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A changing landscape in public sector recruitment

2020 was a challenging year for members of the Association of Directors of Environment, Economy, Planning and Transport (ADEPT) and the work flow hasn’t slowed yet. Changes have been seen in the hiring market too.

Organisations are attracting, engaging and recruiting candidates differently. It’s particularly noticeable at middle manager level and for many technical and specialist roles. Getting the right skills, qualifications and levels of experience at middle-manager level will be crucial but we’re increasingly hearing about the struggles to do this.

Talent acquisition expert and Sourcing Lead, Jon Dilling, has been living and breathing delivering unique talent solutions throughout 2020. From specialist vacancies right across planning, transport, future growth and investment, and increasingly those responding to the climate emergency and sustainability – Penna’s sourcing team have seen it all. Since leading the team, Jon reflects on the last year, offering his insight and top tips for HR professionals recruiting in these sectors in 2021.

Here are his observations on how to recruit in these unusual circumstances:

  1. Adjust to a virtual playing field.

Digital and ‘agile’ is the only way forward, and it’s simply not possible to recruit your critical management and technical gaps solely via job sites.

To find the right individuals for a new role, you’ll need to combine better candidate targeting while communicating your great employer offer. Reaching high calibre candidates is paramount.

  1. Refine your targeting and embrace ‘digital’.

Digitalisation is the new norm and nowhere is this truer than in recruitment. Use LinkedIn! Change your traditional approach with job boards by using a more systematic and technology aided tactic. Build a strong candidate management system to facilitate online interviews and on-boarding – it’ll make the candidate journey seamless and engaging.

  1. Agility and capacity is everything right now and will be later too.

As your resourcing needs increase, you might not have the personal or organisational capacity to action them. Speed of response will be critical. Others will beat you to the talent if you’re not able to adjust quick enough. There is going to be an eager candidate pool with a lot of roles to choose from so you need to do all you can to make sure they choose your role. Have you considered reviewing your EVP?

Become agile and strategic with your hiring. We’ve seen an increase in clients wanting to secure affordable end-to-end support to help with capacity issues, especially where hiring managers are still dealing with the ongoing changes related to the pandemic.

  1. The passive market is your goldmine.

Your vacancies require specific technical skills, expertise and qualifications, and many suffer from extremely limited talent pools and skills shortages from the onset. So, how do you recruit and retain talent when the pool of people with the knowledge and skills you need is very small and isn’t keeping pace with the growth of your industry? More importantly, how can you hire the best candidate before someone else does?

The key is not only targeting an active market (which is on average only 20% of your talent pool) but also reaching the passive market. They are regarded as top performers, engaged and productive in the roles they currently have. Yet they are candidates who don’t know they want to move yet and who are not looking on jobsites but will certainly consider moving when the right career opportunity and proposition is put their way. The time has come to show commitment to the passive audience.

To do this, you need a combination of direct sourcing recruitment, and digital outreach. Something we’re experienced in at Penna.

  1. Candidates have changed, they want something different from employers.

The emergency has forced change. During the first lockdown, employer confidence in the economy plunged by 22 percentage points, according to the specially commissioned COVID-19 REC Jobs outlook survey. Candidates now want to see tangible examples of strong employer brands. Are you demonstrably living your company values, culture, and how you have been making a difference? 

Candidates also want to experience a stress-free, digital application process. Are you making life easy for your candidate pool? How are you managing candidates as they express an interest in you, or as they apply to your roles?

  1. Surround yourself with experts.

Times are tough right now. Delivering key services means there is very little time to plan ahead. At Penna, we can provide you with an end-to-end sourcing solution, so you can concentrate on what matters. We can also help you start your recruitment again. We are mapping the market for several clients who want to be ready for the future, providing salary information, and creating initial interest tests – this approach could better equip your organisation and use your time more effectively.

New Year’s resolutions – find out more

As we enter 2021 with a vaccine rolling out, we must remain optimistic. Projects put on hold last year will start again. And new projects will be introduced to continue to meet the changing demands of the pandemic and beyond. So, just as we always do, Penna want to be at the very centre of supporting you through this. What part can we play? It’s simple – we want to provide you with our shared expertise, our years of knowledge and even be a shoulder of support. We’re here to offer practical advice to ensure you have the right skills, and the right people in place across your teams.

For further information on any aspect of your recruitment challenges, contact Jon at

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