Public vs private sector: Who pays more?


Planned Resources recruit across the niche markets of planning, engineering, architecture and design, property, and government support. We operate across private and public sectors in Melbourne, Victoria, and Australia. Here, we look at our 2020 Salary Survey for Victoria’s Town Planning sector.

Both sides of the public and private sector debate think that the grass is potentially more lucrative on the other side.

Consultancies argue that they are not able to compete with the high levels of starting salaries in local and state government; whereas public sector managers argue that there are limitations of the banding system to attract exceptional candidates. Both are valid arguments.

Planned Resources recently completed an annual salary survey for the town planning sector across Victoria. A total of 38 organisations participated representing 850 employees giving us valuable information about the comparable salaries of planners from the time they graduate to 10 years into their career.

The information we collated shed some light into the public vs private sector salary debate.   On average, Graduate Planners earned $6K more in the public sector over private.  The trend continues as planners gain further experience in their role; however, the gap becomes closer and crosses over at around the 7.5 years mark, both with an average annual salary of circa $96K.   After 10 years, the average salary of a consulting planner is $115K compared to that of $106K for government planners.


If you’re a recent graduate looking at long-term career planning, you’d be forgiven for looking at the chart above and plotting a career that starts in the public sector and switches over into the private sector around the 5 year mark, maximising your potential income. But please be mindful about the following:

Early career

It is true that early career planners will typically earn more in the public sector.  It is also true that government (especially local government) can be a great training ground for a young planner. This is because Council offers an opportunity to work at the coalface of planning: see how decisions are made and the processes that lead to these decisions. The varying complexity of work also gives a smart team-leader/manager the ability to delegate you increasingly complex tasks as a way of challenging and developing staff. And whilst council departments can be target driven, these targets are more geared towards statutory deadlines as opposed to a fee-paying clients’ deadline/expectations – thus, allowing more room for professional development.

Having said that, some of the most exceptional planners we’ve interviewed started their career in private consultancy, where they found a mentor from whom they could learn from and rapidly progressed through a company unencumbered by salary bandings and headcount.

Mid-level Planner

The graph above is based on average salaries, and on face-value, illustrates a bit of a utopian view of crossing from the public to private sector.   Switching from public to private typically entails a small amount of financial pain.  Candidates going from public to private (and vice versa) may well have been in the industry for the same length of time, and possibly have similar levels of technical expertise but their application of these skills will have been different, and the softer skills utilised around the core planning skills are different. These softer skills are often untried and whilst relatively simple (ranging from timesheets, client management through to framing language of planning reports in a positive spin), they are hard to demonstrate to a new employer in any other manner than working for the employer, so typically public sector planners will start below the average until they demonstrate their acumen in these areas (a good recruiter should be able to negotiate some sort of formal review process so that you get back to parity quickly).

Consultancies have always sought to entice planners out of government earlier in their careers; they are trained in the technical components of the role, therefore, able to the ground running (i.e. hit their productivity targets). Typically, private sector struggle to get planners out of government at the 7.5-year mark – by this stage candidates have become accustomed to a standard of living, and potentially have both financial and personal commitments which limit a planners willingness to take a drop, even if there is a longer-term upside.  Consultancies hunting grounds have typically become the 3 to 5 years level.

Senior Planner

Firstly, please be mindful that the above chart is an indication of the average salary. There are plenty of people in government earning more than this, from team leaders to CEO’s – and there are also plenty of senior planners in consultancies earning less than the average. Typically finding the right organisation (based on both your skills and ethos) will help you maximise your earning potential regardless of what side of the fence you’re on (public or private).

Secondly, in our experience planning is a very subjective career. A person’s ethos, way of working, motivation and project interest all play more significant impact on career choices to financial rewards.  This graph maps out salaries from graduate to 10 years, but remember you’ve got another 30 years of working beyond this.  So, finding a side of the fence that suits you becomes way more important than the money.


By Planned Resources

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