10 Feb 2023
Government’s Talent Attraction Ambition
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Our leadership experts from the Central Government Practice examine the idea of porosity; the flow of top talent from private sector businesses into public sector roles.
Promising news for private sector leaders looking to switch to the public sector
In June 2021, the Government launched its Declaration on Government Reform which details an overarching ambition to ‘have the best people leading and working in government to deliver better outcomes for citizens’. Following its publication, and with the announcement of the new Crown Commercial Service Framework for Permanent Recruitment, it feels as though the impetus behind the reform’s objectives is gathering pace.
This chimes well with an increasingly common trend we are seeing. Cross-sector candidates are being considered in order to offer new insights, approaches, and specialist expertise, given the scale of challenges and opportunities the Public Sector is currently facing.
This important paper mandates that all senior appointments be open to public competition by default and advertised in such a way as to ensure the widest possible pool of candidates is sourced, unless exceptionally approved by ministers. By making such a commitment, the Government reinforces its agenda to ensure that not only is it attracting the most diverse talent into key roles by throwing the net into the private sector, but also ensuring the circle of ‘known internal networks’ is infiltrated and challenged as far as possible.
It should be natural for people with skills developed in business to serve in government for a period.
This is a bold ambition for the civil service, essentially suggesting that professionals should, by default, include time spent in government as part of their strategic career plan. Indeed, this direction of travel has been developed further by the inception of the Cabinet Office’s ‘Porosity Agenda’ which is focused on engaging with HR/talent professionals across government to strategise ways to increase the numbers of private sector candidates entering the senior civil service. Interestingly, in 2021, 36% of Director and Deputy Director roles, 29% of Director General roles and 44% of Permanent Secretary roles were advertised across government only, thereby leaving the external market untapped and demonstrating the need for a mandated change of approach to talent attraction.
If the most suitable candidate for a role is an internal one, that can be a great outcome. Opportunities for promotion are of course important for both retention and career progression.
Indeed, one of the core aims of the government’s approach to developing professions is the opportunity for clear career progression for specialist staff.
However, as the declaration asserts, the important point is that a rigorous recruitment campaign is carried out that will fully test both the internal and external market in order to attract the most diverse range of suitable applicants. This leads to the role being offered to the most meritorious candidate, whether they are an existing civil servant or an external candidate. A win for government ensuring the highest calibre and talented individual is successfully hired.
Porosity is an interesting term, but what are the implications for civil service talent attraction?
Recruiting Senior Civil Servants can be a complex undertaking and for the talent attraction targets to be met, departments and agencies will need to be increasingly creative and alive to some of the challenges of attracting high-calibre, expert specialists from the private sector. Here at Odgers Berndtson, we are adept at supporting our civil service clients with targeted, innovative searches introducing candidates from the private sector into high-profile government positions, but we know there is more to do to support this important agenda. We are also realistic about some of the potential barriers that can be faced in tackling this ‘porosity’ challenge. Candidates may be concerned about remuneration and their future onward career path, for example, does a move into the public sector mean that a future move back into the private sector will be less viable? They may worry about preconceived assumptions around culture or about bureaucratic inertia or the potential for political interference. They may be sceptical about whether their application will be considered seriously in the first place.
How Odgers Berndtson Can Support
The work we do to ‘de-mystify’ government and support private sector candidates through government processes is pivotal and we know how rewarding careers in the civil service can be. Indeed, the intellectual interest, scale and complexity of government projects and programmes is often unrivalled when compared to many roles in the private sector. The opportunity to carry out work with tangible social purpose can often be enough to peak candidate’s interests. We believe there is great value to be gained from learning from those professionals who have made that leap of faith from the private sector into government.
This has led us to launch our upcoming ‘Switching Sectors’ series, where we speak with a range of high-profile leaders who have made that move between sectors. We aim to explore the motivations for making the move, the challenges and learning curves they’ve experienced and also what, in their view, are the ‘pull’ factors for considering a career move into the civil service.
Our series launches next week with Lucy Harding, Global Head of our Procurement & Supply Chain Practice, who is speaking with Rob Woodstock, Chief Commercial Officer at HMRC. Rob Joined the civil service in 2017 after a long career in the private sector latterly as a Management Consultant with Accenture.
We hope you enjoy the insights this series will bring. If you have any questions, please reach out to the Central Government Practice or contact our authors Anna Dickinson, Jes Ladva., Lucy Harding and Rebecca Royle.