Article originally published with Linkedin Publishing– in continuance to my previous post – Planning as a profession and course of study : A floundering Planner’s Perspective
In a recent article published by The Guardian written by Peter Fleming (Do you work more than 39 hours a week? Your job could be killing you), a few realities of job market and employment, with research findings of Columbia University Medical Center, University College London, Australian National University, US researcher Alex Soojung-Kim Pang; were highlighted –
- Workers employed beyond regulated work hours of 42 hours per week (working 9 to 5), and the 39 hours limit by scientific communities across the
- Interns being subjected to long work hours and work load, with unequal as well as inequitable remuneration.
- Multidimensional costs of overwork
- Technology, instead of easing human life outside work, has put them in an endless mode of standby
- A human is productive for four hours every day, as indicated by Alex Soojung-Kim Pang
The article looks into time and conditions of paid employment in general.
I, as an urban planner (that also a female one), based in India – a country where urban planning or any specialized field of planning is still undervalued and misunderstood with event planning, smart cities and every other city related program initiated by the Central government post 2014; have had a much worse experience of this exploitative market.
While pursuing bachelor and master’s programme, I worked in different capacities, with the following institutions: Town and Country Planning Organization, New Delhi, Government of India; Irrigation and Flood Control Department, New Delhi; Directorate of Environment, New Delhi; Indian Institute of Human Settlements, New Delhi; Norway Institute of Transport Economics, Oslo; Dubai MUF-ISOCARP; University of Chicago and World Bank Organization, India.
Indian academic institutes do not follow the concept of teaching assistant or fellowships, as western countries do, but it does attract several agencies and institutions from abroad to collaborate on projects, particularly research and design related. I started off my first internship with a technical agency of Ministry of Urban Development, Government of India and was not paid for the entire three month period, whilst I developed the GIS database and models for a south east city strategic plan and its flood management plan. But, following my father’s principle of life- Learn as much as you can, earnings would follow; I did not lose heart and willingness.
Following this first stint of professional experience, I was recommended for international projects and for the next 5 years of academic life (bachelor’s and master’s), was working on one or another project, either with or without remuneration. On an average, I was paid 15,000 INR (~200 USD) per month for 10-12 hours of weekly work input. I was putting in over 60 hours per week in a non-hectic period to balance work and education, which exceeded 70 hours when the pressure from either end was high. Coming out of it and entering a 9 to 5 (which extends beyond 5) work environment, I can definitely say I am glad to be a part of my experience, as it has been an enlightening path of several downs and few ups. One thing I can boast from this experience is learning and balancing multitasking with necessary prioritization and strategies. On the down side- part time work in India (definitely in the planning sector) is not counted as experience, no matter the quality and quantum of work you have done. Saddest part – the work you have done gets approved and finalized but your name is not even mentioned in the entire process and document.
On graduating Master of Planning with specialization in Urban Planning- a time to enter the job market on a full-time basis, I was yet again disappointed. Inclined towards research, I applied and eagerly got accepted into a well reputed think tank before submitting my master’s thesis. But, who would have thought that research work demanding 42+ hours per week would be compensated with less than 40,000 INR (~ 580 USD), when the same organisation is getting its projects for at least six figure sum and being handled by a group of less than 10 workers. But, that is probably true for all think tanks in India, as India spends less than 1 per cent of its annual GDP (India’s R&D spend stagnant for 20 years – Economic Times) on research and development.
But, this is not the sole example or experience of morbid job market. In my past one year experience, where I quit my full time job to pursue freelance consult and research, rather than be undervalued for my efforts, I have come across plethora of national and international consultants (let’s not even go into their legality of operations and paper work) and firms associated with projects tendered by high and mighty agencies, bilaterals, multilaterals and any other kind you can think of- there are many amongst this cohort of ‘consultants and advisors’ who aren’t remotely related to urban planning field, but are seeking and working on projects from international and national organisations, which pay minimum 300 USD (~ 21,000 INR) per day while you are paid less than 15 USD per day.
Each of these projects, no matter how short, extends to a period of three months and can last up to 2 years. The concerned manager of the project earns minimum 300 USD (~ 21,000 INR) per day, while employing recent Indian graduates and undergraduates at less than 30,000 INR (~ 430 USD) for 30+ hours per week. Sad reality? Yes! But what’s worse is these graduates are many times not planners, but architects, engineers, economists, sociologists, etc who have never even worked on a planning project and if questioned, might not even know planning beyond the usual Indian mindset of equating planning to smart cities. These naive fresh graduates are simply attracted to one component – INTERNATIONAL OR NATIONAL (like a moth is to flame), ultimately getting burnt when realization hits hard.
I write this piece of article, not as a rant against the field of urban planning in India or its job market, or for that matter perpetuity of undervalue and exploitation of young ones.
I simply request all employers to be fair and considerate to ensure- EQUAL pay (to men and women for the amount of hours put in); EQUITABLE pay (fair share of revenue to employee, not just a planner but everyone).
A few take-home messages that apply to all graduates: be aware of the job market, be aware of projects, revenues, funds and the compensation you are given for your effort. Do not run towards a JOB. Do not take a nosedive and accept all terms and agreements of the first acceptance letter you receive. Be patient. Strive to learn and find a job where you are happy and valued for your work.