Moving into private sector planning: What you need to know

Published on: 11 Mar 2016

What is it?

There are many consultancies specialising in planning work, including some large multidisciplinary ones which offer good opportunities for planners.

Private practices work to help both private and public sector clients achieve their goals. That could mean developing master plans for big new developments, carrying out research to support local authorities in developing their local plans or assisting a developer to secure planning approval for a scheme.

Overall, private sector work is incredibly varied – a strong lure for both young and more experienced planners. This was the case for Jennifer Angus, a graduate planner with GVA in Bristol.

“A lot of junior planners decide to go into the private sector because they feel there will be diverse workload and the environment will be dynamic and fast-paced,” she says.“My natural comfort zone would have been the public sector, but I could see the attraction of the private sector. The real benefit is exposure to different sectors and clients.”

What are private sector employers looking for?

  • Commercial acumen

    Consultancies want to see a planner show they have strong awareness of the commercial side of their work, from an awareness of costs accruing at each stage of the process to the importance of bringing in and retaining business.

    They usually recruit planners who have worked for other private firms because they know these candidates have the necessary business acumen. It can be difficult to make the transition from public to private work because of this need to demonstrate a good appreciation of the commercial dimension.

  • Building client relationships

    Planners in the sector must be able to create a strong working relationship with their employer’s clients, to anticipate client needs and extend existing relationships or build new ones.

  • Confidence

    It is a customer-facing role and requires people who are as comfortable working with senior executives as they are with members of the public.

  • Community engagement

    While you'll be negotiating with the local authority, you'll also need to be community minded, seeking solutions that work in the best public interest.

Essential skills

  • Results focused

Planners working in the private sector have to push to achieve results for their clients that are acceptable in planning terms. That often means finding the middle ground in contested situations and can require strong negotiation skills.

  • Technical competence

    A high level of technical expertise will be expected from any planner working in the private sector, which often leads to the development of a specialism.

Types of roles available

Most of the planning disciplines will be available within the private sector, with chances to specialise in transport, retail, regeneration or environmental planning.

Angus says: “In local authorities you tend to specialise in one function, usually development management or policy. The private sector can offer the opportunity to work across these functions, however, if you choose the right company that has a range of clients. But some consultancies are very specialised and if you know what you want to do, then you should go for one of them,” she says.

Private consultancies can offer a clear progression for planners, starting with graduate roles and going up to senior and principal planner roles, perhaps with responsibility for managing teams. Beyond this, planners can become associate directors and directors, with business planning functions.

Private sector planners can build careers that take them into a range of roles and types of consultancy. One in 10 become self-employed.

CV/application form highlights

  • Emphasise technical expertise that makes you a valuable resource
  • Show you have a strong awareness of the commercial aspects of private work
  • Prove you are a good communicator
  • A willingness to work hard and sometimes outside of normal hours should feature prominently, as should an enthusiasm for the area of work
  • Major on any experience you have in the private sector in a placement or internship, whether paid or unpaid
  • Prove you are well organised, self disciplined and a self-starter
  • Make yourself as marketable as possible

Planner cover Guide 2015

To read more from the Planner 2015 Guide to Career Development please click here.