Recruiting Challenges in the Public Sector

Jennifer Gabbard Management Communications with Technology Tools Recruiting Challenges in the Public Sector December 22, 2008 Final Project: Recruiting Challenges in the Public Sector There are rules, regulations and ordinances that all guide the recruiting process in the public sector; however, in my opinion these challenges just interfere with a governmental agencies ability to hire the best and most qualified new employees.

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As an example, a couple of the solutions that I think will help the public sector’s recruiting process are 1) making the application process more simplistic, 2) targeting younger workers by working with universities and colleges and 3) developing a workforce strategy. The public sector has a lot of challenges that lie ahead of it, when it comes to recruiting and hiring new employees. Not only are the recruiting processes in the public sector outdated, too restrictive and too complex to hire a candidate efficiently.

However, the applicant pool from which organizations, both public and private, can choose from is growing smaller and smaller every day. This is a problem because more and more employees within the public sector are retiring every year. Recruiting in the public sector is neither the easiest, nor the most time efficient process in the public sector. The restrictions placed on governmental agencies make recruiting and hiring new employees a very difficult process.

There are rules, such as Affirmative Action, as well as regulations and ordinances that all guide the recruiting process; however, in my opinion, these challenges really just make a governmental agencies ability to hire the best and most qualified new employees more convoluted. For instance, within the City of Minneapolis, where I work, there is a State of Minnesota law that says that the City of Minneapolis must interview the top three candidates for every open position.

It does not state that the top three candidates must be the best fit for the City’s position, but it does say that those top three candidates were the ones that scored the highest in the selection process due to their qualifications and experiences. For a select smaller portion of our positions, the State of Minnesota has a law that states that we must interview and hire the only the top ranked candidate within a job posting.

I am not going to go into too much detail about the testing process within in the City of Minneapolis in this paper, as that is another topic until itself; my point, however, is that we have specific State laws that govern our recruiting process in Minneapolis. No other city in the State of Minnesota has those same restrictions. On top of the restrictions, there is a lack of forward thinking when it comes to the recruiting process in the public sector. The public sector is dealing with a work force that is getting older.

In Minnesota alone, the average age of an employee in the public sector is 45 years old (Eggers, Phelan & Phoenix, 2007, p. 3). Another amazing statistic is that within the next ten years, over 40% if the public sector workforce in the State of Minnesota is going to be eligible to retire (Eggers, Phelan and Phoenix, 2007, p. 3). This problem isn’t just happening in the United States either, “In the United Kingdom, more than 31% of local government employees are over the age of 50” (Russell, 2008, p. 16).

These statistics point out that the public sector has a critical need to upgrade its recruiting process; however, they must also start targeting younger workers to build a candidate pipeline so that hiring new employees becomes easier in the next few years. I didn’t know much about recruiting in the public sector, until I became a Human Resource Manager with the City of Minneapolis this past summer and it has been my experience, in my previous positions, that recruiting in the private sector is a fairly easy thing to accomplish.

My job with the City of Minneapolis is the first one that I have had in public sector, and so I know a lot more about the recruiting process in the private sector; however over the last six months I have come to learn and understand the nuances of recruiting in the public sector as well. When it comes to recruiting in the private sector, there are a few guidelines that you might reference here and there, but by and large recruiting is done without interference. The process seems fairly simple; you develop a job description, establish a salary structure and place an advertisement.

There are no testing requirements or mandates that you need to satisfy to be able to hire a new employee. Along with this the time it takes to recruit someone in the private sector takes only as long as it takes to get a qualified applicant to apply for a position and interview for the job. Interviewing is straight forward and although an applicant might go through two or three interviews, before being offered the position, there is no one outside the organization telling the organization how to recruit and how to hire a qualified applicant. Recruiting in the public sector is so much more complex than it is in the private sector.

In the public sector many positions have testing requirements built into them. This means that you must test the candidates that meet the minimum qualifications, which at times means you test over 100 people with some positions, and with some positions within the Fire and Police Departments; this means that there could be well over 1,000 applicants to test. The testing process various by positions, for some it is a written exam, for others an oral exam (similar to a panel interview), and still for others it is the rating of their training and experience based on their resume.

Whichever testing process is used, it makes the recruiting process so much longer and so much more complex than it needs to be. At the City of Minneapolis, we have an HR professional who just deals with the testing requirements necessary as part of the recruiting process. There is some value to the testing process, it does make sure that everyone gets a fair chance at a position, and it does not put any value on anything but your experience, education and qualifications. It does, however make the hiring process so much longer than it needs to be.

It also, from my experience, makes the applicants more confused about how they are doing as part of the recruiting process. There are restrictions on how much time you must give a candidate to attend the testing, and how long the testing process must take. And, as I stated above, there are even restrictions on how many applicants you have to interview. It sounds laborious, and it is. I have been in my position for six months, and I can finally say that I have some good knowledge of what the recruiting process with the City of Minneapolis.

Another problem with the recruiting process within the public sector are the labor contracts that the public sector must follow. These contracts can make recruiting within the public sector very difficult. Each labor contract is different in the things that it provides for its members; one contract makes it mandatory to interview four union members for a job within that union, while another mandates that an applicant must get ten days notice to appear for an interview.

Labor contracts are normally negotiated every two to three years, which means every two to three years there are changes to the recruiting process in the public sector. I don’t know about any other governmental agency, but at the City of Minneapolis we have an Excel spreadsheet that lists out the differences in the labor contracts within the recruiting process, so that we have a handy reference guide. It is a life saver! Yet another challenge in the recruiting process for the public sector is the application process. Applications in the public sector are long, and complicated.

They are known to have in excess of five pages, while some “Federal Government applications can run thirty five pages, and its not unusual for some federal agencies to take more than a year to bring new hires onboard” (Trahant & Yearout, 2006, p. 58). Luckily, the City of Minneapolis has its application both online and in paper form. However, filling out an application can take an excess of an hour to complete. Another problem with the recruiting process in the public sector is the fact that some governmental agencies only post positions for their internal employees, or those that need to be reinstated to the organization.

This leads to the same employees occupying the same positions, and the same ideas being bread into the same organization. This does not lend itself to be the best recruiting process. You cannot continually rely on your current staff to be able to fill critical positions with the organization. You need to be able to recruit for applicants that are outside the organization, not only because the workforce is getting older, but because new ideas are what keeps an organization growing. Another of the biggest challenges that the public sector will face is the lack of applicants.

Currently, in our economic market, there aren’t many people voluntarily leaving positions; however over the next five to ten years, the public sector is going to be facing a shortage of workers to do the jobs. According to Eggers, Phelan and Phoenix, Government agencies today face sobering facts; the Baby Boom generation (those born between 1946 and 1964) will being to reach senior citizen status in 2011, and from 2010 to 2030, the share of the population age 65 and over will increase from 39. million people to 69. 4 million people. The Boomers’ departure from the workforce will send shockwaves throughout the private and public sectors as organizations of all types struggle to replace them. (2007, p. 2) This leads to the next challenge in the recruiting process for the public sector; in the generations that follow the Baby Boomers (Generation X (born between roughly 1965 to 1981), Generation Y (born between roughly 1982 to 2005)) there aren’t enough currently qualified workers to do the jobs.

Generation Y is almost as big as the Baby Boomer generation in numbers, however they are still young, and they aren’t currently educated enough to be able to complete the work that the Baby Boomers are leaving behind. There is going to be shortage of workers available to fill the positions that the Baby Boomers are leaving, which means that some management positions are going to be filled by employees who lack the experience necessary to do the job (Eggers, Phelan and Phoenix, 2007, p. 2).

All of the problems facing the public sector, when it comes to hiring new employees, are not going to be easy to fix, but I think that there are things that can be done today to help in the transition, that will be necessary for recruiting employees in the future. To start, I believe the first thing that the public sector needs to do is modernize its outdated hiring practices. There is too much bureaucracy involved in the hiring process within the public sector, and the time it currently takes to hire a candidate will be too long for the recruiting process to take in the future.

The public sector must change the mentality of the applicant pool, by decentralizing the hiring process and lobbying to get some of the restrictions they face through ordinances and labor contracts out of the hiring process. Another tactic that the public sector needs to start using is recruiting younger people into public service. “Public sector employers – specifically, local and state governments – are not as aggressive at pursuing and recruiting these talented prospects as their counterparts in the private sector” (Friend, 2004, p. 2), and, they aren’t. The public sector isn’t proactive in its approach to recruit and retain younger workers. They don’t attend job fairs; and they don’t develop relationships with local colleges, universities and technical skills. Local governments need to take action in several ways to recruit younger workers into public sector positions. One way to do this is for public sector organization to engage in campus recruiting at local colleges and high schools.

They need to participate in job fairs, volunteer to speak at classes, and get more excited about the recruiting process on campuses. There are some wonderful benefits to working in the public sector; I believe you get to truly make a difference in other people’s lives. There is also a perceived longevity benefit in working for the public sector. By placing front-line managers in touch with younger students, it will gain interest in the public sectors issues and might excite a whole new generation of public employees.

I know one thing that the City of Minneapolis is doing is developing an internship program, so that younger workers can have an opportunity to experience employment with the public sector. This is a great idea, and more public sector organizations need to start doing this. If younger people get a taste of what the public sector is like, maybe they will stick around long enough to develop a career there. At the City of Minneapolis, we also have a program called Step-Up, in which high school and college students can work for the City for the summer, and gain valuable experience at the same time.

It is a hugely successful program, not just for the City of Minneapolis, but for other downtown Minneapolis businesses as well. The students who fill these positions think that the program is so rewarding that there is a waiting list for the program. Plus, more and more kids are working every summer they are in school with the City of Minneapolis, some even within the same positions year after year. The last few years have been very helpful for the public sector, as more universities and colleges are offering programs that deal with public service and public policy.

In Ontario, Canada, for instance, in 2004 there was just one university with a master’s program in public policy and administration, in 2006 that number grew to nineteen colleges and universities offering similar programs (Kile, 2006, p. 3). The more exposure that younger workers get, the more excited they might become at the prospect of public service, and education is one avenue to do this. Another solution that could help the recruiting process within the public sector is developing the process of defining what they need from new employees, before they start to recruit for a new hire. I call this developing a workforce strategy.

Too many public sector organizations don’t have a proper process to define the position, the salary, and the knowledge, skills and abilities before they post the position externally. You must start the process at the very front end of the recruiting process, including both the department and human resources in the process, by properly defining a job description, aligning that position with a salary structure, and making sure that the position reflects what is needed by the department. These are simple steps that could make the hiring and recruiting process a lot easier at the public sector.

The City of Minneapolis does have a version of a workforce strategy. Each department has a headcount, divided up by the different classifications that department has, and no department can hire outside of their headcount, unless approve by human resources and the classifications department. This is only part of the strategy, however. The City has too complex a hiring process, so there is no time spend on anything strategic, instead, you are working on fixing the problems with the system, and relying on our external website to find potential applicants.

This is not the right way to recruit the best and most talented new employees. Another solution that will help the public sector recruit better is by fixing the application process. The public sector needs to shorten the hiring process and application process, so that candidates aren’t disinterested in going through the hiring process right from the start. There is no need for any application being longer than a few pages, and it is ridiculous to think that applicants are going to spend more than an hour completing an application.

I once applied for a position within a County here in Minnesota. I went online, and completed the necessary web pages that constituted their application. I was so excited when I hit “submit” at what I thought was the end of the application. My excitedness soon turned to agony when I realized that I still had five essay questions to answer. I sat at my computer that night for more than two and a half hours completing that application. Looking back, I would never do that again, and it didn’t help my chances in getting a job there as well.

Most public sector organizations have computer-based recruiting systems that contain the application process. The problem, however, just goes back to the rules and regulations interfering with the recruiting process. At the City of Minneapolis we use PeopleSoft, a pretty common web-based applicant tracking system. We also use it as our employee database and payroll system. I have used PeopleSoft for years in my prior positions. However, when I started at the City, I felt like I was using a completely different system.

I needed four days of training to become generally versed in the recruiting process they were using in PeopleSoft. I later learned that the City had purchased PeopleSoft, but then modified it to their needs, without the help of PeopleSoft. So, it looked like the system that I had used before, but it certainly didn’t function like it, which made sense. The public sector is trying to make some revisions to the hiring process. For instance, at the U. S. Department of Education (USDE), they completing revised and streamlined their hiring process recently. The USDE was one of three governmental agencies that radically reengineered their hiring process during a ten-month project, cutting the number of steps required to hire a new employee from 114 to 53” (Trahant & Yearout, 2006, p. 59). The USDE redesigned their hiring process to bring human resources and hiring managers together at the beginning of the process. The idea was that both parties should agree ahead of time on the job description, requirements and recruiting strategies – before any hiring activities are actually undertaken (Trahant & Yearout, 2006, p. 59).

In the past, hiring managers and human resources were not always in harmony with their recruiting efforts ahead of time at the USDE. The U. S. Department of Education also did something radical in my eyes. They created completely different job descriptions. They created job descriptions that were free from any governmental terminology, and they put a greater emphasis on the needs of the positions, the functions of the position and any opportunities of advancement that were possible with the position (Trahant & Yearout, 2006, p. 59). I think that was a great idea.

Too many job descriptions focus on things that the applicant either doesn’t need to know about, or doesn’t read. By making the job posting more exciting and informational in the view of the applicant, they were making their recruiting process better. In this day and time, it is essential for organizations, both public and private to have a strategic relationship between their business lines and human resources. Developing this relationship is going to automatically cut down on the length of time it takes to hire a employee, as both the line and human resources will understand the needs of the business better, before they start recruiting.

In closing, the recruiting process with the public sector, in my eyes, is a mess. There are too many restrictions on the process, there is too much bureaucracy included in the process, it takes too long to hire a new employee and the public sector isn’t targeting the right application pool with an eye on the future; however some of the challenges are the same challenges that the private sector is facing as well. There will be a shortage of workers everywhere, and we will have a mass exodus of retiring workers over the next ten years.

These are the kinds of challenges are not unique to anyone; they are common for all organizations. By fixing some of these problems, shortening the application process, developing relationships with colleges and universities and developing a workforce strategy, I think will help start the revisions necessary for the public sector to get better at hiring the best and most qualified applications for their open positions. These are both short and long term revisions that can take place over time and with resources already in place.

It doesn’t take much to develop a relationship with a college or university, and it doesn’t take much to develop an internship program. The application process can be done in several stages as well. To start, fix what you are looking for, and what information you need, then revise what your process is online. There are small and large steps that will be needed to complete the overhaul of the recruiting process within the public sector, but I don’t think you need to do it all at once. Do what you can, when you can, and do the things that will make the biggest impact.

These kinds of solutions will make the recruiting process better for the public sector, but not just for the public sector, for the applicants applying for positions within the public sector as well. References Eggers, W. , Phelan, M. , and Phoenix, T. (2007, December). Bolstering human capital: How the public sector can beat the coming talent crisis. Deloitte Research, a subsidiary of Deloitte Services LP. Retrieved from http://jobfunctions. bnet. com/abstract. aspx? docid=335207 Friend, Zachariah (2004, October). The retirement epidemic: recruiting young people into public service.

PM: Public Management, 86, 9, 22 – 27. Retrieved on November 11, 2008. Klie, Shannon (2006, December 4). Public sector needs to focus on recruiting. The Canadian HR Reporter. Retrieved on November 11, 2008. Leslie, Chris (2008, April 25-May 1). Town halls: the next generation. Public Finance, p. 24-25 Russell, Vivienne (2008, April 25-May 1). Councils warmed to prepare now for exodus of retiring workers. Public Finance, p. 16. Retrieved on December 14, 2008. Trahant, B and Yearout, S. (2006, Spring). Competing for talent in the federal government. The Public Manager, 57 – 61. Retrieved on November 11, 2008.

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