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  • Writer's pictureDavid Marlow

Build a successful career in local economic development and placemaking

For our June 2023 thematic episode, we were joined by Julie Towers of Penna. Julie has been Managing Director of Penna for around ten years – not only delivering their executive resourcing business but encompassing many aspects of leadership, organisation, and human resources development. She has probably assisted in the selection of more CEOs and Directors of Place or of Development over the last couple of decades than almost anyone else in the UK. So who better to speak with to learn about trends in our sector and what political leaders of place are looking for from their Directors?

Job interviewee sharing examples of work with recruitment panel

The good news is that there is increasing interest in senior local economic development and placemaking roles, with strong recovery in recruitment after a predictable pandemic hiatus. And not only is the number of these senior appointments growing - increasingly they are seen as pathways to Chief Executive and other top jobs.

So as an aspiring Director or CEO – what do you need to be thinking about as you look to build a successful career in local economic development and placemaking?

There appears to be a distinction between senior strategic roles and responsibilities, and the delivery dimensions of LED and placemaking. Both are important and highly valued. Maybe the optimum career pathway will include experience that demonstrate skills and expertise in both domains.

However, perhaps our major takeaway from the episode is the increasing importance of inclusion and tackling inequalities in LED and placemaking agendas. It is no longer enough to excel at delivering new infrastructure, project, and programme management unless you can also explain how these connect to and improve the lives and opportunities of local people. The softer skills of involving local communities, of partnership working, and of co-design and co-creation are essential. Joining this up with green agendas, successful Directors will need to walk and talk triple bottom-line and quadruple helix working as never before. And to do this in today’s political and highly politicised context requires you to give confidence to politicians that you can manage the reputational risk of things going wrong.

Whilst these confirmations of current trends may be unsurprising, what is quite startling is the number of candidates for senior posts who don’t get some of the basics right to progress their career ambitions. Most candidates do not seek feedback from their recruitment experience; a large number do not speak to the recruitment consultant in advance about the nuances of the role; and some are even unable to articulate a compelling narrative of why precisely they want the role for which they are applying. Taking positive steps to build your career, to be self-aware about areas for development and to proactively address them significantly increases the probability of long-term success.

Finally, it was good to hear Julie reaffirm the importance of “place” and “local” in the era of hybrid and remote working. Political leaders will always be local and passionate about their place – and they have reasonable expectations that candidates will take the time and make the effort to share their passions. A commitment to getting the feel for and insights on the places where we work will remain a staple of LED and placemaking roles, even if formally, we only go into the office two or three days a week.

LEDC has not done many episodes like the episode with Julie. But we hope you find it interesting and helpful. We were certainly left with a sense of many important human resources and organisational questions we did not have time to address. If you would like us to return to these or related topics, please let us know!


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