Public sector must embrace a "blended" workforce or fall behind in talent race
23 February 2009 8:22am
The majority of agencies in the public sector are falling behind private business in their capacity to attract and retain talent - "at an exponential rate" - by failing to embrace fixed-term employment contracts and a "blended" workforce, says Hudson's former public sector director, Paul Baker.
"In some Western countries 'time-based contracts' at all levels [of the public service] are larger [in number] than the 'permanent' public service," says Baker, who now runs his own consultancy firm. "These arrangements are fast becoming the mechanism for attracting, and ultimately retaining, significant talent in a wide variety of government service."
Yet the "inertia of an outdated culture" within the Australian public service, or a "permanency at all cost" mentality, has seen the public sector remain reluctant to accept fixed-term contracts and part-time or casual jobs as legitimate forms of employment "driven by the consumer", he says.
Recruitment and redundancy mechanisms within the public sector, he says, are expensive and inefficient - as they operate "outside of the real market" - and leadership often lacks vision and articulation when it comes to talent management.
There is, for example, a "deep belief that the public sector needs to advance incrementally".
And concerns about the accountability of short-term contractors, particularly at the highest or more sensitive levels of government, are based on "folklore" and fail to recognise the high numbers of talented workers who frequently shift between the public and private sectors.
Further, talent management is often viewed as a short-term practical problem that doesn't require the attention of top line management, despite the ongoing skills shortage.
An ageing population and declining birth rates have had a major impact on driving low unemployment rates, Baker notes, and they will continue to do so, regardless of the current economic climate.
What can be done
Public - and private - employers must, first of all, understand that talent management is internal, national and global "in its scope", and target talent "at all levels", Baker says.
Employers, as a whole, need to:
address leadership issues. "A leader is anyone who has responsibility for someone else," Baker says.
"In a talent-short market... you have to separate the work of managing from the notion of managers as a distinct and privileged class of employees. Highly talented employees do not need, nor are they attracted to, a hierarchical management model."
Leaders must get the "soft skills" right, and those who neither retain nor attract talent should be moved on.
"The world has changed. Retention and attraction is the new currency";
embrace a "blended" workforce. The notion of a blended workforce of permanent, part-time, casual and fixed-term employees should be embedded in the company culture.
Contracted employees can efficiently operate within the organisation from executive level down, and, contrary to popular belief, do not cost more than permanent workers, Baker says.
A blended workplace culture "is driven by workers, not bosses". Talented graduates, for example, know that they will gain competencies more quickly if they're not tied to permanent roles.
"Fixed-term contracting is happening in the labour market," Baker notes. "Get used to it!";
demonstrate diversity. Talent should be offered "highly planned career progression" across a wide number of sectors.
Government recruitment needs to become more centralised and promote the diversity of its numerous departments. A science graduate, for example, could be given the opportunity to work in a variety of fields, instead of being chained to one sector.
The public sector must also relinquish the "time honoured process of doing things incrementally", Baker says.
"Redefine and lift the level of what you now call HR. Embed it in your business strategy."
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