Marilyn Smith, chief planning officer at the London Borough of Hounslow, said her council had employed graduates from non-planning courses while paying for them to do part-time masters courses, on the proviso they agree to stay at the council for two years.
"Don’t ever restrict yourself to planning graduates, because there just are not enough of them in the country," Smith said. "Non-planning graduates are just as good."
Smith said the skills shortage in planning means that councils have to be "creative" to recruit staff.
"At one stage in around 2006, I advertised for a career grade planning job and I had 200 applicants," she said. "Nowadays you are lucky to get into double figures for a career grade planner. When you go up the scale to deputy or manager, you get one or two applicants if you’re lucky."
Retaining existing staff is also key, Smith said. "There is no point in getting staff in place, training them up and then a year later someone else offers them more money and off they go," she said.
"You’ve got to make them enjoy the job and see a future in that job with you to make them stay while you’ve got the opportunity. You’ve got to make working flexible and fun."
Caroline Harper, chief planner at Be First Regeneration Ltd, outlined some key tips for recruiting staff. These included flexible working, hiring at a range of levels, investing in people and selling the benefits the organisation can provide people.