How to network as a planner: Top tips
Networking can help planners bridge the gap to other built environment disciplines, improve relationships with communities and aid career progression. Planning consultant Charlotte Morphet (CM) explains how networking can help you become a better planner.
Q: How important is networking for planners?
CM: “Incredibly important. Planners work across different disciplines within the built environment, so networking is a good way of understanding the different types of people you might work with, but in an informal setting. It’s also crucial for sharing knowledge and information, building your contact base, and is an essential part of business development.”
Q: What can be gained from networking?
CM: “In terms of the job seeking process, networking is a benefit. As graduates, you need to be out interacting with key players because a number of job opportunities are not going to be advertised, and hiring decisions will be partly based on a personality fit.
“This will only become apparent through one-to-one contact, where people are able to see your enthusiasm and knowledge for your area first hand, factors which aren’t always easily apparent on a CV. Networking will also allow you to be at the forefront for emerging vacancies and graduate schemes.”
Q: Where is the best place to start looking for these networking events?
CM: “The RTPI runs networking groups catering to different career levels and specialisms. The RTPI's Young Planners’ Network (see box) is very active in organising social and professional development events.
“Beyond the RTPI, think tanks and related institutes such as RICS (Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors) and RIBA (Royal Institute of British Architects) also have useful newsletters, groups and events; these are really worth attending to learn about the fundamentals of what happens in different areas of planning, such as surveying, and how wide-ranging the built environment sector is.”
Q: Could you tell us a bit about your network, Women in Planning?
CM: “Women in Planning is a support network, a place for women at all levels of seniority to discuss issues within the industry. We try to illustrate different types of career, to show women in the industry what can be achieved and make them aware of other women succeeding in the sector.
“We also want to encourage these women to come out and say ‘I’ve had a fabulous career, and this is how I did it, and plenty of other people should be doing it’. We’re just about to open a South East branch and a South West branch.”
Q: What advice would you give to undergraduates and recent graduates hoping to start a career in planning?
CM: “I would urge graduates to build their confidence first and attend inter-professional meet-ups with other young planners. RTPI young planners are an incredibly friendly bunch – and the Young Planners Conference is possibly the best conference available to planners across the UK. It’s the most beneficial in terms of networking, and for meeting your peers for what is essentially the whole of your working life.
“If I was beginning in planning again, as an undergraduate, I would attend young planners events from the beginning – not least as by my third or fourth year, I would have had all the people I needed to interview for my dissertation!”
GETTING STARTED WITH NETWORKING
There are plenty of groups and networks that cater to planners. Some are specialist, some less so – but all will introduce you to fellow planners. Here’s a small selection:
General built environment networks:
Urban Design Group STREET: For students, early-career designers and other young built environment professionals, open to all with an interest in urbanism and related disciplines. www.udg.org.uk/STREET
Young Urbanists: The Academy of Urbanism’s Young Urbanists is for students and early career professionals interested in fields such as planning and design, development and globalisation, community and politics. www.academyofurbanism.org.uk/young-urbanists/
For women in planning:
Women in Planning: An informal professional network for women working in town and spatial planning. Regular talks and events with prominent women in the field. www.womeninplanning.wordpress.com
Think tanks promote new thinking that can influence public policy on a range of social issues. There are many, of varying size and influence, and they often have a political bias. They publish research and hold events.
Planning Futures: Politically independent planning think tank that promotes an “intelligent, open-minded, pragmatic, evidence-based approach to planning issues”. www.planningfutures.org
Centre for Cities: Politically independent research organisation seeking to understand “how and why economic growth and change takes place in Britain’s cities”. www.centreforcities.org
Institute for Public Policy Research: Left of centre thinktank researching a range of economic, social and political issues, including housing. Also has North of England and Scotland branches. www.ippr.org
The RTPI supports a number of networks that focus on specific areas of expertise within planning, such as transport or regeneration. Such groups are open to RTPI members, and are a good starting point for meeting others who share a particular interest. www.rtpi.org.uk/knowledge/networks
The RTPI Young Planners
Young planners are among the most active of RTPI members and organise talks, debates, training and social events throughout the year. The Young Planners network also holds its own annual planning conference.
Each UK region has its own Young Planners group and they form a vital network for those who are new to the profession or in the early stages of their career. Planning is a close-knit profession, and friendships and relationships formed via the Young Planners groups can open many doors and sustain you throughout your career.
In the past year, young planners have organised cycle tours overseas, conducted city walking tours looking at street art and public spaces, held pub quizzes, and invited eminent urbanists to discuss the issues shaping the life of our cities.
The RTPI’s main board always has a Young Planner representative, so young planners can have a direct influence on the way their membership organisation operates. Each year, a young planner is also appointed Young Planner of the Year and serves as an ambassador for the profession for a year.
You don’t have to be ‘young’ to become a Young Planner. If you have less than 10 years’ post qualification experience you can apply to join the network.
Find out more about where Young Planners groups are and what they do: www.rtpi.org.uk/youngplanners
Charlotte Morphet is a chartered planner and cofounder of the network Women in Planning.