How to Become a Regional Planner

How to Become a Regional Planner: Career Path Guide

Like many careers, becoming a regional planner takes a combination of the right skill set, personality type, education and experience.


But worry not, if you’re willing and able to get a master’s degree in planning, or an undergrad in a related field combined with relevant work experience, then you’re halfway there!


The other half is having the right personal characteristics. If you’re willing to have your work scrutinized by public officials, community groups, environmental groups and other stakeholders, and you’re willing to work closely with these same groups, then there should be nothing holding you back! 


So, if you’ve made it this far, keep reading! We’ll fill you in on the details of a career as a regional planner, such as how you can become one, and of course, what you’d be doing once you get there.



Education Needed to Become a Regional Planner

Most regional planners have a master’s degree from an accredited urban or regional planning program. 


Many master’s programs in planning accept students with a wide range of undergraduate backgrounds. However, candidates for these programs most typically have a bachelor’s degree in economics, geography, political science, or environmental design.




Work Experience You Might Need

Although not necessary for all positions, or with all employers, some entry-level planning jobs require 1 to 2 years of work experience in a related field, such as architecture, public policy, or economic development. Having work experience on your resume for an entry-level job will typically be much more important if you only have a bachelor’s degree rather than a master’s degree.


If you plan on pursuing a master’s, then don’t worry too much about accumulating work experience, it will likely be built-into your coursework. Relevant experience is typically gained during a master’s planning program through real-world planning projects or part-time internships. 



Other Useful Work Experience to Have

Although not usually considered necessary, having other forms of relevant work experience during your undergraduate or graduate studies can help you develop a feel for the career field, and as a bonus, will look great on a resume. Helpful types of work experience can include:


• Working as a planning assistant for councils or consultant firms, possibly during summer

• Working on a building site

• Doing drafting or research work

• Doing volunteer work for community or environmental groups



Skills Needed to Succeed

Conflict Management: As a regional planner, you would often face situations where competing viewpoints over-land use proposals require mediation and conflict management. You must be able to respect conflicting views, mediate effectively, and seek compromises.


Analytical Skills & Techniques: Analyzing information and data from a variety of sources, such as market research studies, censuses, and environmental impact studies, would be a major part of your job. Having a proper grasp of statistical techniques and technologies, such as geographic information systems (GIS), will be crucial.


Communication Skills: As a planner, you must be able to communicate clearly and effectively when giving presentations and meeting with audiences, which can include public officials, interest groups, and community members.


Decision-Making Skills: Arguably the most challenging part of work in this career, would be to weigh all possible planning options and combine analysis, creativity, and realism to choose the appropriate action or plan.


Management Skills: You must be able to manage projects and people, which may include overseeing tasks, planning assignments, and making decisions.


Writing Skills: Not to be overlooked, are strong writing skills. The amount of time you would spend preparing research reports, writing grant proposals, and corresponding with colleagues and stakeholders, might surprise you.






Is This Career Right for You?

Becoming a regional planner might be a great career choice if you have the following characteristics:


• You have an interest in leaving a legacy from your work

• You enjoy the idea of creating spaces that a community can enjoy

• You can handle tight deadlines

• You aren’t intimidated by the prospect of heavy scrutiny on your work 

• You enjoy supervising the work of others

• You enjoy combining creativity and analysis in your work




Who Creates Jobs for Regional Planners?

Regional planning is a very specialized field, and because of this, there is not a wide variety of potential employers. The most common forms of employers for regional planners include:


• Municipal governments

• Provincial/state and federal government

• Architectural and engineering firms

• Planning and environmental consulting firms



What Kind of Salary Can You Earn?

The salary level you could earn as a regional planner can vary greatly, typically depending on the following factors:


• Your professional qualifications (levels of education, experience, etc.)

• The size and budget of your employer

• The region in which you work

• The scope of your job duties and responsibilities 


Regional Planner Salary - Canada: According to Service Canada, the average salary level of Canadians working in the Urban and Land Use Planners occupational group is $67,500 per year.


Regional Planner Salary - United States: According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median salary level of Americans working in the Urban and Regional Planners occupational group is $68,220 per year.




Regional Planner: General Job Description

As a regional planner, you would be responsible for developing comprehensive plans and programs for use of land and physical facilities of municipal and regional jurisdictions.


One of the most important, and challenging aspects of your job, would be to consider and balance the various physical, environmental, social and economic needs of communities, when planning the use of land in their region.



General Job Duties

Although your duties could vary from job to job, you would likely be responsible for performing tasks similar to the following:


• Investigating the availability of property

• Coordinating work with architects and economic consultants during the development of plans and large pieces of infrastructure

• Mediating community disputes and assisting in the development of alternative plans for programs and projects

• Maintaining current knowledge of economic and legal issues pertaining to environmental, zoning and building codes

• Conducting field investigations, surveys, impact studies or other research in order to compile and analyze data on economic, social, regulatory and physical factors affecting land use

• Reviewing environmental impact reports pertaining to planning projects

• Supervising and managing the work of urban planning technicians and technologists



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Work Environment

Working Conditions: This job can be quite stressful, as planners must balance conflicting interests, negotiate deals, and meet strict deadlines. They often face pressure from politicians, developers, and the public to design or recommend specific plans. However, successfully balancing all of these interests and needs can be quite rewarding for planners. 


Work Setting: Regional planners often split their time between office work, site visits, and attending meetings. When conducting site visits they may be working outside in all weather conditions and in a variety of environments. Meetings can be held in a variety of locations also, as planners work with a wide variety of stakeholders, such as community groups, land owners, engineers, city officials, and conservation groups.


Work Schedule: Regional planners typically work normal weekday working hours, although they must maintain a flexible schedule, as they are often required to work evenings and weekends in order to fulfill many of their duties, such as to attending meetings with planning commissions or neighbourhood groups.



Careers Similar to ‘Regional Planner’

Listed below are occupations in our database that have similar responsibilities, and/or require similar skills, or are in the same sector of industry, as Regional Planner:


City Councillor

• City Manager

• Land Use Planning Advisor

• Parks Planner

• Urban Planner

• Urban Planning Technician




Please consult the following resources to learn more about what it takes to become a regional planner:


Occupations in Alberta:Community Planner.” (March 9, 2016). ALIS website - Alberta Learning Information Service. Retrieved January 12, 2020.

Life, Physical, and Social Science:Urban and Regional Planners.” (December 4, 2019). Bureau of Labor Statistics - United States Government website. Retrieved January 12, 2020.

Government, Law & Safety Careers:Urban/ Regional Planner.” (September 17, 2018). Careers New Zealand website. Retrieved January 12, 2020.



Scholarships for Becoming a Regional Planner

The Applicable Majors section below shows fields of study relevant to a career as a regional planner. You can search for scholarships matched to that/those field(s) of study on the following pages:


Economics Scholarships

Geography Scholarships

Political Science Scholarships

Urban Planning Scholarships


Success Tip: Be sure to apply for any scholarships that you even barely qualify for, as there are millions of dollars of scholarships that go unused every year due to a lack of applicants!



Becoming a Regional Planner: Applicable Majors

Studying one of the college/university majors listed below can be helpful (or necessary) for becoming a regional planner. Click on the links to find out what else you can do with these majors!


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