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What’s the outlook for public services in the months ahead?

By Matt Lewis, Director of Hays Public Services

In the midst of lockdown back in May, we asked public sector employers and their employees to share their sentiments about the world of work. In July, as government restrictions continued to ease, we surveyed over 3,500 public sector employers and professionals to discover how they perceive the outlook towards their organisation’s prospects, recruitment activity and the return to the workplace in the coming weeks and months.

So, how have sentiments changed in the space of this time and what’s in store for the future?

1. Confidence in organisational prospects sees a rise

Confidence from professionals in their organisations’ prospects has improved in recent months. 39% of public services professionals now deem their organisation to be in ‘business as usual’ phase, a slight increase from 35% in May. Another 13% perceive their organisation to be in ‘growth’ phase, which is an increase from 8% earlier in the year. Furthermore, over half (52%) of all professionals surveyed rate their organisation’s current prospects positively.

2. Hiring plans have seen an increase

Recruitment activity in public services has seen a considerable increase in the last few months, with well over half (58%) of public services employers hiring now in comparison to 46% in May. Hiring activity also remains more widespread in public services than in the private sector, with only 37% of private sector employers currently recruiting.

As hiring increases, competition for some of the most in-demand skills will become even greater. Employers should therefore think about the steps they need to take to secure the most sought-after professionals in the weeks and months ahead.

3. Skills needs have changed due to the Covid-19 pandemic

Three quarters of public sector employers say that the skills their organisation needs in order to meet its objectives have changed due to the Covid-19 pandemic, and over a third (36%) say they either have or plan to restructure as a result. Employers need a mix of the right specialist and soft skills within their teams – the top three specialist skillsets public services employers want most are managerial and leadership, operational and project and change management skillsets.

In terms of soft skills, nearly two thirds (65%) of public services employers need professionals with the ability to adopt change. As the events of this year have shown us, difficult and sometimes unexpected change is inevitable, and often this will happen at pace. All of us should take the time to reflect on how we have adapted in recent months to great upheaval and consider how to take the lessons we have learned forward. You may find our guides around managing and embracing change a useful starter to this reflection.

4. Employers and employees are at odds over a return to the workplace

We asked public services employers their expectations of their workforce’s working patterns in the coming months compared to employees’ preferred ways of working, and our results highlighted a mismatch in expectations. In the next three months, well over half (57%) of public services employers expect their teams to be working in a mix between the workplace and remotely, but only a third of public services professionals showed a preference for this.

This is a similar story when looking at ways of working in the next three to six months. Three quarters of public services employers expect their workforce to work in a mix between the workplace and remotely, compared to less than half (47%) of public services professionals who would prefer this way of working. 18% of professionals would prefer, in the next three to six months, to continue to work fully remotely, something that only 9% of employers anticipate will be happening.  

As can be seen, many organisations expect to take up ‘hybrid’ working practices in the months ahead, where some team members will be working from home and others in the workplace. It’s therefore important for employers and professionals to understand the challenges and opportunities that hybrid ways of working can bring – some of which are outlined in our guides for employers and employees

There can be no doubt that the world of work will likely never return to the way it was pre-pandemic. Although uncertainty remains, there are signs of public services organisations looking ahead and taking steps to establish new ways of working and thrive in the future. There is therefore the opportunity for employers and employees alike to reflect on their triumphs and mistakes over the last few months, and apply the lessons learnt to be in the best position to succeed in the new era of work.

If you have any questions or require support with promoting your public sector vacancies in the new era of work, please contact your local Hays consultant. You can also visit our employer and employee hubs for guides, blogs and advice to help you to succeed in the new era of work.

About this author

Matt Lewis, Director Hays Public Services, has worked in specialist recruitment since 1994, the last 10 years of which have been spent working specifically with the public sector. Matt’s role has developed into leading MSP and RPO recruitment solutions to best position organisations to attract and retain high quality talent.

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