Market Pulse: Planner shortage amplified as young planners leave in droves
Sandra Edmunds | 4 July 2017
Employers are working hard to retain young planners with Sydney and Melbourne still in the grip of a planner shortage, according to the Planning Institute of Australia.
Chief executive David Williams said approximately 60 to 70 planning jobs were advertised each fortnight on the PIA jobs bulletin with at least 50 of those planners sought in NSW and Victoria.
“Retaining young planners is proving to be tricky,” he said.
The PIA has noticed that many planners are leaving the profession at the 5-10-year mark.
“We hear anecdotally that young people are looking to enjoy multiple careers and being quite relaxed about building on one career to leverage off and launch into another.
“So that career mobility might just be a reflection of society.”
However, Mr Williams also noted that workplace practices vary a lot.
“The values and the purpose of an organisation has always been important but is now even more important as a motivator for people to commit themselves to an organisation as employees,” he said.
“I[Values are] the energiser and motivator, which keeps people attracted and part of an organisation.”
Supporting staff who are new parents, trying to pursue elite sport, or who want to serve in the charity sector is imperative.
“That’s how you demonstrate the values of where you rank people versus profit versus purpose outcomes,” he said. “You have to be seen to do that if you want to retain staff in the longer term.”
Beth McGuinness, director of people and culture at JBA, said the recruitment market across Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane was tight and highly competitive.
“Sydney, in particular, has been challenging to recruit across all levels and disciplines, particularly at the mid-senior levels, due to a booming property sector and competitive market,” she said.
“Organisations in this space are doing what they can to keep good people – competitive pay, incentives, reward and recognition initiatives, etcetera.
“Our more recent experience in the Melbourne and Brisbane markets, although tight, has been easier to recruit, reflecting the level of activity within those markets.”
Ms McGuinness said retaining talented people was something that required actively paying attention to what people were saying and doing across the national business, and working out where improvements could be made.
“Our high retention rate is due to our strategic approach to people,” she said. “We really try to focus on the things that matter to people at a basic level.”
This includes a supportive environment with access to mentors, working with individuals to achieve career growth, and pursuing exciting and challenging projects.
“At the same time, providing a level of flexibility so that people can organise their busy lives in a way that works for them,” she said. “Meeting the range of needs that people bring to the workplace is key to organisational durability within a highly competitive market.”
Young planners able to move up more quickly
Nicola Smith, director of boutique consultancy Niche Planning Studio in Melbourne, said finding planners was still “near impossible”.
As a result, young planners are moving up the tree more quickly.
“A lot of young people are being made seniors because of the lack of planners in the industry and consultancies trying to get people on board,” she said. “That’s been really telling. We’ve tried really hard not to do that but to make people feel like they have worked for where they are at and progress up.”
Instead, Niche works hard to create a strong culture and flexible workplace.
“All my staff, there’s seven of them, have all worked for me from the time of employment – as soon as they’ve started, they have continued to stay with me,” she said.
Planners at Niche are offered a free weekly fitness class “Fit-Niche” and $1000 to put towards a personal course each year.
“They all work really hard; they are all go-getter-type people,” Ms Smith said. “I wanted to show them that life is about that work-life balance.”
The incentive has enabled staff to study and/or extend personal interests such as learning Chinese, surfing, diving and life coaching.
“All of these things – it sounds as though we are throwing money to the wind – but it’s actually quite good,” Ms Smith said. “A lot of it is directly relatable to planning and the other part is about them relaxing, which means they are more efficient in their job anyway.”
Young planners are encouraged to read from Niche’s extensive library of self-development books, then discuss the ideas over coffee – three books and they’re entitled to Gold Class movie tickets.
The company also provides coffee at the café downstairs as an incentive to take breaks away from the computer.
“I encourage them to have meetings down there and work from there too. It makes for a young, funky approach to business,” Ms Smith said.
Strong demand affecting recruiting and retaining
Steve Dunn, lead director urban renewal at the Victorian Planning Authority, said recruiting and retaining planners was a problem due to strong demand.
However, the Victorian statutory authority provides structured graduate programs, work placements and university lectures to build experience and networks for young planners.
They currently have four young planners undertaking a 12-month paid graduate program.
“We offer them the opportunity to work on a range of different projects in the inner city and the greenfield fringes of Melbourne and regional Victoria,” he said. “The opportunity to work with teams offers them a really good grounding and helps to develop their skills.”
The VPA has a close relationship with the University of Melbourne and RMIT, regularly presenting lectures to undergraduates and masters students. It has also offered 60-day work placements for RMIT students for the past 10 years.
“They get experience on their CV,” Mr Dunn said. “They get to know us and we get to know them.
“If positions come up they can apply; in some cases, we have created positions because we see the value they have added.”
Mr Dunn said planners are encouraged to choose a professional body and the VPA pays for their membership.
“We have 25 members of the PIA, which has good access to networking, information, presentations and seminars,” he said. “For young people coming in, it offers a lot of support; a great way to be informed.”
Involve young planners in the defining issues of our time
Norma Shankie-Williams, strategic planning team leader at Willoughby City Council, said involving young planners in the issues that define the times goes a long way to attracting and retaining them in the profession.
“Young planners are hungry for involvement in the issues that define our times and are shaping our future such as climate change, city growth, affordable housing, sustainable transport, social infrastructure, and community health and wellbeing,” she said.
“They want to be part of the thinking, the shaping and the implementation of future policy as it’s their future in the making.
“Making sure young planners, starting out and in the early years of their careers, are involved in these debates, confirms that their voices need to be heard and their ideas are valued.”
According to Ms Shankie-Williams, it’s important to provide a diversity of experience enabling young planners to appreciate the process of translating policy to what is delivered on the ground.
“Specialised career streams such as place-making and urban design, transport planning and social planning let young planners follow an area of particular interest,” she said.
“Exposing young planners to new opportunities, allowing them to attend conferences and seminars to further their exposure to new approaches and ideas, help maintain interest and job satisfaction.”