News | ASPD and METRANS TSA present State of Planning 2022

Stop the Video



by Kishann Rai, USC Master of Urban Planning (MUP) 2023

Many career fields have been drastically altered with the current state of remote work, and planning is no exception. To gauge how the field of planning has changed in relation to the pandemic, on April 5th the Associated Students of Planning and Development (ASPD) and METRANS Transportation Student Association (METRANS TSA) held the second annual State of Planning event. The event also investigated the state of planning, in particular for young professionals and touched on soft skills needed for success and ways to secure a job and succeed in the field of urban planning.  



Master of Urban Planning (MUP) students Kevin Argueta and Kish Rai moderated the event. A group of planning professionals with experience in the private and public sectors was kind enough to share their knowledge with attendees.


Panelists were: 

  • Helen Campbell, Senior Planner, California Governor's Office of Planning and Research 
  • Michael Cano, Executive Officer (Interim), Federal/State Policy Planning and Programming, LA Metro
  • Mike Jones, Program Manager, Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG)
  • Shannon Wages, Principal Planner, ESA


The panelists began by first sharing a bit about themselves before shifting the conversation to remote work and the state of the profession. 


Remote Work

“Due to the California housing crisis, in general, and the lack of affordability, this ability to work from home has been very helpful for incoming employees and also more advanced employees…” remarked Shannon Wages, Program Manager, ESA. Wages noted that while telecommuting offers flexibility, creating a sense of community has been difficult. While hybrid work offers new opportunities, finding a way to remain social with colleagues is a challenge. 


Similar to Wage’s experience at ESA, Program Manager, Mike Jones, shared that SCAG has also altered their office operations to incorporate remote work. SCAG has implemented a hybrid environment in which one day a week is in person and the other four days can be worked remotely. While workers have still been productive, Jones explained how he finds that the social benefits are not the same when working remotely. In an effort to build community, the SCAG staff are each asked to make three calls each month to staff members they not know well.  The dress code has also become more casual.  


Helen Campbell, Senior Planner, California Governor's Office of Planning and Research shared that the state of new technology has enabled her and her colleagues to work remotely quite effectively. She highlighted that working from home has allowed a variety of people to work on state issues, allowing more people to become involved. Federal and state funding have enabled her agency to expand, and remote work has helped foster such growth. She mentioned that new requirements for housing elements have made OPR incredibly busy despite the growth they have experienced in their staff. 


Michael Cano, Executive Officer (Interim), Federal/State Policy Planning and Programming, LA Metro had similar sentiments in terms of telecommuting offering flexibility that in person work does not. Cano remarked that telecommuting has been upheld as the holy grail in terms of workplace. While telecommuting has offered a lot of flexibility, he notes that this flexibility does not need to be completely abandoned as the workforce begins to move into some fashion of an in-person format. Ultimately, Cano advised employees “be vocal about your needs” and to be communicative with one’s employer about what the advantages are of a remote or hybrid work setting.  


Planning – Now and in the Future

Panelists were then asked to share a bit about how they see planning evolving at their respective agencies and some projects they expect for the future.


Cano remarked that new funding programs have broadened the scope of planning projects, hence future planners should be prepared to apply an interdisciplinary lens to their work. He noted that equity and sustainability have become centralized in planning, and that this has increased the need for holistic projects that integrate community feedback. Cano expects that future projects will be strongly focused on how they affect communities and the benefits they offer it. Agencies, according to Cano, must be more aware of how they serve and affect community members going forward. 


Campbell noted that the state typically receives 30 billion dollars a year for infrastructure funding, but may now receive anywhere from an extra 14 to 18 billion dollars. As a result, there will be an extreme need to fill jobs to execute the projects created from this funding. Campbell echoed the sentiments of Cano, underscoring that connecting to local communities and contextualizing regional needs is crucial.  


Jones noted that increased federal funding will create a flow through effect and will foster a move towards technology and create more jobs and Wages projected that an unprecedented amount of jobs will be created and expects to see projects that reinvest in vulnerable communities and that are rooted in sustainability and equity. 


What about Soft Skills?

Panelists were then asked to weigh in on the soft skills they see are valued in the field. 


Jones started. “I think, for us, some of the things we look for in new planners is first and foremost enthusiasm for getting a job. We want people who want to be planners, want to do that job and they and it shows.” He also believes critical thinking, writing, and the ability to work in a team are critical. 


Wages agreed that writing is an important skill for future planners. The ability to write well and speak publicly is necessary in order to communicate efficiently and a critical skill for planners. She added that knowing your audience, whether that be technicians or community members is very important.  Cano agreed that communication is key. Understanding how communities view your agency and other agencies is important to best understand people’s sentiments and viewpoints.


How do we Best Approach our Job Search?

The speakers weighed in, and suggested the following:

  • Thoroughly investigate specific companies and agencies of interest
  • Keep up to date on current planning issues and trends
  • Add volunteer experience to your resume if you have it – and if you don’t, get it 
  • Be prepared to share your ideas on current projects that the agency may have
  • Match keywords on the job description to your resume 
  • Take initiative and be truly passionate about the job
  • Have a planning related writing sample ready 
  • And, be honest and ask yourself what jobs will advance your career and align you’re your goals. 


To learn more about METRANS Transportation Student Association, visit:


To learn more about ASPD and other student organizations at USC Price, visit:


About the author:
Author Kishann (Kish) Rai is a first year student in USC’s Master of Urban Planning program. She currently works at METRANS as a research assistant.