The search is on for top talent to fill an increasing number of procurement roles. But is the public sector being beaten to the finish line by its private sector counterparts?
In the first in a series of articles charting the key issues facing public sector procurement, we examine the facts and fictions of the public and private sector battle for talent.
Talent and recruitment – just two of the key issues for CPOs and Heads of Procurement around the world. As the role of procurement expands, managers need to know their teams have the right skills for the job. For many, this means searching for the profession’s top talent, the high achievers. The superstars.
But identification is only half the battle. Actually attracting these stars to your team is another challenge entirely. And this is where many believe that the public sector loses out to its private sector counterpart. But how much truth is there in this?
According to the CIPS/Hays Procurement Salary Guide 2017, 70 per cent of managers said they were planning to recruit within the next 12 months. However, 51 per cent also admitted that they faced challenges in finding the right talent in the face of a skills shortage and budget constraints.
Let’s set budgets aside for a moment. There is a distinct set of skills required for success in public sector procurement. Sure basic skills are all transferrable, but public sector professionals need to adapt to a very different, highly political, environment.
Add in the requirement to drive new ideas, use specific IT systems, and operate within the bounds of EU Procurement Regulations and you’re starting to look at quite a bespoke skill set.
Speaking from experience, the majority of these skills can be learned or trained. But with budgets (that word again!) tight and time short, training is becoming an increasingly unaffordable luxury for many in the public sector.
This means public sector hiring managers are chasing the white rabbit – those professionals with all these skills, able to hit the ground running on Day 1.
But in a sellers’ market where there are an increasing number of procurement jobs to be filled, professionals with these skills are in demand. And this comes at a price.
All About the Money, Money?
Money isn’t everything and it can’t buy you happiness (according to Rousseau at least), but it is a key driver for procurement professionals when they look for new roles.
According to the CIPS/Hays Guide, 72 per cent of respondents highlighted salary as the key factor for a new role. This is compared to 41 per cent and 36 per cent for flexible working and non-salary benefits respectively.
The money argument seems to be borne out by the average salaries across the sectors in the UK:
- Private Sector – £46,825
- Public Sector – £40,915
- Charity Sector – £40,379
And the trend continues when the average salaries are broken down by seniority within the public and privates sectors (see below):
The picture doesn’t get any better for the public sector when bonuses are taken into account either. In 2017, an average of 50 per cent of professionals received a bonus in the private sector, versus only 13 per cent in the public sector.
However, the public sector may have the beating of the private sector in one facet – non-financial benefits. Over two-thirds (67 per cent) of public sector professionals have access to flexible working (versus 36 per cent of the private sector), along with greater provision for support for study and career development.
The Permanent vs. Temporary Debate
The other option open to hiring managers is bringing in interim or contract workers. This has proven to be a good way of providing additional resources in a flexible manner for specific projects or time periods. The CIPS/Hays Guide states that 61 per cent of public sector organisations will recruit in this way.
While this suggests that there is an attraction for some professionals in contracting, many looking for new roles want the security and safety of a permanent contract. So how much truth is there in the belief that the public sector isn’t able to offer this type of contract?
While it was certainly more fact than fiction when it came to salaries, there is certainly less evidence for the permanent-temporary contract question. A search across UK job sites for public sector procurement roles shows that actually there are almost twice as many permanent roles advertised as temporary, contractor or interim roles.
So taking this factor out of the equation, what solutions are available to the public sector to meet the recruitment challenge?
Redressing the Balance
Unfortunately, there is no easy answer. Budget restraints make it nearly impossible to compete on salaries, bonuses and other financial benefits. However, it’s not all doom and gloom. There is plenty to offer besides salaries that make jobs attractive.
The CIPS/Hays Guide shows that the majority of public sector organisations are making flexible working available to their employees. Having contracts that are as flexible as possible only increases their attractiveness at a time where people (and many organisations) are looking to step away from the traditional desk-bound, 9-5 roles.
Flexible working hours, flexi-time, working from home and contracts allowing greater work-life balance are just some of the non-financial benefits job seekers will look for.
The second area is the attractiveness of the roles. This might seem like a counter-intuitive argument given what’s been said before, but this doesn’t relate to money, contracts, or working hours.
A common (mis)conception of the public sector is that it isn’t as interesting. The truth is far removed from this. From roles that allow procurement professionals to directly impact their cities for the better, to working on major, one-off projects – think the European Championships in Glasgow in 2018, or the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham in 2022.
And these are just a couple of highlights in the vast array of fascinating projects in the areas of sustainability, technology and services only available in the public sector.
Raising the profile of these roles or projects and their interesting, challenging and diverse nature can only help to attract the superstars.
So here’s my challenge to you in the public sector. What are you going to do to help?