Now is the time to turn the tide on talent attraction in the public sector

By Selena Ayling | 16 June 2020

A silver-lining to the coronavirus pandemic has been society’s new-found appreciation of public service employees. During these unprecedented times, the nation has come to learn the pivotal role our key workers play in keeping society afloat and how important local authorities truly are. 

Unfortunately, this has not always been the case, and it’s no secret that it has historically been a struggle to attract talent to public sector roles. However, with almost a quarter of the UK’s private sector workforce on furlough and many now unemployed, we have been presented with a rare opportunity to bolster public sector workforces with people who are looking for meaningful roles.

Skill shortages in the public sector

As we all know, public sector hiring has long been a challenge, as pay in UK plcs increasingly drew candidates away from public services. Though funding for local authorities has increased recently with an additional £1.6 billion, taking the total to over £3.2 billion to support councils in responding to the pandemic, a decade of chronic spending cuts has left the public sector with a depleted workforce.

Today, however, we are potentially at a watershed moment for careers in the public sector where roles in this area are considered ‘safer’ than in private firms and therefore starting to become more attractive.

Why it’s important to seize the opportunity to attract talent

What were once ‘maligned’ roles are now rightfully recognised as key pillars in the foundational economy. It’s important that local authorities act now and focus on building their employer brand to make long-term prospects in the public sector more enticing. Ensuring that there is available talent to plug current and future skill gaps will help guarantee that councils thrive in the years to come.

How councils can adapt to attract talent

To successfully build a workforce for the future, the talent requirements of public sector organisations need to be aligned with their strategic goals in order to identify the skills required to drive growth.

Local authorities are now in a position to plan for a new future. While it’s easy to use contingent labour as a short-term solution, implementing an effective workforce plan will help organisations access the right talent earlier and generate a meaningful competitive advantage.

By focusing on workforce planning and employer branding, councils can exit this crisis with a long-term strategy for success. By adapting their approach, including how they communicate with potential candidates, and creating a strong employee value proposition (EVP) to enhance their offering, local authorities will be able to attract fresh talent.

Getting employer branding right

Prioritising employer branding is crucial to attract people to the public sector. We’re already seeing some councils taking positive steps towards this. As Richard Hall, Head of Resourcing and Development – Hertfordshire County Councill, confirms:

“The recent events surrounding COVID-19 have highlighted the pivotal role the public sector plays in keeping society functioning. At Hertfordshire CC we are using this change in perception as a springboard to engage with people who may not have previously considered working for us.  We are already seeing the positive impact, as we are attracting talent from a variety of different professional backgrounds as they seek to tap into the rewarding nature of working in the public sector.

“A great employer brand isn’t just about a great recruitment campaign – at Hertfordshire, we work hard to make our organisation a great place to work where staff feel engaged and understand the importance and value of what they do on a day to day basis. I’m a strong believer that getting our employer brand right has helped with our attraction, retention and engagement of our workforce and leads to us delivering great services as well as providing rewarding careers for our workforce.”

Additionally, commenting on how important this hiring strategy is, our partner Mark Williams, Head of HR at Bristol City Council, added: “Getting our inclusive employer brand right is vital to attract that high level of talent. Our brand is bright and bold and is centred around the opportunity to make a positive difference to society, the variety of careers on offer and flexible working practises. This, combined with targeted advertising designed to attract candidates from all communities means we have a clear employment proposition to attract the very best talent for our key roles.”

Highlighting the public sector’s value

Going forward, it’s important that local authorities effectively communicate the many valuable roles available within the public sector, highlighting the significance they have in serving society. It’s also important that the right processes, such as a strong EVP and employer branding are in place to retain talent long after the pandemic has ended. Doing this will ensure councils can fill skill gaps and avoid talent shortages, helping to sustain a thriving public sector

Selena Ayling is client Services director, public sector at Guidant Global

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