Viewpoint by Anna Stuart, Vice President

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Every day I am in the privileged position of being able to hear first-hand perceptions about employment in the public sector. And it is always fascinating!

Recently, Knightsbridge Robertson Surrette conducted an on-line survey to hear more about public sector employment brand. Specifically, we wanted to understand how people defined a “great place to work” and how this compared to their perceptions of public sector employment. We also asked about their experience with public sector recruitment processes.

Over 300 people responded to the survey and shared their perspectives with us. While the results with randomly recruited survey participants such as these would be considered accurate to within ±5.6% in 19 of 20 cases, they give us a general sense of common perceptions of public service employment. More significantly, what we heard offers a starting point for a conversation about how to ensure our public sector is attracting top notch candidates – the people who will bring the skills, enthusiasm, and commitment to create the next generation of public servants.

Respondents to the survey expressed distinct differences between their perceptions of work in the public sector and ”great places to work”. When we asked people to describe a great place to work, competent leadership, open communication, integrity and clarity of mission/vision topped the list. Characteristics that they’d use least to describe a great place to work included sense of family, impartiality, ability to be myself and pride in individual work. Respondents defined public sector work differently with equity, personal development, clarity of mission/vision and fairness topping the list of attributes that best describe work in the public sector.

When asked to compare and contrast careers in the private and public sectors, respondents said that careers in the public sector offer increased security, better work-life balance, more training and development opportunities, and a more open attitude toward minority and disabled persons hiring. Private sector careers were viewed as offering greater financial rewards and more challenging work.

While there are limitations with respect to interpreting this type of survey data, the different perspectives on work lead to some interesting questions: How should public sector work be described?, How are perceptions of employment brand formed? and Are the gaps between the definitions of great places to work and the perceptions of public sector work important?

One of the most interesting aspects of the survey response is that potential public sector candidates appear to be generally unaware of the wide range of opportunities offered by the public sector. Contrast this with the fact that any prospective candidates who knew someone who actually worked in the public sector reported overwhelmingly that these public servants were happy with their work.

A sub-set of the respondents to the survey had actual experience with a public sector recruitment process. While perspectives on the process were generally positive, a significant number said they weren’t able to get enough information about the job they were applying for and they found the process wasn’t easy to follow. Of those who had an interview for a public sector job, most felt they were treated professionally during the interview but left not having gained a better sense of the organization or the position. Of note, two-thirds of those who were invited for an interview waited more than a month to be contacted about the interview and a similar proportion was not contacted again after the interview.

What does all this mean? I don’t think I know enough to be sure but I do believe the responses point to some important issues that the public sector will need to consider as part of planning for the coming challenges in public sector recruitment. I see issues such as:

• how the employment brand of the public sector should align with potential candidates’ expectations of a “great place to work”,

• how to influence the perceptions of public sector employment brand amongst key potential candidate pools, and

• how to ensure that potential and actual public sector employees’ experience of public sector employment is consistent and positive.

I’m sure you’ve thought of other issues – and some suggestions – as you’ve read this article. I hope you will send me an e-mail with your thoughts on the challenges, and ways in which we can meet them to ensure a strong public service into the future.

I look forward to sharing your ideas and mine in the next issue of Viewpoint.

Anna Stuart is a Vice President at Knightsbridge Robertson Surrette, Atlantic Canada’s leading integrated human capital solutions provider. Throughout her 20-year career, Anna has provided recruitment, strategic and operational advisory services to government, industry and family business throughout Atlantic Canada.

Anna Stuart
Anna Stuart , MBA, FCPA, FCMA, FCMC
Managing Partner
902.424.1144