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Job market insight from recruitment experts Hays and Matchtech

Despite uncertainty in the economy, the demand for experienced planners remains steady in the private and public sectors. But with graduates facing real challenges, and  some employers recruiting through social media , what are we to make of the current job market? John Martin of Hays, and Daniel Baker from Matchtech, to share their views on current and future opportunities

"Over the past 12 months we have seen a strong demand for all levels of planning professionals in both the public and private sector, including experienced interim staff" says John Martin of Hays.

Daniel Baker from Matchtech reports a pattern that has emerged in recent years. "The job market slows in December, but improves significantly in January, particularly in the public sector. This is largely a result of managers waiting until the New Year to recruit. It is the time of year when remaining budgets can be allocated to short-term contracts before the end of the financial year".

Demand is also increasing for senior level planning professionals. Team leaders, managers and heads of service are needed to ensure departments and budgets are effectively managed, and to provide appropriate support, training and mentoring to junior staff.

Across the UK and Ireland the picture is mixed, with private sector activity in the North West and East Midlands, and public sector activity in the South West. London and the South East continues to offer opportunity, but the market is competitive.  "Whilst working in London might sound an attractive option to some, a candidates lack of London experience can in some cases make this a tough task" advises Daniel.

There are a number of recruitment agencies that advertise planning vacancies. What should employers look for from a recruiter when deciding which agency to use?

"When employers are looking to work with a recruitment agency it is important to work with industry experts who understand the local job market for planners" explained John. "The recruiter should have access to the best candidates, and be willing to invest the time to understand your exact requirements in order to establish who will be best suited. You must be confident your recruiter is carrying out the proper checks, including securing references".

"Choosing an agency that can understand your requirements on a professional and technical level is key" agrees Daniel. Your employers' HR team may recommend certain agencies. Speak to them to understand what industry knowledge they have. If you can't speak to someone who solely specialises in the planning market, then there are probably more suitable agencies to work with".

"In the same way employers look for RTPI members, look for recruitment firms and consultants who are affiliated with the Recruitment and Employment Confederation and/or the Institute of Recruitment Professionals" explains Daniel. "Choosing the right agency will avoid wasting time and money"

So what should planners look for when approaching recruitment agencies to help them find opportunities?

"Before you meet with a recruiter you should think about what you want from a new role" advises John. Research which recruiters are advertising for the type of roles you are looking for. What are your salary expectations? The better a recruiter understands your current and long term objectives, the more help they can offer."

"Be honest about your reasons for leaving your current role, your salary expectations, and how far you are willing to travel. If recruiters know what you do and don't want, they can make sure they don't put you forward for unsuitable roles."

Daniel agrees with the need to research agencies. "Make sure you approach the right agency for your needs, in much the same way that a prospective employer would. Check their website, and make sure that they are actively involved in the planning recruitment market. Register with 2 – 3 of the most suitable agencies, and send them an up to date CV."

"It is also important that you speak with recruiters on the telephone" advises Daniel. "Both parties will gain more from a conversation on the telephone or face to face than they will from email contact alone. With the market so competitive, strong references that can be used at a candidates discretion can have a significant impact on that persons' chances of getting the role they want.

What advice would you offer to planning graduates with little or no planning experience?

"Ideally, they should have secured a sandwich placement year during their degree programme, which would have given them a good level of experience that could be quickly used after graduation. Failing this, unpaid internships or temporary work can provide the essential foundations to a career in planning" advises John.

What advice would you offer those planners unable to move their career forward due to the lack of available jobs?

In recent years the most experienced planning professionals may have had difficulties in finding or maintaining their work of choice" explains Daniel. "A flexible and pragmatic approach is needed in today's job market, and those who are able to consider relocating on a temporary or permanent basis will have exposure to a far higher number of vacancies".

"The current market makes sidestepping into new areas harder, but not impossible. Movement between the public and private sector has become easier in recent months as the market continues to gradually improve."

"Some planners may risk moving from permanent to contract work to improve their CV and gain wider experiences. This strategy is risky, but experienced professionals can consider this if they are looking for a wider experience with higher rates of pay. However, Daniel ends with a note of caution "A decision to move from permanent to contract working should not be taking lightly, and there can be difficulties in agreeing notice periods for contracts that require someone to start quickly".

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