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Managing talent is vital to saving the public sector

These are worrying times for the public sector but, as Alex Metcalfe reports it’s not all doom and gloom.

August 2018

Organisations within the public sector face a fast-changing, challenging environment, with public services doing a lot more with much less resource. An ageing population and the impact of climate change are just a few of the key challenges testing the sector today.
The right talent in place and the ability to adapt to changing environments will help public services overcome these issues. It is essential that these organisations consider the work preferences and the aspirations of young finance professionals in order to attract, develop and retain a talent pool that enables them to reach their full potential.
Young finance professionals in the public sector feel their careers could be hampered due to a lack of transparent career paths, finds a new report from ACCA.The report, Generation Next: managing talent in the public sector, explores the work preferences and career ambitions of over 1,400 ACCA members and students working in the public sector, aged 16 to 36 years old. It revealed young finance professionals value transparent career paths in both attracting them to an employer and keeping them there, but only 26% believe clear paths exist in their current organisation.

Developing talent a challenge:
Across the sector, developing talent has been a challenge given austerity and the tightening of government budgets, which often hits learning and development budgets. The Generation Next survey showed that 96% of respondents were attracted to public sector employers that would provide the opportunity for them to learn and develop skills. The research also found their experience at work was essential for attraction and retention in the public sector. The sector itself can offer a dynamic work experience, where employees can develop professionally while working to tackle leading societal challenges.
On-the-job learning was one of the most-used learning activities in the sector, with 52% of all public sector respondents believing that first-hand experience and learning while working was effective. All these learning strategies; mentoring, job rotations and coaching are forms of experiential learning, where the employee ‘learns through doing’. There is clearly an opportunity for public sector employers to increase the use of these experiential forms of learning to increase the effectiveness of their learning and development mechanisms.

Realistic and optimistic:
Young accountants working in the public sector were both realistic and optimistic about the impact of technology on the profession. Some 60% of Generation Next believes technological advancements will replace many entry-level finance and accountancy roles in the future. However, they also understand technology will enable finance professionals to focus on much higher value-added activities.
Many respondents attracted to, and looking to move into, the public sector come from corporate firms and small and medium-sized practices. In addition, among those interested in moving to the public sector, job security and work-life balance were seen as essential factors that a candidate would look for in their new public sector employer.
Public sector organisations are typically unable to compete on remuneration for top talent, but must instead communicate a holistic offering to their candidates that includes clear career paths and a positive work environment. Yet whatever tactics they decide to adopt, it is essential public service employers recognise the importance of talent management as a key component of their future plans.

Vitally important:
The public sector is vitally important, as governments are responsible for tackling a number of complex issues.
The ability to communicate the meanings and implications of financial realities in a useful way to key decision-makers, for example, is something provided by a well-trained finance team. Great technical skills are a given, but a top finance team also brings strong leadership skills, effective decision-making and change management skills to the public sector.
The UK’s public service sector can only be sustainable so long as there are finance professionals spearheading its financial prudence and accountability. These ethics are essential to ensuring high professional standards in the public sector.
• Alex Metcalfe is ACCA’s head of public sector policy

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