Read our resource on careers in planning and housing based on advice from geographers working in the sector.
Planners play a key role in developing and managing the places we live in to make them safer, more sustainable and healthier. Roles are varied, across the public, private and voluntary sectors, and can focus on all aspects of housing, urban growth and economic development, legislation and enforcement.
Careers in planning and housing can cover a range of functions. You could work with GIS and data skills in surveying and assessing land and property, for example, for a property company. You could work with an urban planning or engineering firm on construction projects, using your geographical skills and knowledge to understand the sustainability, environmental or social impact of a development. You could work in a local authority preparing and assessing applications for new buildings, masterplans or land uses, or work on advising or communicating with clients as a project is planned and delivered.
Planning and housing roles can deal with property ranging from an individual building to an entire city district. Throughout this, a mix of technical and personal skills will be useful.
I usually spend four to six months on a project and work directly with a client team. A large portion of my time is spent managing and interacting with other people. Day-to-day there is often a lot of problem solving. I also undertake site inspections and visits as part of my role.
So far I have worked on a number of projects including a new building which will be the headquarters of Google, a dual carriageway tunnel that is being built under the Thames, a new sustainability initiative that is being implemented at a large commercial development near the Olympic Park in Stratford, and the installation of digital advertising screens across London’s underground stations.”
Ellie Morris, Assistant Project Manager, Lendlease
As a surveyor you can be involved in a variety of aspects of property including agency (leasing), investment (buying and selling), valuation and asset management. Commercial surveying involves dealing with commercial properties i.e. offices, warehouses and shops, instead of residential flats and houses.
I went back to university to study for an MSc in Real Estate at Cass Business School, which helped me get my current position at Knight Frank. I am completing four six-month rotations at Knight Frank to get to know different areas of the property industry, giving exposure to prestigious clients and landmark buildings as well as providing the breadth of experience necessary to sit the RICS Assessment of Professional Competence.”
Emma Ballard, Surveyor, Knight Frank
I am Director of Land and Resources within RICS. This is a global role and covers such diverse sectors as environment, geospatial surveying and mapping, rural land management and agriculture, development, valuation, planning, minerals extraction and telecoms. A typical week can go from dealing with senior government policy makers, advising on technical standards, writing journal articles, speaking at events and dealing with the general public and neighbour disputes.”
James Kavanagh, Director of Land and Resources, Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors
Watch our webinar on starting a career in the sector, with advice from geographers Marie Gallagher, Dan Slade, Kerry Parr and Alistair MacDonald.
Getting an undergraduate degree can be an important place to start, though there are relevant apprenticeships including at degree level that are an alternative route into the sector, or alternative qualifications like a Diploma.
Working towards accreditation from a professional body is likely to be a major part of your career in this sector.
For example, to become a surveyor, you could take a Royal Insitiute of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) RICS-accredited undergraduate course followed by working towards a Chartered Surveyor accreditation.
Similarly, a route into town planning can be via an Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI) RTPI-accredited undergrad course or Master’s conversion course before working towards a Chartered Town Planner status.
Other organisations relevant to professional skills in the sector include:
Chartered Association of Building Engineers
The Chartered Institute of Building
Chartered Institution of Building Services Engineers
You may find employment in the private sector – for example, in housebuilding firms or engineering consultancies, or in the public sector with local authorities.
Planning and housing companies may offer graduate schemes as well as direct-entry roles; search careers services, company websites and job/work experience boards early to make sure you can apply before deadlines. Similarly, getting work experience that has some element of planning can help demonstrate your interest and build your skills – identify and apply for opportunities early and on a rolling basis to maximise opportunities.
Think about how your geography skills can be applied to a range of land and property sectors. The big firms (JLL, CBRE, DeLoitte, NY, PWC, Savills, Cluttons etc) all offer very attractive graduate packages and are looking for well-rounded professionals who can apply themselves to a range of, often geospatial/GIS data driven, issues. Geographers make perfect general practice surveyors (after a bit of specialist training). Also, do learn a language – in this case a coding language like Python.”
What differentiates people is their additional willingness to work as a team, their being curious about how multiple parts of complex organisations work together, having empathy for those affected by projects, and some resilience to the sometimes trying interactions we have with disaffected members of the public. Being able to demonstrate some experience of this is really useful. Also employers like to see people who invest in themselves, so consider joining the Society."
Ashley Parry Jones, Director for Planning, WSP
The ability to build rapport with people and to feel comfortable asking challenging questions; to have a detailed approach to work; to be creative and to be able to think outside the box.”
Prospects job profiles
Planning and development surveyor
RICS - What surveyors do
RICS - Careers Advice articles and career information on RICS Recruit
RTPI - Careers support, including town planning jobs
RTPI - RTPI Young Planners
Planning Jobs at planningresource.co.uk and AECOM careers.
Atkins: Meet our geographers: how can I become a town planner?
Image: Adobe Stock
Read our resource on careers in teaching and education based on advice from geographers working in the sector
Becoming an ambassador for further study and careers with geography can be a valuable and rewarding way to offer your time and expertise to students.
What is a job share, what are the benefits and what are the practical tips for making a job share work for you?
Studying geography and not sure what to do about careers or when to do it? See our timeline with some suggested actions for studying and careers
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