Positive image matters in war for talent

Recent research shows that the public sector is seen as overly bureaucratic
by potential recruits from the private sector, with outmoded recruitment
processes largely to blame. HR professionals are responding by making
recruitment slicker, sharper and more responsive to candidates

Poor image is still one of the besetting problems of the public sector.
Recruitment company TMP Worldwide surveyed 1,000 public and private sector
employees and found less than half of the private survey would take a public
sector post.  Positive action is needed.

Pressure from consumers, the Government and from local politicians is
encouraging councils to become more responsive to their customers and more
serious about improving performance and delivery. It is accepted that councils
are run far better than they used to be and can offer challenging, varied careers
across the professional spectrum. Even salaries are improving at many levels.

But local government is failing to get this message across to exactly the
kind of people it needs to attract to drive change. While there are many
talented people already working successfully in the public sector, there are
still more in the private sector with the kind of customer-friendly,
entrepreneurial and IT literate skills that will help transform the business of
local government.

Yet these people are just not interested. Even when they are, councils are
putting them off with poor advertising or long-winded application processes.

Our survey, the Image Mirror, commissioned by the Society of Personnel
Officers in Local Government (Socpo) was carried out in response to worries
that councils were losing out in the so-called war for talent.

We found only 46 per cent of private sector workers would consider a career
in local government, even though the majority rate the sector highly for its
employment practices and benefits. The training packages and pension
entitlements are thought to be better, but the perceived red tape and politics
are a turn off to the average private sector job hunter.

Even those with an interest in working for a local council view it as the
kind of secure, if low paid job they would consider once they were over 40 with
a mortgage and family to think about. Local government is seen as an old man’s
profession and the typical council officer as wearing an old suit, white socks
and carrying loads of files with bits falling out.

In a focus group one private sector manager said: "I have been in a
recruiting position and local authority people have applied for a job. I know
this sounds terrible, but you think ‘Well, you’ve been in a sleepy environment
and you have all the skills in the world, but are you going to be able to hack
it in the real world?’ "

Equally telling is the condemnation by private sector employees of the way
public organisations dealt with them once they could be persuaded to apply for
a job. Long application forms that candidates could not be bothered to
complete; bureaucratic recruitment processes that took months to reach a
conclusion;boring and wordy job advertisements; a lack of information and
communication – all delivered using manual systems unchanged since the 1970s.

Socpo’s president Francesca Okosi, director of HR at Brent Council,
describes the findings as a wake up call to the local government HR profession
and has urged councils to make their recruitment policies slicker, sharper and
more responsive to candidates.

The medium is the message. Until local government modernises its processes,
its image as an employer will remain old fashioned and unattractive. Many
public bodies are re-engineering the way they give customers and clients access
to their services, but failing to apply these lessons and the technology to
targeting and communicating with prospective employees.

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