Pivoting In Your Planning Career
Paying it forward through knowledge sharing and community investment, along with Monika's knowledge contribution, a donation has been made by Your Planning Career to Lookout Housing + Health Society, a non-profit charitable organization that provides caring, non-judgemental, non-sectarian, flexible programs and services from housing to health solutions for vulnerable adults living with multiple challenges.
For those of us in the world of planning, we are lucky to be part of a profession that offers a myriad of trajectories to choose from. In any geography, you can find planners playing a part in a number of different roles, across all facets of the industry from transportation, environmental, policy, real estate development, economic development, to infrastructure; the list goes on.
While remaining in the industry over the years, I happened to make career pivots several times and I believe it has been a critical piece of developing my unique skillset. While not for everyone, I’m a big advocate for expanding our horizons and learning as much as we can to assist us in rounding out our expertise and competencies. Some may term this as a jack of all trades or a master of none, but I personally think it’s an important quality in an industry that is constantly evolving.
To provide context and shed some light on an example of career pivots I have experienced, let me walk you through my planning path to date. I undertook a BA in Geography and MSc in Planning focusing on land use development and the environmental context while also obtaining my real estate license. It was important for me to touch all aspects of the land use and real estate business. While I was in school, I made sure to take on different internships each summer in order to identify which niches of planning I enjoyed the most by taking on roles in both the private (planning consulting) and public sectors (municipal level).
After graduating from the Master’s program, I decided to give it a go in brokerage first to understand real estate transactions, client management, building relationships, and market trends at CBRE. I’m really glad I did this, mainly for the network I gained, but in addition, it also allowed me the space to decide how I wanted to apply my planning background at which point I made the switch over to development at Dream.
I had the opportunity to work on several projects including mixed-use development, infill on constrained sites, master planned communities, and complex Requests For Proposals while working with all kinds of consultants, joint venture partners, and municipal staff. I fell in love with development and it made me realize I wanted to understand the entire business model as much as I could. This is what catapulted me to enter into an MBA program as I recognized my education and experience had been largely based on social sciences.
I made a very conscious decision to study and live in a different urban metropolitan area when undertaking the MBA, in my case a coastal seaport city, which has proven to further my learnings from a planning and land use context. During this program I followed the footsteps of my previous academic years and deliberately took on internships in the private sector in development to become familiar with the regulatory framework and approval process in a new geography. It was during this time that I received in-depth learning about business fundamentals including corporate strategy, finance, economics, accounting, risk management, marketing, consumer behaviour, operations, negotiations, data analytics, entrepreneurship, and venture capital. In most classes, I put on my planning and development hat on to correlate the relationships between what I had been learning and the business side of planning. My biggest learning curve here was determining I wanted to take on a role in the leadership and corporate strategy space within the planning and development realm.
This has led me to my current role post-MBA as General Manager in Vancouver at Ratio.City, being responsible for the growth and market expansion in Western Canada for the comprehensive data analytics platform that’s been helping city builders to make data-driven decisions around land use. Big data can support planners with informative tools to effectively manage current policies and even more importantly a tool to better align cities with their future projections as it relates to Planning legislation, Zoning By-Laws, Community Plans, and other growth plans in place.
As you can see, I’ve had quite the experience to date throughout my planning career. Hopefully sharing my experience can provide insight on how one can make a career pivot in planning and inspire you to confidently make a switch if it’s something that may be on your mind.
Monika Rau (BA, MSc, MBA) has over five years of experience working on complex real estate development projects in both Toronto and Vancouver and has worked in all facets of the real estate industry from brokerage to planning in the public and private sectors to development to proptech. Monika helps clients find solutions in her current role as General Manager in Vancouver for Ratio.City, a data analytics platform helping city builders make data-driven decisions to transform communities. She has extensive experience with industry involvement and leading fundraising campaigns revolving around responsible land use, holding leadership roles with ULI BC, CREW Vancouver, and Salvation Army Nine Stories of Hope.