Total Talent | Hiring and retaining talent in the public sector

Karen Burns

The challenge of hiring and retaining the best talent is an executive level priority, especially when it comes to sourcing in-demand skills. But, how can we ensure public sector organisations become an employer-of-choice? 

Through employee experience. Experience that offers workers opportunities and learning experiences to help them develop, progress and take control of their careers. 

Challenging times

The pressure is on for public sector leaders to meet stakeholder expectations and drive more cost-effective uses of public resources. Talent plays a major role in this and the sector is struggling. Indeed, the public sector employed some 5.42 million people (on average) in March 2017, a decrease of 20,000 compared to the year before. In contrast, private sector employment continues to rise, accounting for 26.53 million employees in March 2017.

The public sector has long been seen as a stable employer with generous benefits for long-term workers. But funding and pay-increase limitations mean the sector is no longer seen as an employer-of-choice. Compensation is one area where the public sector faces a perception problem, along with what’s viewed as ‘challenging work’, effective leadership, flexibility and career advancement. 

Embracing Total Talent

So how can the public sector attract and retain the best talent? The answer lies in embracing all forms of talent – past, present and future, internal and external. This is a concept known as Total Talent and it will help public sector organisations become more agile, collaborative and cost-effective.

By taking a Total Talent approach, public sector organisations can stand out by offering better career development pathways and matching the right skills to opportunities and learning. Attracting workers who want a career that’s tailored to them, with work that suits their skills, aspirations and interests. Retaining them by offering growth and learning opportunities that don’t match-up elsewhere. 

Because people, ultimately, are the foundation of the public sector. The UK Government currently spends 22% of total public spending on its workforce, employing around 5.3 million people. That’s a significant proportion of public funds and, rightfully, citizens will want to know that these funds are employing the best people possible, that those workers are productive, and that many are retained – reducing both the costs of recruitment and onboarding. 

Achieving your outcomes with limited resources

Vacancy rates across Government are growing, from 1.8 to 2.8% across all public sector functions particularly in adult social care, public admin and defence. With a general tightening of belts remaining across all public sector areas, as well as greater scrutiny over the use of funds, public sector leaders must prove that all pounds spent on talent are driving results. 

There’s little room to waste resources on recruiting when attrition is high, on agencies where Total Talent pools can prove more effective and on on-boarding when suitable candidates already exist internally. The sector needs a new approach to its talent. Both in attracting the best people, retaining them, and upskilling them to meet future needs.

The benefits of Total Talent

Total Talent offers several benefits for the public sector. 

Workers won’t be limited by business area siloes, nor as someone hired to complete a specific set of work within their job role. But as people who can be quickly mobilised as-and-where needed and upskilled to meet future demands. Vastly increasing deployment rates and cross-departmental collaboration. It will make your workforce more agile and better able to respond to the public’s needs.

People will be placed onto projects based on their experience, skills and career goals. Everything will hinge on their skills, meaning work will become more fulfilling. Every worker’s output will, therefore, increase. 

Building a Total Talent pool

It also lays the groundwork needed for a Total Talent pool. Hiring managers can use this to access pre-vetted, pre-qualified candidates who could already work for the organisation, be contractors or freelancers, alumni or recruits. Funds that would’ve previously been spent on recruitment can be reallocated as managers turn to this talent pool first. People within the talent pool can be readily available to be placed on projects, with little-to-no onboarding required as they already exist within the organisation’s private talent network. 

Driving purpose

People now view work differently and want to work on something that fulfils them, provides purpose and grows their careers. They want flexible options and recognition for their work. 

21.5% of employees who don’t feel recognised when they’ve done great work have interviewed for a job in the last three months. Workers who have a good work-life balance are 10% more likely to stay with their employer. Employees who feel that they’re progressing in their career are 20% more likely to remain at their company for at least the next year. 

Career development and upskilling

A Total Talent approach offers more career development opportunities than just vertical progression. Workers could complete stretch assignments in other departments or public sector areas, they could be placed horizontally in another business area, and they can be offered learning and career development programmes based on their interests and goals. 

This is critical, as upskilling workers will be the only way for the public sector to remain up-to-date with changing times. Your organisation will need new skills and expertise to meet evolving public demands and take advantage of new technology like automation.

Hiring, redeploying, retaining

Eventually, you’ll want to aim for a virtuous talent cycle where workers are hired, then redeployed and mobilised into other areas as needs change, constantly challenged to grow their skills, offered relevant learning opportunities to progress, and therefore retained. 

Discover more about the workforce challenges facing the public sector and how Total Talent can help in our new whitepaper here.


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