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Addressing the Great Local Government Recruitment Crisis

George Agyemang, Senior Consultant, Executive Interim, Penna and Stephen Young, Chief Executive Halton Borough Council

The recently published ‘LGA Local Government Workforce Survey’ showed that more than nine out of ten local authorities are experiencing staff recruitment and retention issues, which in turn is driving an unsustainable reliance on agency staff, particularly in social care. If local government is to address these challenges, then one approach would be for a more cohesive partnership approach across the private and public sectors, and a resetting of long-held beliefs as to how we recruit and retain the staff of the future. 

Since the pandemic, recruitment and retention challenges, whilst nothing new to the sector, are increasing. With increased turnover and demand for various skill sets across the board, how we address the skills shortages may not be solved overnight. Rather than asking ourselves why is it so difficult to recruit to senior positions, could we not pose a different question? If what we are doing is not producing the desired outcomes, then what is the alternative? 

From an executive recruitment perspective, finding the right balance is key. Since the start of the pandemic, much has changed in recruitment, which has also brought about a rethink of certain processes. One of the main challenges that local authority colleagues encounter is how to take the good learning, innovative thinking and creative working practices from that period and embed them moving forward. Should the same notion also be applied to how we recruit, train, and retain talent? Of course, it is necessary to retain certain aspects of older practices, and we certainly are not suggesting ‘discarding the manual’ so to speak. However, with several organisations struggling to recruit, is it necessary to hold on to previous processes and methods which are arguably outdated because ‘that’s how we’ve always done it?

From a local authority viewpoint, the notion of changing long-held practices is resonating in places like Halton, where we are looking to change the way in which we do recruitment, whilst also becoming more aligned to partner organisations who know and understand the market and can help us navigate it. We are becoming increasingly aware when we recruit, that our employment value proposition (EVP) is key. A badly designed complex recruitment process that results in a poor candidate journey is now the single biggest reason for candidates dropping out.

Some of Halton’s solutions for addressing and improving the candidate journey include replacing long application forms with CVs and offering interviews to potential candidates at the point they apply, instead of waiting for long recruitment deadlines. Whilst these changes may seem modest to some, our research shows that they are making positive changes to all-time high sector drop-out rates. It is also clear that in today’s recruitment market and amongst the millennials who increasingly make up the candidate pool, it is common for candidates to be engaged with several opportunities at one time. To increase the chances of people committing, those recruiting need to make the process as easy as possible, otherwise, you run the risk of candidates dropping out.

At Penna, engagement throughout various stages of the candidate journey is crucial for interim and permanent recruitment processes. As we know, a permanent recruitment process may have several stages, and even interim roles can sometimes progress slower than expected. We always engage with candidates at different stages of the process with regular updates as it is integral to keep interest in an opportunity high particularly in such a challenging market.

Another sector norm which increasingly acts as a barrier to effective recruitment is the idea of one size fits all. A process that may be effective in recruiting a senior leader, isn’t necessarily appropriate for a junior role. Aspects like the application process, pre and post interactions and perhaps most importantly the assessment itself, should be personalised for each role being filled.

The candidate application process is not the only part that needs to be a key feature of the EVP, it’s also the approach to candidate engagement. Gone are the days when print advertising was king -today’s job market is more likely to engage with organisations through digital platforms such as social media. The onboarding process needs to be updated too, reflecting the shifting work/life balance priorities. At the very least, organisations should make a serious commitment to shared social values.

What is becoming clear, is that local authorities are finding it difficult to keep ‘on trend’. It is becoming apparent that after each round of recruitment, respective sectors need to review their processes and candidate journey to ensure it still works and represents the right things about the organisation. For us here in Halton, this review process increasingly involves working with partners who regularly witness good and bad processes, understand the trends, and can advise us how to get the very best out of the talent around.

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