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Solving the public sector skills shortage

By Matt Lewis, Director of Hays Public Services

According to the ONS, the number of live vacancies in October to December 2021 rose to a record 1.25 million, demonstrating the acute demand for skills that’s currently dominating the labour market. Indeed, according to the newly released Hays Salary & Recruiting Trends 2022, recruitment intentions are at their highest level in 8 years. It’s just one of many indicators of the unexpectedly strong economic recovery we are seeing in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic. Along with the loss of a significant number of skilled and semi-skilled professionals as a result of Brexit, it is this that is creating such acute hiring challenges for employers, particularly those in the construction and trades, health and social care, life sciences and technology industries. 

An emerging, renewed confidence in hiring is a result of the general acceptance that Covid is likely to become something we simply live with. It’s a clear reversal of the consolidation and downsizing that many adopted during the early days of the pandemic. With this increased demand, though, comes another challenge – the kinds of skills employers need are also changing. There is something of a disconnect between the skills that many of the people who are actually available for work and many people leaving education have, and those that employers require.

The result is a hiring market that’s proving extremely difficult for employers to navigate, particularly those in the public sector who have traditionally found it more difficult to provide a competitive monetary offering to employees. So, what can these employers do to ensure they have access to the professionals they need to deliver the services we all rely on?

Monetise the package you offer

Though public sector employers may not always possess the agility to compete with private sector salaries, due to restricted budgets and constraints with salary bands, in many cases they offer attractive benefits that private sector employers don’t. Generous pension plans and benefits packages that provide employees with support with their family lives, mental wellbeing and money management - such as childcare provision and flexible working opportunities - are invaluable to many prospective candidates. Creatively showcasing these in all candidate communications, as well as briefing recruiting partners on how to articulate their monetary value could make a real difference when it comes to attracting applications.

Articulate your purpose

Having a job with purpose and meaning is becoming increasingly important to professionals, and the meaning and value of the work your organisation does should be at the heart of your employee value proposition (EVP). It should be abundantly clear how their individual contribution will help to deliver a vital service, or improve an experience for the end user.

For public sector professionals who are directly involved in helping people, such as nurses or health and social care workers, seeing the impact they make on the lives of others is part of their everyday, but the contribution those with different skillsets make to their organisation’s overall purpose can be harder to convey. For example, tech professionals required to complete an overhaul of a legacy tech system for a local council might be much more drawn to the role if they were given insight into how the successful completion of the work will help deliver essential services to the people who need them most.

Hire for potential

Reviewing what is genuinely essential criteria for public sector roles is vital, not only to gain access to skills, but to ensure that organisations become more reflective of the society they serve. To access the most diverse pool of candidates possible, public sector employers must evaluate and challenge what is absolutely ‘critical to success’ in the roles they are hiring for, and look to recruit for potential.

Regularly re-evaluating the skills and experience needed from the right hire and demonstrating flexibility with this is crucial – if a list of compulsory technical skills is too restricted, organisations may find themselves with a more homogenous workforce and risk limits to perspective and approaches to problem-solving. Widening the net in terms of candidates could take many forms, from investing in early careers, to offering opportunities to professionals who may have been displaced by the Covid pandemic, or those who are looking for a lifestyle change.

Leverage on a recruitment partner

Writing a job specification that’s appealing to candidates, building and nurturing relationships with them, and providing tailored guidance and support, are all key to attracting high-calibre professionals to your organisation. Internal talent attraction teams can struggle with both volume and specialist skill set engagement, and leveraging on a recruitment partner with the size, reach and resource to do this on your behalf can be crucial to engaging the skills you need.

High-calibre recruiters do not wait for candidates to approach, but use a data-driven model to actively seek and engage them, providing support and matching them to the right opportunities. With soaring numbers of job vacancies and acute shortages of skills set to continue for the foreseeable future, selectively using a specialist recruitment agency to find and engage professionals could be the key to acquiring the skills and experience you need to continue to deliver the vital services that make such a difference to people’s lives.

If you have any questions or require support with promoting your public sector vacancies, please contact your local Hays consultant.

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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