Skills in demand in the public sector
Respondents to the Totaljobs survey, Recruiting for Today’s Public Sector, identified the public sector skills gap as having four main areas: leadership; IT; commercial and project; and programme management. These correspond broadly with the priority areas identified by Cabinet Office’s Capabilities Plan, which was released last year, and also reflect skills that are often associated with the private sector.
So what are the specific skills and where are they most needed? The Totaljobs report highlights the following areas.
Improved leadership skills are needed in a range of areas. Skilled line-managers are needed to help staff to perform at their best, to manage change and find the right resourcing solutions. Strategic planning and joined-up thinking are also important to help government to develop and there is a need to communicate a clear vision for the future.
Improved procurement skills are need both for commissioning and for negotiating contracts. Business acumen and entrepreneurial skills would also be valuable to the public sector.
Technical skill are needed to support the delivery of public services and push forward the ‘digital by default’ agenda and the means to provide in-house digital solutions and create efficiencies.
This covers project and programme management skills and also increasing the number of operational delivery specialists to support the implementation of policy.
Health, policy, engineering, science, law and compliance are among the key areas of specialism that respondents identified as lacking in order to deliver public services effectively.
Tax, audit, budget management and accounting are the areas of financial expertise most frequently cited by respondents to the report. There were also specific mentions of the need for improved finance skills at senior levels.
Citizen facing skills
Respondents to the report highlighted a need for high-quality, professional customer service skills and improved interpersonal skills for those working on the frontline to improve the general experience of interacting with government for citizens.
Many of the report’s respondents were calling for better skills in knowledge and information management as well as data analysis. This provides leaders with the management information that they need and supports evidence-based policy making decisions.
Improved internal, inter-departmental, team, and citizen facing communication skills are needed to support the efficient running of government and the effective delivery of services.
Robert Bowyer, Director Venn Group, which specialises in interim and temporary recruitment especially within the public sector, backs up a lot of the ascertains in the report: “At a local level, we’re seeing a dearth of mid-level procurement professionals. This is where the main skills gap is seen and it’s particularly topical at the moment as the public sector looks to cut costs. The new focus on improving efficiency and driving down losses has put a real stress on procurement talent, especially at a mid-level where we’re seeing exceptional demand.”
He continues: “Some of the biggest skill gaps in central government are within technology. As advances are made it becomes increasingly important, and in some cases difficult, for public sector organisations to keep up with the market. Some local government organisations are struggling to recruit the calibre of technology staff they require for advancement. It’s not that the talent isn’t out there, but simply that public sector businesses are being priced out of the market by their private sector rivals.”
Yet the Totaljobs report also highlights flaws within the HR function itself, pointing to the fact that HR in the public sector isn’t fully equipped to ensure that the reforms are supported, and that workforce planning matches business needs. The biggest issue here being that most public sector HR professionals are not talent or recruitment specialists. A third of respondents to the survey thought that external recruitment should play a bigger role.
Given the skills gaps and the need to fill 1.5 million public sector vacancies by 2016/17, it would seem that getting the best recruitment methods in place to attract the best talent with the right skills is one of the most pressing issue on the agenda or the public sector.