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Attracting and retaining public services staff

By Matt Lewis, Director of Hays Public Services

Public services employers are desperately seeking new members of staff to join their teams, but as the high demand for new recruits is being felt sector-wide, the competition is getting tougher. It’s never been trickier to successfully recruit, hire and onboard new professionals, yet – of course – hiring plans need to forge ahead. So how can you combat the trend and snap up the best employees for yourself? Read on to find out.

Challenges public services employers are facing

According to research carried out for the Salary and Recruiting Trends Guide for 2022, almost three quarters (73%) of public services employers say they don’t currently have access to the right skills to meet their workplace’s goals. And, over the past 12 months, many organisations across the sector have found it increasingly harder to find new employees with the appropriate skillsets for the vacancies they have.

The most in-demand specialist skills that employers are looking for include those in managerial and leadership, operations, and projects and change management. That said the most in-demand soft skills include those in interpersonal communications, ability to adopt change, and flexibility and adaptability. Employers say some of the main barriers to finding staff with these skills include a shortage of suitable applicants (55%), competition from other organisations (48%), and fewer people entering the job market (33%).

There are many reasons for the disparity between the talents that public services organisations require and the availability of them on the candidate market. Firstly, with many employers hiring, some of the “top talent” is being snapped up due to competitive offers from elsewhere – with around 15% of organisations having increased their salaries over the past year. Secondly, professionals are focusing on career development, so talented employees are changing jobs and organisations for roles that offer them more opportunity. In fact, our research shows that 43% of public services employees expect to start a new position over the next six months.

In addition to the above, candidates are placing more emphasis on the importance of work-life balance, with 57% of professionals saying they would prefer an employer to offer a flexible approach to hybrid working (having the autonomy to choose when they come into the workplace), however only 29% of employers offer this.

Finally, the recent closure of the Civil Service Fast Stream (a scheme to help graduates enter the government’s workforce) for 2023 is set to have a huge knock-on impact on this already challenging period for the market, reducing the number of younger, newly qualified people entering the industry.

How to combat recruitment challenges

Upskilling the current workforce so staff can take on more responsibility and new challenges is a great way to close the “skills gap”. It not only stops employers having to search for brand-new talent every time a vacancy arises, but it helps with employee satisfaction, too. As mentioned above, career progression is incredibly important to professionals, and knowing they’re valued enough to be trained up and considered for other roles goes a long way when it comes to Employee Value Proposition (EVP). Here at Hays, we have an e-learning portal for individuals called My Learning, and then there’s our Hays Thrive scheme that provides employers with learning materials for their organisations.

A tactic to help combat the dwindling candidate talent pool is to consider widening your search to include those from industries you may not have traditionally considered (to capitalise on the transferable skills that they can bring), to look at more junior professionals (so they can be trained up over time) and professionals outside your target location. The latter may require a different approach to working patterns – so consider if fully remote, or a more flexible hybrid policy, could be suited to certain individuals or teams. In general, though, it may be worth considering your flexible-working policies, as many professionals (46%) are planning to change jobs in favour or a role with a better mix of hybrid working.

Finally, remember that in order to attract and retain staff in this market, it’s more important than ever to ensure that your organisation’s values and purpose are clearly communicated to all. This not only increases the sense of belonging an individual can have towards a business, but it can have a positive impact on mental health and wellbeing, as they feel a sense of purpose in their efforts.

If you’d like to talk about how Hays can assist you with your recruitment plans, and would like to discover more insights and recommendations, simply get in touch today.

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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