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Finding opportunity in the search for talent

Written by: Anj Popat is Associate Director at Tile Hill
Published on: 22 Sep 2022

Your people are an essential ingredient to your success as an organisation. This is true across all sectors. But local government is currently experiencing a high turnover. Why? In so many ways the public sector took the brunt of Covid-19 – for two years professionals across the sector were leading frontline service delivery through the pandemic, selflessly serving society at the risk of their health both physically and mentally, with many suffering severe burnout.

What does this mean for the public sector now? As we have all been reading, there is a significant shortage of talent across the sector, a result of many factors including the great resignation. Now more than ever, people are highly discerning about what they want from work and how this impacts their work/life balance. Additionally, people demand workplaces with an inclusive environment and are wanting to work for organisations that align with their values. Above all, people want their work to have meaning, which means working for an employer that creates a sense of purpose. For local authorities and the wider public sector this represents a massive opportunity.

The role of HR is pivotal within this, not simply in an operational sense, but also strategically, in appointing and engaging leaders who understand organisational design and development, who know how to build inclusive cultures centred around employee wellbeing and diversity and inclusion, and who can do this through an empathetic and commercial lens. Strategic HR leaders play a big part in the attraction and retention of the workforce.

For most local authority chief executives and directors reading this the need for HR leaders is not breaking news. Demand for financially astute OD experts is skyrocketing. There is a real appetite for HR leaders who can think outside the box, who can act as business partners to the CEO, and who can work in an advisory capacity with other senior leaders.

Unfortunately, the number of HR professionals with the capability to embed and communicate this throughout the organisation, both internally and externally, with a public sector background, are reducing in number. There is a talent shortage of strategic HR leaders in the public sector, specifically in the interim market where we have seen many potential interims either leave the sector entirely or choosing to work in more of an advisory capacity

How do we combat this? Through leadership development. Encouraging and facilitating existing talent to move up through development programmes, leadership mentoring, and even functional secondments, creates a talent pool internally. It also demonstrates a clear career path for junior employees and signals a future for young professionals within the organisation, which helps retain and attract the best talent. 

Selling the story of local government is invaluable when attracting HR leaders by highlighting a genuine value proposition. And fortunately for the sector this doesn’t need to be an uphill battle. Local authorities are in a unique position when it comes to this. In all walks of the public sector, work has purpose and meaning. While you may not be able to compete from a remuneration perspective with the private sector, a local authority’s impact on the local area, and goals for bettering the lives of local people, must shine in everything from the job description, through every touch point in a recruitment process.

Where talent shortages are particularly acute, consider interim capability. A top flight interim HR director or OD leader will create a long-term, sustainable strategy for attracting and retaining employees. They bring heavy-weight skillsets with broad experience of other organisations including from outside of the sector, and most notably, will not only create the plan, but implement it as well, going beyond simply ‘consulting’. Crucially for local authorities, the best interims aim to transfer their skills, which means teams benefit from upskilling and are able to carry out strategic plans well after an interim assignment has ended. 

Finally, working with recruitment partners is the most effective way of broadening your reach. More so than ever, talent is hard to find. With a turbulent economic period ahead, people will naturally be cautious about big moves. This is compounded for employers with a ‘candidate-led’ market where individuals have choice of where they take their career, it means working even harder to stand out and attract the best people to your organisation. However, the talent is out there, and will consider new opportunities if the pitch is right. Working with a proven recruiter means gaining access to an established network and working with people who understand the individuals in it.

Local government faces a challenging HR talent landscape. But if approached correctly it can create workplaces that attract and retain a truly diverse and sustainable workforce.

Anj Popat is Associate Director at Tile Hill