Public sector employers face a skills and capacity shortage on a scale not seen before. A recent survey conducted by the Local Government Association highlights the size and scale of the problem. Out of 119 councils, 90% have capability and skills gaps in their management teams and 94% are experiencing recruitment difficulties.
For some services the problem is acute with 80% of councils struggling to recruit children’s social workers and 50% reporting recruitment challenges with adult social care staff. This has a detrimental impact not only on a Local Authority’s ability to deliver vital services but exacerbates pressure on critical services such as the NHS.
While vacancies in social work and social care are a long-standing challenge, we are now seeing higher turnover and difficulties recruiting in many other professions, including roles at the lower end of our pay scales.
As a result, solving the recruitment crisis has become a top priority for local government. Governed by national pay agreements, we cannot solely rely on reward or benefits to do the heavy lifting. Instead, HR teams are focused on creating a competitive Employee Value Proposition (EVP) to attract and retain talent.
Three key objectives
While every council’s employee value proposition will differ, there are three considerations that shape our thinking.
The first is to align non-financial benefits with the needs of our (for many councils) female dominated workforce. As a country we still lack the infrastructure that enables people with care responsibilities to continue working. In this situation it is predominantly women who are forced out of the workforce to care for children or sick relatives. In response we are increasingly offering flexibility in our working arrangements to enable colleagues to reconcile work with care responsibilities.
Related to this goal, a second consideration is to ensure hybrid working enhances rather than undermines the employee experience. Here we have focused on developing a shared mindset across our organisations that cultural change is key to effective hybrid working.
While lockdown showed that it’s possible to work from home with the right technology and kit, we saw that collaboration, relationships and wellbeing were at times impaired. Cultural change can only be effective if the people, IT and property elements are truly integrated. Our programmes therefore focus on performance management, productivity, collaboration within and across teams, and staff wellbeing.
We recognise that there isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution – services are shaped by different business needs and how they interact with other teams and clients, so we work with each team to map out what they need to work effectively and to balance the needs of the business, good working relationships, collaboration and the behaviours that drive effective ways of working, as well as location and technology. Staff are more likely to support a solution they have co-created, that as a result makes sense to them.
Finally, to ensure hybrid working drives a great employee experience we are reskilling managers to support and engage teams in dispersed locations. Working from home can be isolating for individuals and harder for managers to spot any dips in morale. This includes supporting employees to build the knowledge, skills and behaviours that enable them to thrive in a hybrid environment, and to understand the psychological importance of being part of a community and staying connected while working in different locations.
The third opportunity we have is to promote career development as a non-financial benefit. As a sector we are in the enviable position to be able to offer literally hundreds of different types of roles. Staff have the flexibility to experience and grow into multiple roles during their career.
We need to turn the difficulties in competing on pay and reward to our advantage, as we think creatively about other ways to retain and attract employees. Since employee experience mediates the impact of financial reward this is a factor for every employer to carefully consider.
Gordon McFarlane is president of PPMA