Tips on Gainful Unemployment for New Planners

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.

April 27, 2009, 6:37 PM PDT

By Ann Forsyth


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

Trained in planning and architecture, Ann Forsyth is a professor of urban planning at the Harvard Graduate School of Design. From 2007-2012 she was a professor of city and regional planning at Cornell.

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