Starting out as an apprentice: Alison Balsdon
As part of National Apprenticeship Week (4-8 March), The Planner spoke to Alison Balsdon, who studied as an apprentice for one year before starting an Open University course in planning.
Alison works as a planning technician at Devon County Council while studying.
Q: Where did you see the apprenticeship role advertised and what made you apply for it?
A: I first learnt of the town planning apprenticeship at a careers fair. Whilst there, I was able to talk to Devon County Council’s (DCC) apprenticeship team as well as current apprentices concerning potential opportunities. From this, I was also provided with leaflets regarding different apprenticeships and where to look for upcoming positions. After the event, I became increasingly interested in the town planning apprenticeship and researched the role and career path further. When the role was then advertised on Gov.co.uk and DCC’s website, I was extremely eager to apply.
Q: What did the job entail – what sort of work were you doing?
A: When I first joined DCC, I predominantly worked in the education planning team. Within this team I carried out tasks such as:
- implementing DCC’s education infrastructure plan by requesting contributions from development to support the delivery of additional pupil places; and
- providing school-based data for members of the team using programmes such as Excel and MasterGov.
I was also able to gain experience of the processes associated with planning applications by shadowing case officers through registering applications, site visits and determining applications.
In addition to this, I also had the opportunity to work as part of the Greater Exeter Strategic Plan team. This work massively improved my GIS skills as well as proving me with an understanding of the statutory processes of local plans and strategic planning.
Q: What kind of work did your studies involve?
A: As part of the apprenticeship, I studied a BTEC in Town Planning. This involved attending Bridgewater and Taunton College once a fortnight for class-based lessons with my designated tutor. The other week was spent completing the necessary assignments for the course. These ranged from town planning processes and framework to health and safety, and business communications.
Q: What sort of supervision and support did you get?
A: Support was mostly provided through the education planning team as well as the wider planning team at DCC. I also had support from my tutor at the college as well as the apprenticeship team and my line manager at DCC.
Q: Were you looking for a job / career in planning?
A: When I first left college, I was probably unaware that planning was even a career that I could pursue - especially without having a degree. Therefore, I wasn’t looking for a career in planning. Even when I applied for the apprenticeship, I was unsure as to whether I would progress to having a career in planning as I had no experience of what the role would involve and whether I would enjoy it.
Q: Is it what you expected it to be?
A: Many apprenticeships are designed for people starting with little experience in the role they have applied for and although I had A-Levels in relevant subjects, I had no idea what I was expecting when I arrived on my first day. However, the opportunities I have been given are endless and this has surpassed my expectations.
Q: After one year of your apprenticeship, you became a permanent member of staff, how did that come about?
A: Near to the end of the first year of the apprenticeship, I was offered the chance to start an Open University module alongside another planning apprentice. From the experience we had gained over the past year and our previous qualifications, this was a natural progression that would enhance our career progression.
Q: What do your studies involve now and why did you switch?
A: My studying is now carried out through distant learning of both textbook work and online materials. I spend four weeks studying for the necessary assignment and one week writing it. This first module (Journeys through a changing world) covers areas including the Arctic (Climate Change), the Nile (Water Security, Flooding and Powers) and the Amazon (Biodiversity and Natural Resources). I decided to switch to this course as it enables me to progress my career further with the opportunity of completing another module and eventually a planning master’s degree.
Q: Do you have any advice for people looking for apprenticeships, or seeking a role in planning?
A: I would recommend an apprenticeship to anyone who is looking to kick-start their career early. Planning apprenticeships are extremely beneficial with the opportunity to learn whilst in the heart of current planning alongside fully qualified officers. There are several other careers you can enter without attending university and with apprenticeships, this allows you to gain experience and academic knowledge – even to university level qualifications.
Information about RTPI apprenticeship schemes can be found on the institute's website.