William Eichler 18 December 2023

Navigating the complex terrain of recruitment

Navigating the complex terrain of recruitment image
Image: bunny pixar / Shutterstock.com.

Rod McMillan, marketing manager, Monster UK discusses how local authorities can improve recruitment and retention of staff.

Moving into 2024, local authorities in the UK are at a pivotal juncture in the ever-changing employment landscape. While they offer a wide variety of roles — over 800 — ranging from social work to IT, they also face a revolving door of staffing issues. These challenges include staff shortages, budget constraints, outdated recruitment processes, and a growing reliance on agency staff. This article delves into these challenges and offers strategic solutions for local government recruiters.

The Challenges

Recruitment and retention woes

Nearly 80% of councils report difficulty attracting qualified staff, and retention remains a significant hurdle. According to the Office for National Statistics, there were an estimated 5.87 million employees in the public sector in June 2023, a modest increase from the previous year. However, local government saw smaller gains than central government, indicating ongoing recruitment and retention issues.

Financial constraints

Financial constraints, particularly unresolved pay disputes, further complicate the issue. Guildford Borough Council, for instance, had to freeze recruitment as part of its financial recovery plan due to a £300 million debt. Glasgow City Council has had to pay £770 million to settle a long-running pay dispute. With rising costs, many councils are struggling to balance their books.

Outdated recruitment processes

The private sector has more quickly adapted to modern recruitment practices, and it is high time local councils followed suit. Workforce planning strategies should include reviews of processes and tools.

Halton Borough Council, for example, has made significant strides by replacing long paper application forms with CVs and offering immediate interviews. Many councils are also reorganising departmental recruitment to be more centralised. This can create efficiencies if processes are standardised and help point good candidates to better-fit roles. Modern applicant tracking systems and recruitment software can help councils make better hires faster and cost-efficiently.

The Solutions

Employer branding

An 'Employer Brand' is what potential candidates think of you as an employer. Many factors feed into this, including their positive and negative experiences with the council as constituents, news coverage, and the impression given by current council staff.

Councils have a unique opportunity to differentiate their value proposition to potential employees. They are not selling a product but delivering meaningful services to the community. They must understand what employees want – for example, flexibility, security, and meaningful work in a culture that aligns with their values. Then, they must communicate to potential candidates that these values are shared and successfully deliver on promises. Getting this messaging right is critical to both attracting younger workers to consider the council as a career path and winning away much-needed experienced talent from the private sector.

Highlighting some of the unique benefits

• Stability and Job Security: The public sector offers a lifeline in an era of economic uncertainty. This is a cornerstone that recruiters should not underestimate.

• Work-Life Balance: Innovative councils are finding ways to introduce flexible work arrangements, including the four-day work week

• Diverse Opportunities: With roles spanning urban planning to environmental health, local councils offer many diverse opportunities, and progression paths should be communicated.

• Community Impact: Working for a council means making a tangible difference in people's lives, a powerful motivator for many.

Process modernisation

From leveraging technology for online campaigns to streamlining the application process, embracing change is crucial. Delivering a consistent employee experience is critical for recruitment. Process modernisation can also reduce risk while raising recruitment spending return on investment.

Strategic planning and partnerships

Effective recruitment is not a one-off activity but a continuous process. Councils must plan meticulously, identifying current and future workforce needs. Partnerships with educational institutions and the right commercial partners can provide invaluable support.

The challenges facing local government recruitment are multifaceted but manageable. Local governments can attract and retain a skilled and committed workforce by modernising recruitment processes, strategically positioning the unique benefits of council jobs, and forming effective partnerships. The future of effective local governance may depend on it.

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