Being able to manage and plan our staffing requirements is a key factor in our success. In 2020, the Covid-19 crisis altered the state of the recruitment market, and led to a shift in our staffing requirements. Throughout the year we continued to focus on employee onboarding, retention and continuous improvement based on employee feedback to ensure we can deliver what we promise our customers.
Covid-19 had a profound impact on the labour market in 2020, and the number of applicants for positions across the company rose significantly following the first lockdown in March. Throughout the year we filled more than 7,600 operational vacancies, including delivery and sorting positions. We also filled 452 corporate vacancies, of which 50% were internal hires.
Throughout the year we also recruited heavily to fill IT positions and agile roles, as we further expand our IT and data programmes. To accelerate our digital transformation we need to enhance the digital competence of our workforce. We have the ambition to hire 150 – 200 software engineers in about three years time. We started our campaign in mid-2020 and recruited 13 candidates for senior positions, including external and internal hires.
We also started an internal GO for IT campaign in 2020, to search for people who wanted to retrain for an IT position. After 126 applications and 39 interviews, 16 employees from across the company were selected for the retraining programme, including former mail deliverers, a preparer and a tele account manager. As part of their training, the 16 motivated recruits spent two months immersed in everything that had to do with IT. The training ended at the beginning of 2021, and the participants have now begun in new IT positions, such as data engineers and test analysts. The strong connection we have across society was reflected in our recruitment in 2020, and this has continued into 2021.
Year ended at 31 December
Headcount opening balance
Headcount closing balance
In addition to the 4,300 employees we welcomed from Sandd, we hired over 1,600 new colleagues compared to 2019. Our employee turnover rate also improved slightly compared to 2019, both in terms of the total and the share of employees that voluntarily decided to leave us.
Year ended at 31 December
Turnover rate (share of total headcount)
Voluntary turnover rate
As the general population and workforce ages, it's vital that we find the right working balance for older employees. In the collective labour agreement signed in 2020, we included several options across the company. We are initiating a trial for 300 employees that are nearing retirement age to offer early retirement arrangements. We also extended the so called sustainable working scheme, which enables them to work fewer hours, but retain a larger percentage of their income. For example, work for 60 percent but receive 80 percent of their salary. And at Parcels, we have discussions with older employees about their long-term employability, so that we can take prompt measures to enable them to continue working healthily until the state pension age.
The labour market changed following the initial lockdown in March, and many job seekers saw PostNL as a stable and attractive employer. Vacancies at both Parcels and Mail in the Netherlands were filled by people impacted by the shutdown, such as those from the hospitality sector. Following the government's lockdown announcements, we saw a sharp rise in the number of visitors to our recruitment website.
At Mail in the Netherlands, we successfully integrated the Sandd workforce and were able to more easily fill vacancies. At Parcels, the strong growth in e-commerce during the year led to the creation of new delivery routes, and the extension of existing routes, which resulted in an increase in the workforce of our delivery partners and PostNL. We saw the number of parcel deliverers grow by around 11% during the year. We improved our retention rate during 2020, which is down to a combination of a new onboarding process that involves more classroom-based training, time to get used to the work, and helping deliverers become more independent earlier in the job. For mail deliverers, the mentoring programme that begins from the day a new employee begins is proving a success. The mentor welcomes the new recruit to the job and answers any questions or concerns the new employee may have.
Across the organisation, we collect data about the onboarding process and use these insights to implement further process improvements.
Looking ahead, we don't yet know what the long-term impact of the crisis will be on our staffing patterns. For example, whether people will return to the hospitality and other sectors full-time once the crisis is over, or will continue to work for us on a part-time basis. Consequently, we are preparing to launch specific recruitment campaigns again in 2021.