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Planners come from a variety of backgrounds. The single most common educational background is formal training in planning, most often a Master's degree, either a Master of City Planning (MCP) or a Master of Urban and Regional Planning (MURP). But the field, and particularly larger agencies and consultants, absorbs people with many other backgrounds. Agencies that are large enough to have a separate research operation are likely to hire people with training in economics or statistics. Agencies that handle transportation planning are likely to hire people with training in civil engineering and, particularly, transportation engineering. Large agencies often do a substantial amount of data handling and are likely to have on staff a few people with backgrounds in programming and data processing. Agencies that handle significant amounts of environmental planning are likely to hire people with backgrounds in biology, chemistry, environmental science, and remote sensing. Planning inevitably involves mapping and spatially organized data, so that geographers and cartographers find their way into the profession. Planning involves many issues of law, particularly in regard to land use and environmental considerations. Thus many attorneys and people with joint training in law and planning have entered the field. In fact, several universities have joint four-year law and planning degree programs.

The majority of planners are employed by government. Of these, the largest share are employed by local governments; that is, by cities, towns, counties, and other substate jurisdictions. Smaller numbers are employed by state governments, by intergovernment organizations like councils of governments (COGs), and by a variety of authorities and special-purpose agencies. Some planners are employed by the federal government, particularly in departments like Housing and Urban Development (HUD), which fund and regulate planning-related activities of local governments. Most planners employed by government are civil servants, but a certain number are political appointees chosen outside the civil service process. Over the years many planners have found their way into municipal administration, where the sort of "big picture" view that planning tends to develop seems to be useful.

A substantial minority of all planners are employed within the private sector. Many work for planning consultants and serve both government and a variety of private clients. A certain number of planners are employed directly by private organizations like land developers and corporations with substantial real property holdings. Some planners work for particular groups that need the planners' skills to make their own case in the public forum. These may be neighborhood or community groups, environmental organizations, and citizens' groups of various types.

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