How 3C Shared Services is tackling the public sector talent shortage

Across the public sector, finding, attracting and retaining talent to fill technically skilled roles is an ongoing challenge. In local government, soaring demand for surveyors is creating an exodus of experienced professionals who are being lured away by corporate salaries, leaving public sector departments battling for skills.

To tackle this loss, the Building Control team at 3C Shared Services has implemented a recruitment and retention strategy that is helping the organisation meet and exceed its staffing expectations. Heather Jones, Head of the Building Control Consultancy at 3C Shared Services, shared the key insights with Government Transformation.

Looking for talent in a competitive field

3C Shared Services is a services partnership between Cambridge City Council, Huntingdonshire District Council and South Cambridgeshire District Council. Collaborative service delivery is a common arrangement in local government believed to increase efficiency and save the taxpayer over £1.34 billion.

Heather Jones

“The whole ethos of the shared service was to ensure that by working together, councils are able to share expertise, remain robust, and provide a quality service,” says Jones, who joined 3C Shared Services in 2017. She heads the Building Control Consultancy responsible for ensuring that new constructions meet building regulations and health and safety legislation.

Due to the high demand of surveying roles, building control service teams like Jones’s have been battling to maintain staffing levels with the required specialist skills and knowledge to deliver an end-user focused service. “Experienced surveyors have either retired or left to join private organisations and it is a real struggle,” she says.

Acknowledging this lack of experienced surveyors nationally and sheer competition from the private sector, Jones’ team decided to implement a series of measures. The first of them has been the introduction of a ‘Golden Hello’ package: an incentive lump sum paid to a new employee to join an organisation. 

“It’s a one-off payment that allows you to stay within the service for a minimum period of time,” Jones explains. “That gives you stability because when you’re trying to horizon scan and have a forward plan, you’re able to work within known capacity and resources.”

In the past, the Building Control team adopted a market forces supplement - a temporary monthly payment in addition to a post’s annual salary - to bring it up to the market rate. However, they soon realised that this financial incentive worked only for a short period of time. Introducing career progression through an in-house training strategy, together with the ‘Golden Hello’ package, mentoring and coaching, and promoting a flexible and hybrid working environment, quickly offered much better and sustainable outcomes. 

Having an effective succession plan in place is particularly important in surveying, where most experienced professionals are close to retiring age. According to the latest data available from the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS), over half of its membership are aged 50 and over, whereas only 22% are aged 39 or under. Assuming that the retirement age is at 65, half of the members would have had 15 years or less of working activity remaining. 

Jones’ team runs a trainee scheme with formal training provided through the government apprenticeship scheme or the Local Authority Building Control (LABC), a member organisation. Trainees also have group mentoring available from skilled professionals within 3C Shared Services that covers the requirements of their roles, including plan checking and site inspections. Each trainee is also allocated a personal mentor for day-to-day support. Over the last four years, they have employed between two to three per year in a team of around 35 people. 

“This strategy clearly works really well for us,” Jones says.

The importance of role models

A by-product of this recruitment strategy has been an increase in female surveyors within the team. In the UK, less than 14% of surveyors are women. In contrast, Jones’s team of surveyors is 45% female and the number of job applications from women has increased significantly.

“Of the last four people we’ve recruited, three have been females,” says Jones, who is a member of the Construction Industry Council (CIC) Diversity and Inclusion panel. She acknowledges, however, that there is still a need for progress in increasing ethnic and disability representation: “I would like to see an even more diverse team and having role models within the team really does help to encourage this. We are trying to work towards that.”

3C Shared Services has also partnered with an education charity, Speakers for Schools, to provide virtual work experience to students in underprivileged areas: “that really helps to expand our reach across the nation,” says Jones. Her team also provides virtual awareness sessions of the surveying profession and specific areas of interest, such as climate change, which add social value and help to support the ethos within the councils they serve. Anyone can sign up to these sessions free of charge.

Jones stresses that this recruitment strategy is “clearly” working very well for them and that it can be replicated and adapted to other services areas within the public sector. Indeed, other local authorities have adopted similar approaches already: “We believe if we get that right, then great performance follows”.

“We're very proud as a team of our success in encouraging new entrants into what we think is a fantastic career choice. And we believe working in local government is rewarding and worthwhile,” concludes Jones.

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