Retaining the key staff: Facing the difficulties

Despite high unemployment, employers across all sectors are struggling to recruit and retain the people they need. And the biggest rise in recruitment difficulties has been seen in the public sector, where 82 per cent have experienced problems filling vacancies, compared with sixty six percent last year. Those are the findings from Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development /Hays latest Resourcing and talent planning survey, launched this month. With over 500 responses (92 from the public sector) the survey provides valuable insight into the issues facing senior managers, line managers and HR as they grapple with resourcing challenges in a cost cutting environment.

Attracting the skills you need
With so many organisations reporting recruitment difficulties at a time of high unemployment, clearly there is a mismatch between the skills available in the market place and those employers are managing to access. CIPD’s data relating to the public sector reveals that the recruitment of managers and senior level staff within the public sector is a particular problem. 38 per cent surveyed reported that it was especially hard to fill vacancies at manager and specialist levels and a further 19 per cent reported problems with finding candidates for senior manager and director level roles. Pay freezes coupled with a perceived reduction in benefits as a consequence of pension reforms may be responsible, as one in four cited pay as one of the reasons for their difficulties.

There’s evidence from CIPD’s survey research that employers need to think about the current image of the public sector and how they can allay the concerns of would-be applicants. At a time when cost cutting measures are making headlines, the public sector was also almost three times more likely (24 per cent compared to 9 per cent) than private sector services to report that the image of the sector/occupation/organisation was a problem in terms of attracting new recruits.

Maintaining engagement
 and trust
In the current economic climate, and in the context of reduced budgets and reforms, it is vital employers in the public sector engage their employees so they understand and are motivated to deliver organisational priorities. At a time when many organisations are required to change and re-organise, senior leaders need to make sure they invest time and effort in bringing their employees with them on their journey. The importance of maintaining the trust of employees during challenging times is highlighted in CIPD’s report Where has all the trust gone? published in March 2012.  The report features case study examples from the public sector including Sunderland City Council and the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills.

The Resourcing and talent planning survey underlines the need for public sector managers to take seriously the issue of employee retention – and what keeps people working for their organisation. The survey indicates a particular increase in retention challenges for the sector. However, at the same time public sector organisations were twice as likely not to have taken any steps to address retention compared with the private or not-for-profit sectors.

The most effective retention methods used in 2011, according to the survey research, were increased learning and development opportunities, improved line manager people skills and improved employee involvement.

Delivering future priorities
Finally the survey rings some important warning bells about future skills and capability of public sector workforces (at a time when many employers are making headcount reductions and risk losing valuable experience). In a context of reduced budgets and the requirement that in future services will be delivered in a very different way – it’s essential that talent management and development is not neglected. The survey reveals the public sector is currently less likely than others to continue develop more talent in-house or to invest more time and effort in recruiting quality candidates.

Encouragingly the survey does show a strong preference for ‘reducing headcount but preserving key talent’ (thirty seven percent of public sector respondents in 2012) compared to ‘reducing headcount and losing key talent’ (seventeen percent). Continued focus on talent management is needed now more than ever, as talented and experienced individuals are required at senior levels of public sector organisation to help steer them through times of change.

Further information
The 2012 Resourcing and talent planning survey report, produced in partnership with Hays, examines organisations’ resourcing and talent planning strategies and practices, and the key challenges and issues they face. To view the 2012 report click here