How can the public sector attract and retain digital talent?

How can the public sector attract and then retain people with the right skills in order to ensure digital transformation goals are met? Nikki Kinsey, Associate Director at recruitment specialist Sellick Partnership shares how

It is no surprise that the current digital skills shortage is having an impact on nearly every sector in the UK and the public sector is no exception. The current lack of highly skilled digital talent means that competition is fierce, and organisations of all shapes and sizes are having to think of innovative ways of attracting and retaining digitally minded candidates. As a result, many public sector organisations are struggling to attract the digital talent and skills they need to deliver their ambitious plans for digital transformation.

The public sector digital strategy has five overall goals that were outlined in a government paper earlier this year. These include a plan to begin making better use of data – not just for transparency, but for transformation across government that will allow us to build joined-up services, and the use of shared platforms to speed up transformation. It is great to see the public sector focusing their efforts on this, but I fear that if they do not look at their recruitment and retention strategies they may not be able to attract the right digital talent to fulfil the projects that are being planned.


The challenge facing public sector organisations

One of the biggest challenges faced by public sector organisations is a lack of funding. The public sector continually faces pressure over budgets and a constant threat to funding cuts. This unfortunately often means public sector organisations are unable to offer the salary levels and remuneration that private organisations can – resulting in them missing out on the best talent.

It is challenging enough to recruit highly skilled digitally minded candidates into the private sector as demand pushes salaries up, and as the market becomes increasingly candidate led this trend is only set to worsen. Private sector businesses are generally able to offer higher than average salaries, and more valuable financial and non-financial benefits in order to attract and retain digital candidates.

For the public sector, this means that attracting candidates to work in their teams is extremely challenging. Sought after candidates will often get a number of job offers they would be willing to accept, meaning they are much less likely to consider roles that tend to have lower rates of pay.


Attracting and retaining digital talent to the public sector

However, despite generally offering lower rates of pay, the public sector does have a lot to offer the digitally talented. Many digitally minded candidates are motivated by more than just salaries and pay rises, which gives public sector organisations an advantage finding these candidates.

Many of the candidates working within this sector want to feel like they have positively contributed to the organisation’s success and are looking for a role that offers satisfaction beyond the everyday nine-to-five workday. In order to attract and retain these candidates, public sector organisations need to promote this and place greater emphasis on finding candidates that are the right cultural fit and that share the same vision and values of the organisation in question.

Although salary is still seen as a major deciding factor, it is becoming increasingly evident that digitally focused job seekers will compromise on this in search of other benefits. Job satisfaction, a healthy work-life balance and a clear route for progression are just some of the key deciding factors that digitally minded candidates are looking for, and these are three areas that I believe the public sector can excel in. But they will only do this if these are prominent when the roles are advertised. Public sector organisations therefore need to promote the benefits they offer and ensure that candidates are fully aware of these benefits. These include pension contributions, holiday allowances, flexible working, parental care and structured training programmes all of which typically exceed those offered by the private sector, making comparison on salary alone meaningless.

Cultural fit is also huge deciding factor, and public sector organisations need to be looking for candidates that will share the same values and principles. Generally, people working within public sector organisations do so because they want to help others and feel a sense of pride in their work, and in order to attract candidates like this public sector organisations need to communicate this at all levels.

An organisation’s Employee Value Proposition (or EVP) is one of the most effective ways of explaining this. An EVP includes factors such as benefits, rewards and schemes to improve work-life balance, as well as opportunities for career development. It also highlights what the business wants to be known for as an employer and what employees can expect in return for their contributions. Communicating this throughout the hiring process is critical in ensuring the successful candidate is aligned with the business.

Despite the level of benefits offered, the lack of digital talent in the public sector is a genuine concern. Given the scale of the digital transformation project planned by the sector, I would strongly urge public sector organisations to consider their recruitment strategies to ensure they are seen as an attractive option to top digital talent.

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