealth of some kind it is necessary to earn a living. However, for many people this may not be in planning, at least at first. However, recent graduates can still be building experience. I said in an earlier blog:

"Combined with your planning coursework employers for first real [planning] jobs want to know if you will turn up at work on time, focus your attention on what you are being paid to do, show flexibility in what you are willing to take on, demonstrate good judgment about how you spend your day, get on with co-workers, share credit, learn from mistakes, and be basically honest." 

A job in an office or a factory can demonstrate such capacities. Combine it with unpaid work in planning and you will maintain a mix of work skills and planning activities that will build your resume for a full-time planning job.

Think creatively about how to develop your planning knowledge in ways that aren't paid. When jobs become more plentiful employers will be looking for people who remained active in planning during the downturn. Now is the time to plan how to develop your planning skills without being a full time planner:

o       Become a planning activist. Join a local board or a nonprofit and work to change your community or the world.

o       Write about planning. Research and write an article about a key planning issue. American Planning Association division newsletters are often looking for material. You can write for your local newspaper. A number of planning magazines and web sites accept unsolicited submissions and though they may reject your submission you can always try again. The great advantage of this strategy is that in order to write about planning you will also need to read about it-building even more knowledge.

o       Go to planning conferences. Now is the time to investigate new topics or build more skills where you already have expertise. There are often reduced rates for recent graduates and those not working full-time in the field.

Take advantage of the expansion of semi-volunteer type programs. Americorps has been expanded with tens of thousands of new slots each year. Some cities, such as New York have dedicated programs. You can earn some money, serve others, build skills, and position yourself to be highly employable in a year or two when the economy is better.

If you do have independent wealth it can be a time to travel. If you are in this situation, don't hang out on the beach but visit planning sights.Create a nicely laid out blog about your travels-one that is professionally oriented so there isn't any chance of a potential employer stumbling across inappropriate material. You can also volunteer to work on planning issues in the places you visit or write about them for magazines and newsletters.

Follow my earlier advice about finding jobs-particularly being prepared to move to Kansas.

Overall, focus on being active in planning issues even if full-time employment in the field eludes you for a while. There will eventually be more jobs for planners-cities are growing and urban and regional problems need to be solved.


Ann Forsyth is professor of Urban Planning at Harvard University.



Gainful Unemployment for New Planners

They might also consider The Soft Path: Notes for a New Way of Life in America, particularly the chapter on how to organize a democratic mass-movement for change. It is a young person's game.


Luke Lea


I'm glad to know I'm on the right path. I just launched my own site, Veracity (

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