About Plan B

Now what? Economists say the coronavirus outbreak will have lasting impact on our intertwined global markets
Now what? Economists say the coronavirus outbreak will have lasting impact on our intertwined global markets

Richard Willson, a professor of urban and regional planning, authors the APA blog series A Guide for Idealists, based on his book "The Guide for the Idealist: How to Launch and Navigate Your Planning Career." A national expert in transportation planning, he draws on years of experience in the classroom, research and mentoring to provide career development insights. Here's his advice for students facing a job market roiled by the coronavirus pandemic.

Right now, addressing the immediate prevention, health, and economic consequences of Covid-19 is everybody’s first priority. At the same time, ENV faculty and staff are working to keep your academic progress on track. Among so much uncertainty, progressing in your education is an element over which you have some control. I expect that near-term issues are taking most of your attention now, but it sure was good to reassemble via Zoom this week in my classes. If you have room left to consider the longer-term implications of the pandemic for your career, read on.

ENV has been preparing students for a strong job market until this crisis emerged. As you might imagine, the job market will be negatively affected by pandemic. Government agencies will have less tax revenue, consulting, design and creative agency clients may pull back, and non-profit organizations will be squeezed. Until a few weeks ago, I advised my urban planning students to seek out the most innovative places to work, expecting that they will have choices in employment. While that is always a good idea, it might not be possible now. It is time to consider strategy.

While most ENV students, as I do, bring a sense of idealism to their chosen profession, now is a time for realism. Your career is a long road that extends far beyond this crisis; I think there are good ways to keeps idealism alive while forging a realistic path. Here are some ideas:

  • Claim credit for the defining characteristics of ENV students: you know how to hit the ground running (the learn-by-doing thing); your education is professionally-focused (accredited programs); and you know how to hustle and multitask.
  • Network, make cold calls, and do informational interviews remotely. They could yield a job now, but also in a year or two. Employers are interested in having a pool of talent to draw on.
  • Apply to a smaller number of jobs well, with thoroughness, rather take a scattershot apply to all jobs available. Respond to job recruitments that are less likely to be cancelled (generally, in larger organizations).
  • Consider jobs outside your intended area of work. This may be a temporary move, or it may lead to other areas of practice that use your skills. If you see moving outside your intended profession as temporary, make a plan to get back in the profession when economic conditions improve. Attend conferences and stay involved in the profession.
  • Identify and take advantage of elements that distinguish you from other job candidates, as is true for your situation. This could include: technological savvy, new methods, willingness to work part-time or for less money, or willingness to relocate. You will be competing with older laid-off professionals: how can you distinguish yourself from them?

Unfortunately, professional practice is not going to come to you under the current conditions. You have to go for it.