The UK’s public sector is facing a number of challenges, but with the right approach to recruitment, it can keep pace with the private sector.
As the UK draws closer to Brexit, the British public sector finds itself in increasingly uncertain times. According to the latest report from the Office for National Statistics, the public sector employed 5.424 million people in March 2017, a decrease of 20,000 from March 2016. In contrast, private sector employment continues to skyrocket, accounting for a record 26.53 million Britons employees in March 2017.
The findings reflect the steady decline of public sector employment over the past seven years. Since September 2009, the public sector has lost over a million jobs, and it now accounts for only 17% of the total British workforce, its smallest share of it since 1999.
The Many Challenges Facing the Public Sector
A number of factors underlie these opposing trajectories. With the senior citizen population predicted to increase by 50% by 2030, the British workforce is rapidly ageing. As a greater number of British workers becomes eligible for retirement, Westminster is struggling to cover their increasingly costly pensions, but as birth rates continue to decline, the workforce continues to shrink, greatly reducing tax revenues. With so much money committed to pensions, the government can only invest so much in the next generation of public sector workers.
While immigration has long countered the ageing of the workforce, Brexit may well weaken this built-in counterbalance. Indeed, the ONS notes that the number of European Union workers in Britain fell by 50,000 in the final quarter of 2016 alone, the largest drop in five years. The impending changes to the UK’s immigration policies will have a pronounced effect on the public sector, as 43% of education employers and 49% of healthcare employers claim that some of their EU-born workers are considering leaving the country this year.
With an ageing population and concerns surrounding Brexit reducing the size of the workforce, competition for top talent has become increasingly fierce, and the public sector might struggle to compete in this environment.
Though the average public sector employee still makes more than their private sector counterpart, this gap has been rapidly closing since the financial crisis. Under the Conservatives’ austerity measures, nearly all public sector workers saw their wages frozen during fiscal years 2011-2012 and 2012-2013 and capped at 1% growth through fiscal year 2019-2020. If Westminster continues to enforce these restrictions, public sector workers like nurses, firefighters and border guards could experience drops in their real pay of at least £2,500 per year. Needless to say, this will make private sector employment an increasingly attractive option.
How the Public Sector Can Recruit Effectively on a Budget
The public sector is first and foremost impeded by a lack of resources. Public sector organisations have limited funds for recruiting talent, making it difficult to compete with the private sector as the workforce decreases and wages increase. There are, however, a number of cost-effective measures that public sector employers can take in order to identify, attract and hire top-notch talent, even in these uncertain times.
Although the Internet has made it considerably easier to reach more qualified talent, a large pool of initial candidates may not include the perfect hire. Hiring campaigns fail because of a lack of good candidates, and public sector employers will only attract strong candidates if they know how to market themselves.
In today’s environment, this requires more than job descriptions and CV/cover letter collection; it requires current media strategies such as employer branding videos. An effective branding video uses music and graphic design to convey significant information to potential recruits such as organisational culture and business principles.
Public sector employers should also consider utilising video assessment technology, which encourages authenticity throughout the application process. By allowing employers to paint a clearer picture of the roles available — both in terms of expectations and required skill-sets — video assessment helps define an organisation as an employer as well as a provider of public services. The better candidates understand how a public sector employer functions, the more likely it is that unfit candidates will remove themselves from the hiring process.
Public sector organisations that are able to adjust their recruitment efforts to the realities of the modern labour landscape — not only by improving the candidate experience as outlined above but also by offering mobile-optimised processes, gamifying skill assessments and minimising onerous form-filling and box-ticking — will be well-positioned to compete for top talent, regardless of what the private sector does.
As Britain faces a number of socioeconomic changes, it’s more important than ever for public sector employers to secure top talent. Doing so will certainly be a challenge, but with the right approach to recruitment and hiring, public sector organisations have as good a chance as any to build and sustain a strong workforce.