How the public sector can overcome its recruitment challenges

civil service recruitment

The surge in demand for services post-pandemic is generating equally unprecedented demand for skills. Prior to Covid-19, there were 800,000 job vacancies in the UK. This figure has now rocketed to 1.3 million. Employers across the public and private sectors are fiercely waging the battle for talent in a digital world with ever-changing customer expectations.

Seventy-one per cent of UK public sector employers are currently recruiting, according to the latest Hays Salary Guide. However, the sector is struggling to source the skills it needs: almost three-quarters (73%) of public sector employers say they do not have access to the skills required to meet their organisation’s goals, and 24% are going through a ‘moderate or extreme’ skills shortage.

In an increasingly competitive job market where sought-after digital and niche skills are lured by corporate salaries, how can the public sector be a fit challenger and attract the people it needs to continue delivering quality services? 

The public sector’s USP

Undoubtedly, the public sector’s strength lies in its unique selling proposition of contribution to society’s good and progress. This was clearly demonstrated during the Covid-19 health emergency when the country faced its greatest national crisis since the Second World War thanks to the relentless work of the NHS and other workers across the public sector.

Being able to articulate and exploit the value proposition of public good is essential when organisations in the sector are competing for talent against their private counterparts, who are able to offer higher salaries.

However, presenting this USP needs to be a bespoke proposition through tailored messaging that speaks to each candidate and each role - there’s no one-size-fits-all job advert. This is particularly important for in-demand and niche digital and technology roles where private sector employers can make salary counteroffers.

Making a job advert appealing to a candidate will require explaining in detail how the role will add value to the work that the organisation does and the individual’s part in it. Specificity is key. What is the role of the candidate and how will their work contribute to society and the delivery of citizen services?

Research from our Salary Guide found that 43% of professionals working in the public sector expect to change jobs in the next six months but only 18% cited a lack of career development progression opportunities as the reason.

The public sector should leverage its unique skills development offering and its unrivalled training opportunities: this, too, should be prominently articulated and included in the job description. Acquiring talent is just the first step of the hiring journey - retaining it is the next challenge. 

Onerous, time-consuming and difficult to navigate job applications are pushing away candidates

Changes in processes

Another area with room for improvement in the public sector - and which is hampering its position in the battle for talent - is its outdated recruitment processes. Onerous, time-consuming and difficult to navigate job applications are pushing away candidates and narrowing what is already a limited talent pool.

If the public sector wants a diverse and inclusive workforce that’s representative of the population it serves, it should show that it is open to recruiting talent from every sector of the population. Making higher education degrees an essential requirement can be a major barrier for candidates of lower socioeconomic or other diverse backgrounds.

Having an agile and flexible recruitment process is essential to avoid applicant burnout. If a candidate has to wait over a month between sending their application and the shortlisting (which will then be followed by a multi-stage series of interviews and checks), there’s a high chance that the candidate will be long gone to another employer.

There are currently 1.3 million jobs to choose from in the UK market. In the middle of the cost-of-living crisis, there is no doubt that candidates with niche skills will lean towards jobs with higher remuneration. If the public sector wants to be a worthy competitor in the job market and leverage its unique proposition as a positive contributor to society, it must get up to speed with its recruitment processes and avoid losing candidates during the recruitment pipeline.New call-to-action

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