Olds College is now offering a new major aimed at training the next generation of land-use planning technicians and development officers.
These roles involve gathering and researching environmental data to help assess how residential, commercial, industrial and agricultural developments interact with rural landscapes and ecosystems.
This new program addresses both an employment shortage and an educational gap now gripping Alberta. The province does not currently have either a planning technician program or an undergraduate planning degree.
Not only do all students with education in this field come from out of province, they do not have the benefit of being trained with relevant knowledge of Alberta legislation or its agricultural or environmental issues. With the recent development of the Alberta government’s Land Use Framework policy and legislative restructuring involving land use, this new major is particularly important.
“Only a small percentage of the Canadian landscape will ever be urbanized,” says Harry Harker, town manager for the community of High River. “But post-secondary institutions with planning programs concentrate primarily on urban planning.”
It is important to note that rural land planning expertise is not only vital outside of urban centres, it is also of tremendous value to large cities such as Calgary or Edmonton as they expand into what was once rural land.
The Alberta Association of the Canadian Institute of Planners (AACIP), an organization representing some community and land use planners, anticipates a shortage of planners trained in rural planning issues. A significant portion of their membership, as much as 50 per cent, is aged 50 or older and is nearing retirement, adding to the severity of the shortage.
The Rural Land Use Planning major falls under Olds College’s Land and Water Resources diploma. Applications are currently being accepted for fall courses. In addition to direct employment, graduates of the two-year program also have the option of transferring to a select post-secondary institution and obtaining a degree.