Starting out as an apprentice: Caitlin Stokes
In celebration of it being National Apprenticeship Week (5-9 March), The Planner spoke to Caitlin Stokes, who is taking part in the RTPI’s apprenticeship scheme.
Caitlin is undertaking her apprenticeship as a planning technician, at Sedgemore District Council and attends Bridgewater College.
Q: Where did you see the apprenticeship role advertised and what made you apply for it?
A: I saw the planning apprenticeship role advertised on Sedgemoor District Council’s website. I've always had an interest in the built environment and how buildings are designed to create sustainable spaces, so when I saw the advertisement it caught my attention straight away. I liked the idea of learning while on the job and working in an office-based environment.
Q:What did the job you did as an apprentice entail - what sort of work were you doing?
A: During the time I spent working in my apprentice role I supported the planning policy team for six months while they developed the new local plan. I then spent the following six months in the development management team, where I dealt with my own caseload of planning applications and provided a wide range of support for the team.
Alongside working, I have been studying towards achieving the ‘Town Planning Technical Support’ course at college.
Q: What kind of work do your studies involve?
A: My course covers a wide range of units based on the construction sector as a whole, which gives me a broader understanding of the industry. There are a few units within the course that are focused directly on town planning, which helped me learn while picking up my own caseload of applications. All of our work is coursework based.
As part of the course I am also working towards gaining my NVQ qualification, which involves providing evidence of what I do in my role and being assessed by my tutor during desk-based observations in the workplace.
Q: What sort of supervision and support do you get?
A: As part of the apprenticeship I have attended college for one day every two weeks. As there isn’t much opportunity for 1:1 support outside of this day, our course leader ensures he’s available through email if we have any questions about a piece of work and all of the resources we need are available online for us to access. My tutor has been fantastic at teaching the course as he has a genuine interest in planning and makes sure our lessons are interactive. Our tutor often starts group discussions on more subjective issues in planning so we get lots of different perspectives.
Q. Were you looking for a job/career in planning?
A: I’ve always had an interest in planning and since starting my apprenticeship I now know I want to continue my study to achieve a degree/master’s degree in planning to become a planning officer.
Q. Is it what you expected it to be?
A: The apprenticeship has opened up my options to various roles within the planning sector and enabled me to progress further to the role of planning technician for the council’s development management team. When I first started I didn’t expect to be in a permanent role after my first year and the work I’ve done since I’ve started has been more interesting than I expected; I really enjoy going out on site visits and seeing the district.
Q: Do you have any advice for people looking for apprenticeships, or seeking a role in planning?
A: An apprenticeship is a really good way to find out what you’re interested in. When I first started I experienced working within lots of different teams and had a varied workload to help me decide what area I was most interested in and now I have a permanent role as a result. The advice I would give is to try and get experience in as many different teams as possible… and to not be afraid to ask a million questions!
Q. When did you complete your apprenticeship? What is your role at the council? What kind of work are you doing?
A: I’m still studying towards my qualifications with the aim to complete them by this summer. I have progressed on from my role of planning apprentice into a planning technician role for the council. This involves me registering planning applications, dealing with a small caseload of my own planning applications and providing general support for the development management team and enforcement team.
Information about RTPI apprenticeship schemes can be found on the institute's website.
The final elements of a degree level Chartered Town Planner apprenticeship scheme for England have been submitted to government for approval. The RTPI hopes a number of accredited Planning Schools will offer it later this year, with more ready for 2019.