Project Z: Are you sending the right message?

How can we attract and retain young people into the public sector? Chantelle Wooldridge outlines the efforts needed to ensure the talent of the future has a chance to thrive in your organisation.

The MJ Awards Rising Star

The MJ Awards Rising Star

Nurturing and developing the talent of the future is vital to the sustainability of any sector or organisation. As the Gen-Z workforce continues to grow in size and prominence in various industries, it is important for all employers to adapt to the interests, motivations and values of the incoming younger generation.

Based on recent research, the motivation for people working can be attributed to three crucial elements: career development opportunities, a sense of community, and the opportunity to make a meaningful difference – all of which the public sector offers and more. Many businesses struggle to adequately communicate career opportunities in a way that appeals to Gen-Z's sensibilities. The era of simply posting a job and hoping for candidates to stumble upon it, while depending on an advert that usually outlines in detail the employer's requirements in terms of experience, qualifications and skills, is now a thing of the past.

First impressions matter. Crafting a compelling offer that immediately resonates with the reader is essential.

The public sector is facing a significant challenge with an ageing workforce. Statistics from the Local Government Association (LGA) show that 66.6% of employees in local government are aged between 40 and 64 years. Additionally, the Future of Local Government report by PwC and the County Councils' Network reveals that only 4.6% of local government workers are under 25-years-old, and a mere 26% plan to remain in the sector for up to four years. These numbers underscore a pressing talent sustainability problem in the medium and long term.

Leaders must take immediate action to safeguard the future of public service. This entails not only appealing to the younger generation but also cultivating a pipeline of new talent from other industries and careers into the sector. Not to mention the need to equip those future leaders with the skills they will need in an ever-changing world.

It is crucial to acknowledge that the younger generation is less concerned with long-term job security and more focused on making swift, positive, and enduring contributions. Their usual aim is to consistently advance in their professional journeys, which may ultimately lead to their eventual comeback as respected senior executives. Establishing a nurturing, empowering, and supportive environment where they witness and experience the influence they have will enhance their growth and commitment to the sector.

To support the movement for change, there are both regional and national initiatives being developed and delivered to support the sector with this issue. The LGA is developing a national employer value proposition, which has already been piloted in the North East of England from January to March 2024, that saw applications for local government jobs increase by 8.96% from the previous February.

We all have a role to play in positioning a career in the public sector as viable, progressive, sustainable and rewarding. Communicating and emphasising the intrinsically fulfilling nature of working in the public sector is key.

Gen-Z is characterised as an altruistic and socially responsible generation. Many will be drawn to work in the public sector by nature of the opportunity to serve their communities and make a real difference in society. Appealing to this by stating a clearly defined mission, and how the role contributes to achieving it, would drive up the interest in learning about the sector among the younger generation and new talent looking to join.

The differences may not be so clear to everyone, but by spelling them out we can make it really resonate with this audience.

Furthermore, there is a lack of understanding and awareness among Gen-Z about the realities of working in local government especially. Common negative stereotypes include long hours, heavy workloads, predominantly white, older workforces and overbearing amounts of red tape and bureaucracy. This goes against the values of Gen-Z who are known to apply for roles which offer training, career progression and the opportunity to make a difference. All things we know the sector offers.

Shifting awareness from these stereotypes to the more positive realities that align with Gen-Z's values, such as inclusivity and impact, is crucial. Internal recruitment teams and recruiters can work together to break down any stereotypes and find ways to attract those leaving higher education, further education or straight from school, showcasing the success stories of many senior officers who joined the sector as apprentices or straight from school. This approach is also essential when trying to attract those working outside of the sector, something we are proactively and passionately doing alongside our clients at Tile Hill.

The sector is a meritocracy and there is so much career progression available for those that want it. This needs to be communicated more effectively and clearly alongside purpose and impact.

Lastly, Gen-Z is much more diverse than their previous generational cohorts, so creating an inclusive work environment is key. By making an effort to recruit in underrepresented communities and creating a safe, equitable and collaborative working environment will make the job, career and organisation more attractive to a younger workforce.

In the end, internal recruitment teams and external recruiters must make more of an effort to get to know their future Gen-Z talent. Jobs in the public sector are actually really well-matched to the ideals and needs of Gen Z, so instead of just listing day-to-day job activities, recruiters would be more successful by connecting with candidates on a personal level, acknowledging their career concerns and appealing to their inherent desire to do good.

As an executive recruitment business for the public sector, Tile Hill is driving the way to foster change, supporting many future talent development programmes. In conjunction with councils and various public sector entities nationwide, we aim to assist in dismantling barriers and misconceptions, while also aiding in the preparation of future leaders – for example, when sponsoring the Rising Star category at The MJ Awards, using this as a springboard to deliver mentoring programmes for the finalists, connecting them with chief executives from across the sector and running skills development workshops.

Or when supporting future chief planners alongside the Royal Town Planning Institute with their Chief Planners of Tomorrow programme. We are committed and passionate about connecting people beyond their training, so we invite senior professionals of diverse backgrounds to share their career trajectories and dispel any misconceptions about the public sector, to be more appealing to younger generations.

First impressions count, and we need to work together to change the narrative of what it means and the difference you can make when working in the sector. Effective communication lies at the heart of the matter -– conveying your message effectively, aligning with people's core values, and embodying those values to turn the story into reality.

This approach will contribute to creating a sustainable, progressive, and impactful public sector for the future. By attracting new, diverse and a younger pool of talent now, we can ensure the resilience of our public sector senior leadership workforce tomorrow.

Chantelle Wooldridge is a senior consultant – executive search at Tile Hill

This article is sponsored content for The MJ


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