Starting out as an apprentice: Sarah Richards

Sarah Richards  [square]As part of National Apprenticeship Week (4-8 March), The Planner spoke to Sarah Richards, who completed her apprenticeship course in June 2018.

Sarah now works as a property management assistant at Sedgemoor District Council.

Q: Where did you see the apprenticeship role advertised and what made you apply for it? 

A: I was due to complete a BTEC in Construction and Built Environment at Bridgwater and Taunton College and was advised by my tutor that Sedgemoor District Council would be advertising for apprentice planning technicians shortly as he taught previous apprentices who were based at the council. I applied for the position as I thought it would be a great way to gain some experience in the sector in such a varied role as well as achieving a qualification at the same time.

Q: What does the job entail – what sort of work are you doing?

A: As an apprentice planning technician my role covered a wide variety of different tasks including:

  • registering and allocation of planning applications;
  • being responsible for a small caseload of minor planning applications;
  • covering our landscaping department;
  • providing general planning advice to members of the public;
  • discharging planning conditions,
  • setting up for development committee: and
  • providing general support to the development management and enforcement teams.

I also spent a short time in our planning policy team to assist with the submission of the local plan to the planning inspectorate.

Q: What kind of work do your studies involve?

A: As part of my apprenticeship I spent one day a fortnight at college where I learnt about a number of different topics including planning policy, the planning process, building regulations, health and safety, sustainable construction, continuous professional development to complete the BTEC qualification.

Q: What sort of supervision and support do you get?

A: At college, my tutor made the sessions very interactive by discussing current planning issues and carrying out some group work. He was very passionate about planning which made the teaching very enjoyable. As there isn’t much opportunity for one to one support outside of the college sessions, my tutor made sure he was accessible by email if we had any questions to assist us with our assignments and that the resources required were available online for us to view. Within the council, both my manager and team leader were incredibly supportive and provided encouragement by giving me regular feedback on how well I was doing in my training. When I first started they organised site visits with senior planning officers in both the enforcement and development management teams to give me a greater insight of the role.

Q: Were you looking for a job / career in planning?

A: I wasn’t looking for a career in planning but I’m pleased I took up the opportunity of the apprenticeship as I didn’t realise the vast amount of work covered by the planning sector; how varied the job role would be and how much I would enjoy the work I was involved in.

Q: Is it what you expected it to be?

A: Yes it exceeded my expectations and I have gained a lot of knowledge of the planning system during my apprenticeship.

Q: What were your next steps be following your apprenticeship?

A: My planning apprenticeship was completed in June 2018. I have now progressed to a permanent job within the council in a different department as a property assistant.

Q: Do you have any advice for people looking for apprenticeships, or seeking a role in planning?

A: Working within the council gives you the opportunity to try out so many different departments to find out what interests you the most. The work involved in the development management team can be so varied so every day is different so no day is ever the same. My advice would be to ask as many questions as you can and make the most of the opportunity given to you.

Q: What does your current role involve and has your apprenticeship been proved useful for it?

A: In my new role as a property assistant, I assist with beach concessions; right to buy valuations; facilities management tasks; carrying out car park inspections; reporting street lighting issues; managing our commercial properties; and dealing with tenant. Not only have I managed to transfer the skills/knowledge gained from my planning apprenticeship but there has also been a small crossover as I am able to assist our rights of way officer with the right of way planning consultations received and carry out planning research for the team.

Information about RTPI apprenticeship schemes can be found on the institute's website.

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