Workforce planning for a post-COVID world

2020 – what a year. Never could we have imagined such national and international disruption to our personal and professional lives overnight but, throughout the uncertainty so far, we’ve adapted, we’ve challenged and we’ve changed. The pandemic has undoubtedly caused many negatives, although there has been one constant positive, which is our ability to continuously flex and change to meet rising pressures and demands.

Local authorities have played an integral role in assisting communities across the country throughout the past 10 months, working tirelessly to ensure round-the-clock support to the most vulnerable, including the provision of food and care packages, emergency accommodation and welfare support to name but a few, as well as continuing with the day-to-day delivery of services to provide for millions of residents nationwide.

With rising demand for services comes rising demands on the workforce and, in many instances, the COVID-19 crisis has accelerated organisational change at pace. As a recruiter, I’ve seen an increase in demand for interim leaders over the past 10 months, as many authorities have decided to take more time to rethink their senior leadership team structures in the longer-term. In terms of permanent recruitment, our clients’ needs appeared to initially decrease during the first lockdown, although over the past six months I have seen a rising trend in authorities making great headway with their permanent recruitment plans, often recruiting to multiple senior roles at once. This, in my opinion, sends a positive message to prospective candidates both inside and outside of the sector, as it can signal stability and longevity, which are high priorities on many permanent job seekers’ wish lists.

As local government roles become increasingly more dynamic in response to the pandemic, individuals are often required to assume new skills and continuously adapt in their roles. Many senior officer roles will continue to expand in the future, while teams and resources may be narrowed down around them.

Although this is a positive opportunity for many, the capacity of staff teams will need to be considered realistically when planning future programmes of work in the recovery phase. Importantly, there is an ongoing need to ensure teams have balance and resilience for the future. This, of course, includes considering individuals’ health, wellbeing and mental welfare in the workplace, particularly as many staff will continue to operate from home.

With many local authorities planning to roll out large-scale economic recovery plans, as well as continuing to adapt and transform in a world we call ‘the new normal’, there is perhaps now a great opportunity to consider deploying new workforce strategies to ensure our councils continue to be fit for the future. It is therefore important to take stock and assess the skills and abilities of your current workforce to determine how they can be supported and developed in the future. This assessment will also help to identify any skills gaps across the organisation, which in turn will inform your future recruitment plans.

There are many skillsets that are currently in high demand as councils continue to appoint new leaders to drive the ongoing response to the pandemic. And, as we move further into the recovery phase, we will likely see increasing turnover at an executive level and some retirements. This will inevitably have an impact on organisational structures, especially when coupled with the impending financial pressures. In support of this, there is a need to proactively explore the existing, vastly experienced senior leaders within local government – and, importantly, the rising stars and new talent – to ensure demand for these skillsets can be met across the sector over the next 12+ months.

There may also be an opportunity to proactively explore candidates from outside of the sector, including the wider public sector and private sector organisations, to capitalise on commercial skills and experiences that may hugely benefit local authorities at this point in time. In my view, it is important to keep an open mind about new talent joining your organisation, although those transitioning from other sectors will clearly need to evidence transferable skills and experiences.

Whatever the position, now seems like a good time to start planning for the future. If we ensure our workforces are fit for 2021, I’m sure we will see a brighter year ahead.

It is thanks to the determination, strength and expert ability of our local authority colleagues that our country has continued to operate effectively throughout the pandemic, and for that I am hugely thankful. n

Helen Anderson is a senior consultant at Tile Hill Executive Recruitment

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