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The Private to Public Jump: How to ensure a smooth transition between the sectors in Town Planning

Town Planning

-By James Bennett, Town Planning, Recruitment Consultant-

As a recruiter, a market trend is a valuable tool and insight. It is not only interesting but also absolutely necessary to look at when trying to best help those looking for new roles and those looking to hire. As you can imagine, in these turbulent times there have been quite a few trends to pick up on. One we have taken most notice of is an increase in the number of planners looking to make the jump from the private to the public sector.

Although they both possess expected similarities, there are still differences that need to be highlighted and considered, especially by those looking to transition between the two. The differences ensure that the transition can be a challenging one to make successfully.

Without the overview of the different ways to use their skillset within each sector, it can be difficult for those seeking to move into the public sector to properly showcase their suitability for the job.  

Benefits of understanding the private and public sectors as a planner

Charlotte Morphet, the Spatial Planning and Design Team Leader over at St Alban’s City & District Council, was quick to highlight that working across the different sectors can be a benefit. You understand both sides of the fence, and this can be useful in negotiations.

Charlotte noted that her experience working in the public sector has allowed her to work for a different type of client, the community of an area and that this presents different challenges to working for private sector landowners and developers.  

A positive for working in the public sector for Charlotte is that the teams are more diverse and tend to better ‘reflect the communities you work for’. From her experience, she has also found the management and leadership style to be more empathetic and inclusive. She notes that “In my experience, there is less competition in the public sector between teams and that means more collaboration and creativity in problem-solving”, something she says is only her own personal experience, but that this is something she enjoys. 

Town Planning

Transferrable skills within Town Planning

There are also a host of transferrable skills planners can use when making the jump. Simon McFarlane, the Area Lead on Major Projects over at Dorset Council, points to ‘the technical skills and planning knowledge’ as qualities that planners should confidently and easily bring over. 

Furthermore, he says that it is important to remember that the ‘fundamental ability to deal with people’ is apparent in both sectors. Those that have ‘liaised with stakeholders and clients in the private sector, should be just as capable at liaising with the general public and councillors in a Local Authority setting’. They just need to carry over the same collaborative approach, and ability to work within multi-disciplinary teams.

Bringing private sector experience to the public sector

Importantly though, there are differences between the goals and objectives of the two sectors. This means there are qualities that private sector planners can bring which would add a different dimension to a Local Authority planning team. In a team of planners with extensive public sector experience, ‘a planner with private sector experience can bring the private sector mindset with them so that they are able to view applications and cases from all aspects’, as Charlotte says.

Indeed, those making the jump will have first-hand knowledge of the way developers approach development or assess sites. For example, where they might pick holes in the Local Plan or understand the commercial element of a proposed development. The ability to use that private sector experience, and apply it to the context of a Local Authority role, appears to be what hiring Managers are most interested in.

town planning

The consensus does seem to be that those moving over from the private sector should actually seek to highlight this more. Private sector planners clearly have the expertise and knowledge to make a unique and invaluable contribution to Local Authorities. Therefore it is essential this is highlighted while making the jump. If not, the transition may not happen at all. 

Managers are able to see the impressive experience private sector candidates have. They just need to see it emphasised when interviewing private sector planners. The viewpoint of managers seems to be that if you can’t pin down exactly how the experience will be beneficial, then the ability to actually benefit the team is restricted. 

As Charlotte puts it, private sector planners should be thinking: ‘what experience did I have that could demonstrate I can do that role? Are there any projects or schemes I worked on that can showcase a skill set that is useful in a Local Authority context?’ 

How town planners can make a successful transition between sectors

Philip Bylo, the Planning Strategy and Implementation Manager over at Basildon District Council, made a similar point as to how planners can make a successful transition: ‘The private sector has the background commercial pressure to account for time spent on projects which can assist with a certain focus on the delivery of projects and achieving good results in a defined time period and within a defined budget.’  

‘This can be quite helpful to provide such a focus in the public sector where timeframe for delivery is an increasingly important issue for plan-making and decisions on planning applications. If candidates can present their variety of experience gained, and energy to deliver projects in a timely manner well at an interview, then that should help them secure the role they are seeking in the public sector.’

The experience and transferrable skills are quite clearly there to be used. Planners making the jump from the private to the public sector just need to ensure they advertise theirs in the right way. And of course, approach it with the ‘same level of ambition, fundamental ability to work hard, and clear reason for wanting to work there’ as Simon recommends. Once they do, they stand a much better chance of impressing those hiring within Local Authorities. 

transition from private to public sectors in town planning

If you are a planner who has spent most of their time in the private sector and are considering a jump over to a public sector role, I would be interested to hear your thoughts. Do you think that a private sector skillset is applicable and beneficial to a Local Authority role? And is this something that you have considered?


I am available at any point to have a discussion about planning roles within the public sector and am eager to help anyone seeking to make the jump from private to public. Please feel free to get in touch via email on James.Bennett@oysterpartnership.com, or via telephone on 0207 766 9075.

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