Part 2: Building the 21st century planner

The Planner’s Careers Survey found a strong awareness of the contemporary trends that are shaping the world for which planners plan. Simon Wicks asks what this means for the education of the 21st century planner.

Professional development in changing times

When we asked you in our careers survey which of six skills you consider to be the most important aspect of a 21st century planning education, you said ‘Training in urban design’, followed by ‘Understanding the impact of climate change and how to mitigate it’ and ‘Training in economics and finance’.

These results can be viewed in a broader context alongside another question from the survey, in which we invited you to think about the future: ‘Which of these seven ‘mega-trends’ will have the greatest effect on how you work?’.

Taken together, we can almost say that the biggest influences on planning as a practice are likely to be: urbanisation, climate change, money and technology.

“Over the past 20 to 30 years we’ve found that planners are key to placemaking, to growth, to urban resilience, to climate change and all the big mega-trends,” says Andrew Close, the RTPI’s head of careers, education and professional development.

“The point of being a chartered town planner is that you regularly review your personal development and keep your skills up to date”
Each mega-trend is a specialist field in its own right. Given the limited span of a planning master’s degree, there is little time to prepare the modern planner for the world they’re walking into. Continuing professional development (CPD), therefore, becomes ever more important – as Close asserts: “The point of being a chartered town planner is that you regularly review your personal development and CPD and keep your skills and capacity up to date.”

As it happens, the RTPI has responded to the contemporary context by revamping its core CPD framework which, Close explains, “is divided into five professional skills and five planning knowledge areas”. Each, he adds, is “broadly themed enough to retain a high degree of flexibility under the headings”.

That is to say the framework is able to accommodate change, while helping planners to identify and pursue the things they need to know in an organised way. Interestingly, however, Close finds that one of the biggest challenges facing planners is not the acquisition of planning skills per se, but the skills needed to negotiate the environment in which they operate. Specifically, contemporary planners are having to learn to work with limited resources, respond to extraordinary financial pressures and operate in a context in which the trust between communities and the ‘agents of change’ has deteriorated.

The RTPI, Close stresses, is “campaigning” on resources. “We feel that planners do have the skills and can adapt. But they need time and support from management and colleagues.”

Simon Wicks is deputy editor of The Planner

Image credit | Hit and Run Media 

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