"There is a perception that working in HR in the public sector is dull," says Andrew Foster, HR director of the NHS. "But nothing could be further from the truth."
Foster, who has seen NHS budgets double since New Labour came to power in 1997, says many aspects of Europe's biggest employer are going through massive change - from the IT infrastructure and legislation, to new drugs and services.
"Everything is being reformed," he says. "With this Government's emphasis on public services, HR in the public sector is no longer a quiet backwater."
This point is echoed by Jan Parkinson, strategic director of HR at Gateshead Council. "You really feel like you are making a difference when you are supporting vital services such as education, social services and health," she says.
This motivates many people who choose an HR career in a public sector organisation, according to Angela O'Connor, HR director at the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS). But, she warns, HR professionals entering the public sector will not find an overtly touchy-feely environment.
"HR people in the public sector have to be tough," she says. "We are in the public eye and, compared with the private sector, are scrutinised a lot."
And with money so tight, O'Connor says public sector HR practitioners need to be innovative.
"We haven't got unlimited budgets - we can't spend three weeks in the Brecon Beacons being creative," she says.
Personnel Today asked these HR leaders what they have achieved by being innovative in the public sector.
Positives from partnership
Jan Parkinson, strategic director of HR, Gateshead Council
"Recruitment is one area where we have been innovative because traditionally, we have struggled to attract younger people - vital for our workforce planning.
"We have partnered with local NHS trusts, which also see this as an important issue, to jointly finance an advertising campaign to promote working in the public sector in the area.
"Called 'Get on with Gateshead', the adverts show real young people working for the council in a variety of roles from refuse collectors to lawyers. The message is obviously getting through as 500 young people attended our last recruitment fair, 10 per cent of whom were from ethnic minorities.
"We have also used the partnership approach for our training and development. A scheme called the Gateshead Public Services Academy has