Best practice for public sector recruitment

Tania Bowers, global policy director at the Association of Profesional Staffing Companies (APSCo) addresses some of the current issues in public sector recuitment.

The recruitment landscape is becoming increasingly complex for most employers in the public sector. We’re still seeing the impact of staff shortages, worker strikes, Brexit and Off Payroll on the supply and demand of key resources, and this is unlikely to change in the first half of 2024.

Our members who supply recruitment solutions to public sector employers are increasingly reporting that it is becoming more difficult to source the right people quickly and within budget. There’s also the added challenge of the employer brand of the sector overall which has been hit by staff unrest and the media attention around the strikes throughout the last year.
However, there’s a wealth of opportunity to shake up some of the hiring practices that are hindering success for employers.

A look at health and social care

Hiring in the health and social care sectors has certainly made headline news over the last year. Skills shortages and strike action have all had an impact on employers across these remits. The constantly changing legislative landscape certainly hasn’t helped, in particular the uncertainty around Article 7 of the Conduct of Employment Agencies and Employment Regulations 2003, which forbids recruiters from supplying workers to replace strikers. The initial repeal was reversed by the courts and there is now a live consultation to compliantly repeal Article 7, meaning that agency workers could again replace striking workers, if compliant and suitable for the role. Further, while the purpose of introducing Minimum Service Levels (MSLs) is a positive in that it will minimise disruption, the logistics are more difficult.

The challenge is that there are only a limited number of agency workers willing or able to stand in for their peers on the picket line and some recruiters were unwilling to cross this line as well. How MSLs play out over the Christmas period will paint a clearer picture of the impact such changes will have to resourcing plans for next year, though the latest news does suggest that strike action will at least quieten in the immediate future.

One area of best practice recruitment for health and social care that it is critical to discuss, though, is the ability to deliver consistency across frameworks. There’s significant red tape that currently exists when recruiting agency workers, but the scale of staff shortages mean that these individuals are critical resources for the sectors. There needs to be a more streamlined means of tapping into these workers without going off frameworks, and consistency has a large role to play in achieving this.

One prime example is the lack of conformity around pre-hiring compliance and safety checks of permanent and agency staff, despite NHS Employer rules, which is contributing to the increased costs and delays of getting clinical staff in front of patients. A specialist that is compliant to work for a Trust hospital under one CCG, may not necessarily be so at another hospital or primary care centre that operates under the same group but on a different framework, meaning there is minimal agility or responsiveness in workforce management. In the longer term an assessment of the appropriate permanent/contractor supply mix is essential throughout the service.

Diversifying talent pools

Equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI) is broadly recognised as a critical element of recruitment across the public sector, but there is always room for improvement. With skills shortages still set to impact much of the sector next year, it is key that diverse hiring is enabled and adopted. Working with specialists in diverse hiring is one means of delivering against this and it’s important the preferred supplier lists are reviewed to ensure that there are suppliers with experience engaging with under-represented groups in the supply chain.

Managed Service Providers (MSPs) and Recruitment Process Outsource (RPO) partners are increasingly supporting greater diversity in recruitment across the permanent and temporary labour market and their insight will be valuable in the New Year. Indeed, we’ve seen numerous examples of APSCo OutSource members – the trade association for the recruitment outsourcing sector – taking a more targeted approach to recruiting from specific demographics that remain underutilised.

While it is important to look closely at the make up of your existing workforce to define where there may be groups that need to be more actively engaged, there are specific EDI targets that look set to be more widely targeted in the New Year. These include ex-offenders, the over 55s and younger generations that are only just entering the workplace.

Social mobility is also going to be a key topic for recruitment in the public sector. The need to expand hiring to encompass those from different socio-economic backgrounds is not only morally the right thing for all employers, but it also strengthens the reputation that those in the public sector have with potential new recruits and the local community. By having social mobility targets in hiring strategies, employers will be creating workforces that better represent the communities they serve, which will help to build rapport with those being directly impacted by the services they provide.

Technology will be a key influencer

We can’t ignore the fact that technology is impacting recruitment across the UK both in terms of hiring processes and the skills that are required for the vast majority of roles. The technology profession has long faced an issue with high demand and short supply for its expertise. While the plans for regional investment hubs that will boost the UK’s reputation as an AI and tech leader are promising, creating these skills is going to be a long-term project. There will be a need to rely on interim support from highly skilled contractors for some time and we would advise that international resources aren’t ruled out in this instance.

Although the very high volumes of health and social care visas are quite rightly under the political spotlight, there are barriers to recruiting skilled international contractors from the tech-sphere, that are limiting the attractiveness of the UK as a prime employment destination. While we are continuing to push for greater funding to help speed up the visa process as well as create new business visa routes such as a service supplier option, it is crucial that employers in the public sector consider technically skilled international workers even if it is difficult to onboard them.

There is significant potential to improve recruitment processes and strategies in the public sector this year. The onus may be on policy makers to make it easier to hire from critical talent pools such as the self-employed and international resources, but there’s also the need for employers and those suppliers in the recruitment supply chain to work together to drive improvements where they can be made.

Further Information:

Event Diary


UKREiiF has quickly become a must-attend in the industry calendar for Government departments and local authorities.

The multi-award-winning UK Construction Week (UKCW), is the UK’s biggest trade event for the built environment that connects the whole supply chain to be the catalyst for growth and positive change in the industry.