The public sector is reaching an important point in its history. In my last blog I said that, so far, public services have coped well with the strain placed on their budgets by austerity. However, we’re only halfway through the UK Government’s deficit reduction programme. That means the hardest decisions are yet to be made.
As part of our annual research into the public sector’s finances, our State of the State report found many leaders are rightfully proud of what they have achieved so far – in terms of balancing the books and maintaining performance. At the same time, they are worried about what further cuts will mean for their services.
Public sector workers will undoubtedly play a key role in this period of transformation. Attracting new talent and retaining current staff is therefore an important challenge for organisations.
That’s recognised by leaders in the sector. The executives we interviewed told us that staffing issues are occupying more of their time as they struggle to attract, recruit, and retain people for crucial positions.
To combat this issue, the public sector could increase its appeal to workers by harnessing the power of its brand and diversity as an employer. Here are four ways Scotland’s public sector can attract the best new talent and manage one of its most formidable resources, the 500,000 staff it already has:
Saving lives – The public sector remains an attractive career prospect for many people, particularly in Scotland. After all, it encompasses a number of services which not only protect the public and improve people’s wellbeing, but in many cases literally save lives. That fact alone can separate it from the vast majority of potential employers. It’s an intangible quality, but one of incredible potency. Many people are attracted to working for public services by the opportunity to make a real difference.
A diverse sector – Diversity of opportunity is another of the public sector’s biggest strengths. Collaboration between different government bodies, combined with increased flexibility in moving between organisations, could help attract professionals looking for a broader playing field in their careers.
Adopting alternatives – There are things which could be done a bit differently. One option is to give public sector organisations a bit more entrepreneurial freedom through the adoption of alternative delivery models. In particular, they have the opportunity to trade services between themselves more frequently. In some cases, local public sector organisations have already combined support functions showing that the sharing of expertise can work.
Using the right people – Another option is to look at the suitability of different types of workers for certain projects. In some cases we have seen in the past, expensive temporary staff were used where permanent employees would have been a more sustainable long term solution. Conversely, in cases of defined short to medium-term specialist need, well-managed consultants or individual contractors can be the best fit.
There are many challenges in the years ahead for the public sector. By taking some of these steps, the public sector can do its best to attract and retain the people and skills it needs. At a time of stretched resources, they have seldom been more important in helping public services overcome the challenges they face.