Education and Training: College
Salary: Median—$40,670 per year
Employment Outlook: Good
Definition and Nature of the Work
Office planners, also known as office designers or facilities engineers, design the layout of office spaces. They create new offices or redesign existing facilities, taking into account factors such as the site's functions, staff interactions, traffic flow, and the machinery that is used. Office planners provide advice in the form of a master plan of office space, often presented as a drawing or blueprint. They use computers to create these plans.
Managers have become increasingly aware of the effect the office environment has on productivity and employee incentive. As new technologies such as computerized information services and cable communications are introduced into business settings, the organization of a comfortable, efficient office space has become more difficult. The office planner has emerged as the specialist who integrates all elements of the office's environment and functions into a coherent design.
Office planners must incorporate a variety of elements into their work. They must know principles of architecture and interior design as well as maintenance and operations. In addition, they must be aware of evolving product designs, energy management, and building and safety codes. Planners also must have a good sense of personal and functional interactions in offices so they can design office spaces that are comfortable and productive.
Office planners work for several types of employers. Those employed as in-house experts usually work for large companies, such as banks, insurance companies, and manufacturers. Those employed by architectural firms or office systems design firms work as part of a team of experts who provide clients with services on a contract basis. Vendors and distributors of office equipment, furniture, and related supplies also sometimes hire office planners to help them sell packages of office equipment. Self-employed office planners often work on a freelance basis for other firms or as independent consultants.
Education and Training Requirements
To become an office planner, a person must have at least a bachelor's degree. College-level training is required by most employers, including architectural or design firms and major office equipment producers. A number of colleges and universities offer undergraduate and graduate programs in interior design or facilities planning and management. Other useful majors are environmental design, architecture, and engineering. Most employers also look for a strong business background. Programs generally require from two to four years of full-time study. Some employers provide on-the-job training lasting from one to three years.
The Institute of Business Designers and the American Society of Interior Designers grant certification to office planners based on their experience and successful completion of the National Council for Interior Design Qualification Examination. The exam, which requires the test taker to solve a design problem and to produce a blueprint, covers knowledge of space allotment, furniture selection and arrangement, and lighting and electrical technology. Applicants must have a combined six years of design experience either from a school or a design firm to be eligible to take the exam. Two of the six years must be in post-secondary education.
Getting the Job
A school placement office may be able to help a graduating student find a job in office planning. A person can also apply directly to architecture and design firms, office equipment manufacturers, and other companies that employ office planners. In some cases employers advertise job openings in newspapers, on the Internet, or in trade journals. Professional associations also offer student members a job referral service.
Advancement Possibilities and Employment Outlook
Office planners working in architectural or design firms can advance to senior positions by demonstrating superior talent and cooperative achievements with their coworkers in the firm. In-house office planners can advance to supervisory staff positions within their company. Planners working for equipment vendors sometimes move into managerial positions in charge of a division or several regional outlets. Some office planners advance by entering private practice as independent consultants.
Office planning is a subset of interior design. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, employment of interior designers was expected to grow as fast as the average through the year 2014. An increasing recognition of the effect of the office environment on productivity will likely lead to steady demand for the services of office planners.
Office planners spend most of their time in offices drafting sketches and blueprints, but they also must travel to the sites where they will create or redesign office spaces. Many office planners work a standard forty-hour week, although sometimes they must work overtime to meet tight deadlines. The work schedules of consultants and freelance office planners are generally less regular than those of in-house office planners.
Where to Go for More Information
American Society of Interior Designers
608 Massachusetts Ave. NE
Washington, DC 20002
International Facility Management Association
1 E. Greenway Plaza, Ste. 1100
Houston, TX 77046
Earnings and Benefits
Salaries of office planners vary depending on their education and experience and on the type, size, and location of the employer. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual salary of interior designers/office planners was $40,670 in 2004. Interior designers/office planners with the top 10 percent of salaries made $71,220. Office planners who work for equipment distributors or vendors often work on commission or for a base wage plus a commission or bonus. Benefits vary with the employer but may include paid holidays and vacations, health insurance, and pension plans.