Attracting talent and nurturing change in the modern workforce

8th May 2024

In the most recent of our roundtable series with local government leaders, we discussed the pressing issue of talent

Finding and keeping the right people, as well as understanding how job architecture needs to change to support the ever-evolving sector. Delegates shared their views and experience on the challenges involved and how to solve them.

Not the first choice for many

At a time when talent can be hard to come by, local government is not always seen as a #1 career choice, especially among younger generations. Leaders identified a number of reasons for this. First, whether or not councils have best-practice talent management in place, the sector has an image problem. It can be perceived as slow-moving and more about age and service rather than opportunity. Recruits can be put off by what they perceive as linear, gated career paths – or no career path at all. Then there’s the perennial issue of pay, where councils are unable to compete with the private sector for in-demand roles relating to data and technology.

Clear opportunities

Nonetheless, there is a huge talent pool in the sector, which currently employs around 1.6 million people in the UK. It is not just making sure that the sector attracts and retains new talent but that it also must secure the right kind of skills for the future. With a great deal of change on the horizon, and with technology taking care of more and more tasks, the types of skills that will be most valuable to local authorities is evolving at pace. With that in mind, several clear themes emerged from our roundtables at the forum:

Emphasise purpose

Many people, especially millennials and Gen Z, want a career they feel is meaningful. Many local government roles can offer what “purpose-driven” recruits and employees are looking for. Their challenge is to promote it and clearly relate it to the jobs they offer, so people can see how their work would make a difference. Simply rewording job advertisements can make a difference. One delegate noted that when recruitment ads for apprentices were switched from the “traditional” local government style to a more purpose-driven content (for example, about making the local area better), they attracted vastly more applicants.

Expand the language of skills and jobs

Local government roles increasingly need attributes such as empathy, creativity, resilience and agility. Yet the sector still advertises for process-based skills. There’s therefore an opportunity to identify required skills more clearly, and better align them with the requirements of a job. This has a knock-on effect into retention: if someone fits a role well, they are more likely to stay. Words can make a difference here, too. “Place shaper” or “Election leader” sound more attractive than “planner” or “returning officer.”

Offer more

 Not money, but opportunity and flexibility. If potential hires could see, for example, that joining as a leisure officer could lead to a multifaceted career rather than a narrow job track, the role becomes more attractive. And when local authorities potentially have four generations in the workplace, that offer needs to flex, too – for example, to accommodate 20-somethings hankering after gig-style work, as well as those looking for more predictable careers.

Partner up

Partnership was a theme throughout our talent roundtables. In one instance, it is a potential solution to councils not having the resources to attract the right people for senior roles. Here, some councils are partnering to offer regional-level roles. Another, broader, partnership opportunity is for the sector as a whole to share best practice and coordinate on how it sells the local government career offer better.

Take another look at performance management

 Because local government teams don’t always work to clear numerical targets in the same way private sector organisations do, their performance management cultures are often less well established. Performance should be measured and managed, of course – but against how people contribute to the value of an organisation. And council teams should hold active, open conversations about performance, positioning it as a measure of success rather than failure.

Engage in person

This is especially important for the hybrid work models that many local authorities operate, helping to build culture and team cohesion. “Walk and talk” is essential and physical presence is important, especially for people to build networks and relationships at the start of their careers.

Despite the sector’s many challenges around funding and staffing, the tone of this senior leaders’ discussion was overwhelmingly positive. There’s a real sense that the sector has an opportunity to position its roles as meaningful, multifaceted careers that people can connect with.

Read all of our insights from public sector leaders

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