Demand for planners hits a speed bump

MARKET PULSE: Over the last few years, a shortage of planning talent in Sydney and Melbourne has put the pressure on employers to hike salaries and introduce incentives to attract and retain employees.

There’s been some concern that this shortage in skills is leading to inexperienced planners moving up the ranks too quickly and taking on responsibility for big projects and accounts before they are ready.

But now, there’s a smattering of evidence to show that demand for planners, or at least some types of planners, is easing off in some parts of the country.

Planning Institute of Australia chief executive officer David Williams told The Fifth Estate that after seeing strong growth in demand for planners in both Sydney and Melbourne over the last few years, the PIA is starting to see Sydney’s labour market temper slightly based on the organisation’s employment directory data. 

Williams is not entirely sure why this is happening, but his suspicion is that it’s an early sign that the pipeline of projects is dialling back. He says there’s some indication that high density residential work is easing off as a possible result of a cooling housing market.  

He also thinks people could be “giving up” on the hunt for talent because it’s just too difficult.

The number of planners being hired in Melbourne, on the other hand, is going up. Williams says that this trend aligns with the strong pipeline of infrastructure, residential and community projects in the city. 

Melbourne may not be spared the same fate

Nicola Smith, director of a small planning practice called Niche Planning Studios that operates mainly in Victoria (with some work in Tasmania and WA), has been telling clients that there’s “a shift and change happening” in Melbourne.

After many years of growth, she’s observed a drop off in demand for her practice’s core streams of work – structure planning, urban design and land development – since about the middle of the year.

She suspects slowing demand for these types of work and the associated planning talent is the “canary in the coalmine” for a drop off in development in Melbourne, with tighter loaning leading to “not as much buoyancy in terms of sales and development.”

But Smith is still seeing demand for policy and strategy work, with councils so overburdened that they are outsourcing to her private practice. She says this is keeping her team of 11 busy.

Sydney entering a new era of strategic planning

To complicate matters further, director of Australian planning, design and place making practice Roberts Day, Stephen Moore, says demand for planners in Sydney is still “very strong”. He says his practice is having trouble accessing talent to keep up with the number of permissions it has been approached to do. 

Moore says a “convergence of significant public projects and private work” is driving demand for planning talent.

He also says Sydney is “entering a new era of exciting strategic planning” – including the build of Western Parkland City, a second airport and a range of transport infrastructure projects. His practice is heavily involved in this “quite complex planning and visioning work”.

Demand for planners elsewhere remains steady

Aside from Brisbane, where there is “spikey” and “volatile” demand for planners, there is steady and consistent demand for planning talent across the rest of Australia’s major cities.

One thing that David Williams has noticed from looking at the employment data is that there is less interstate movement of planners than he’d expect. 

He thinks that there is a perception that interstate planners struggle to wrap their heads around new legislation and regulation. He says this shouldn’t be the case and that “planners are actually very adaptable”.

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