Laying the foundations for a career in planning

In the house building industry, there are dozens of paths you can take depending on your skills and aspirations. A career in planning is perfect for those who want to help build sustainable new communities, as Helen Dawkins, planning director at Miller Homes, discusses.

What are the key skills that help you in your day-to-day role in planning?

My training, first at Nottingham University and then as part of my diploma, gave me the foundations for a career in planning. During this time, I learned how to prepare and submit planning applications, assess the suitability of sites and navigate local planning rules, which eventually allowed me to hit the ground running when I joined Miller Homes.

At university, you will develop a range of skills - from communication and leadership through group projects, to developing a keen eye for detail when writing reports and essays. These skills help me in my current role - from managing a team and getting the most out of each person, to organising my own workload.

What advice would you give to anyone looking to go into a career in planning?

Think outside the subjects you take at school and consider the skills and interests you have and how these can be applied to a career. Vocational courses are great at helping you thrive in any area you are passionate about, providing you with a mixture of theoretical background and practical experiences. 

It's also important to remember that a degree does not define what career you go into once you graduate. While around 70 per cent of my course colleagues did go on to become planning consultants, there were plenty others who found work elsewhere. Some chose to work for local authorities, while others took opportunities in a related field like architecture and surveying. 

Finally, get work experience wherever you can and as early as you can. During your placement, aim for a mixture of hours spent in an office and on-site so you can get a real taste of what work life will be like. Not only will this help give you an understanding of office life, it also makes you stand out more to prospective employers. 

How has the industry changed since you graduated?

One of the best things about my job is that it is always changing, so every day brings a new challenge and development. Like any industry, there will always be ups and downs, but you also get exciting phases where new technology and innovative ways of thinking, really shake up the sector. 

Technology also plays a large part in the development of the industry, as it does with everything. In recent years, management software has been introduced to many construction sites, helping reduce the amount of paperwork that floats about desks. The time taken on admin has also reduced, as the plans and documents we work on can be edited and submitted online and shared between the team. 

This has improved collaboration as we can track each change and see who has made it, while also sharing comments, supporting documents and notes easily.