The Three Challenges Affecting On The Public Service

The public service is experiencing myriad of challenges in recent years from, "government surpluses, deficit and debt, technological and innovation change, globalization, shifting demographics", the rise of new social movement, redefined concepts of client/citizen-driven service delivery, to evolving employees' expectations that are impeding the effective delivery of services. "The ability of the public service to provide services and respond effectively and efficiently to these challenges depends upon a competent cadre of public servants". These challenges are requiring public service to take up new responsibilities and implement new initiatives to combat these challenges that are now prominent in the aspect of human resources management, primarily in the recruitment and selection, retention and succession planning of human capital. The objective of this paper is to highlight and discuss the trend affecting the public service which has been hindering its capability to attract, select and retain the best and brightest candidates in the labor market, also not enabling the public service to maximize its full potential.

Recruitment & Selection

It has been evident that "government around the globe are facing unprecedented staffing challenges. At this time, they need to be most adept at luring talent to public service, and their ability to do so has rarely been so constrained and complicated by economic, social and organizational pressures". There is a great need for adequate qualified candidates to perform duties to deliver goods and services, irrespective of the recent pressures - the shift in demographics, competitive labor market, negative opinion of the public service and the bureaucratic & lengthy selection process - associated with recruitment in the public service. Inwood (2009) described the issue of demographics in recruitment as a societal factor "as the departure of the experienced public servants who took early retirement buyouts or simply left in frustration, coupled with the insufficient hiring of young blood".

Currently, the "public service is bulging with middle-aged managers and workers, causing the historical memory, institutional experience, and knowledge of the old timers to drain away, which is posing the vertical threat of high turnover and lack of qualified replacements. This shift in demographics will cause a loss of expertise in the public services as changes in the desire of younger workers have resulted in a population less motivated to work for the public service, as only those interested in job security are more inclined to work for the public service. Leading the public service to experience a shortage of revitalizing new ideas and perspectives for implementing innovations from highly qualified younger workers. With this shift, younger workers continue to be under-represented in the public service as this leads to the other factors affecting recruitment and selection in the public service. The under-representation of younger workers could be due to the impact of the perception of the public service, which does not have a stellar brand.

According to Lavigna & Hays (2004), the "negative image the public servants holds translates into the widespread perception that the government is no longer the employer of choice". "The debilitating trends of public service's low morale, cutbacks, and wage freezes" have constituted to this perspective. There is a belief that the public service is also a bureaucratic, old-fashioned, slow, cumbersome, expensive, inefficient and ineffective mechanism of the government. This belief is not attractive to the younger demographics, thereby leading to a high movement to other sectors. The changing definition of careers also impedes workers' interest and loyalty to the public service.

Technological pressures around the world also affect younger workers as they face unique career pressure in today's highly connected society. Online exposure to younger demographics successes can build a sense of enthusiasm for boundless opportunities. This can lead to competition and career apprehension, as younger workers become more interested in building careers than having just any job and will be enthusiastic to apply and work for organizations that offer career development and advancement. They are also keen on making an immediate influence and seek various challenges to keep up with their peers. Public service aging workforce that has not been renewed has caused the public service to face a "seller's market when looking to hire and must aggressively compete with other employers in the private and non-profit sector for a limited pool of talent.

Most public service agencies are quite inefficient in their recruiting and selection processes and may, therefore, lose qualified candidates to other sectors. The rigid and complex recruitment and selection process and criteria used in public service agencies are constituting to the issues to attracting qualified candidates into the public service labor pool. The public service irrespective of jurisdiction is repeatedly categorized as a slow organization as the processes used are complex and lengthy because of the need to achieve a higher level of fairness and transparency. The history of the public service moving from patronage, which was highly criticized to the meritocratic system of administration, that also "set up systemic barriers to certain socio-economic groups which stated, the public service was disproportionately staffed by white Anglophone males, especially the upper levels. This failure of the public service to be representative of the society led it to take "proactive and progressive steps to become a more inclusive equal opportunity employer, to ensure that the public service reflects the regional, multicultural, linguistic and gender makeup of the society they represent". Therefore, removing the historical drawback experienced by certain designated groups and Inwood specified this took place in order to ensure employment equity takes place through implementing regular staffing process that is free of attitudinal and systemic barriers.

Excessive volume of job applications together with the need for a detailed and systematic staffing process may lead the positions vacated by workers lost to retirement not to be filled quickly since timeframes in the public service tend to be vague as government policies, and programs can take much time to develop and implement successfully. Therefore, delays continuity of service and puts the public service at a competitive disadvantage in comparison to other sectors. Given the rise in retirement wave, public service managers will need to do much recruitment and deal with lots of job applications. Public service will need to enhance recruitment results and according to Lavigna & Hays (2004) requires a more coordinated and proactive approach to attract the best and brightest candidates, and since no one organization has developed a perfect recruiting program, no specific model can meet all needs.

Therefore, public service can profit from different procedures in how it recognizes, recruits, screens, and select public servants. By streamlining and reducing unnecessary barriers and personnel policies to entry to make it more user-friendly and less cumbersome and rigid. Incorporating new technologies and innovations with engaging and flexible procedure into recruitment and selection policies, programs and strategies, especially in the processes with a high volume of applicants and information, can improve operational efficiency. The public service has earned the reputation for asking candidates to endure lengthy and complex recruitment processes. Public service can tackle the negative perception of the public image by controlling candidate experience through recruitment processes and emphasizing on the aim, unique scope, strengths and learning opportunities to prospective employees by rebranding and "developing selling points to make an idea of a career in the public sector".

There are still some workers interested in the public service, as some still choose to pursue public service careers because of the prospects available to examine wide-ranging tasks to help formulate and implement policy solutions that can have a positive influence on the society. Public service needs to continuously assess and improve branding and marketing resources as most are obsolete and not appealing to the younger demographics, this will set the public service apart from the private sector who allocates resources towards understanding and attracting qualified candidates. Creation of new administrative model that is less bureaucratic and hierarchical which is more technology-based could help attract and retain prospective qualified candidates, to ensure that the public service maintains the ability to be a preferred employer.


Retention is another challenge resulting in loss of talent through many years of downsizing, "a demographic skew after the years of limited recruitment constant criticism of the public sector which seriously affected, many years of pay freezes; and increasing interest by the private sector in acquiring the skills possessed by public servants".

Attrition is an emerging concern in the public service as numerous workers become public servants only to exit the service after a few years later for more profitable and accomplishing jobs in other sectors especially private sectors. This trend has become the truth of the present labor market, as younger workers have different expectations as employees and expecting more from their employers and are not intimated to move if their expectations and needs not met. Retaining employees, especially younger workers who possess new and innovates ideas and perspectives, is very crucial to ensure effective and efficient delivery of public goods and services and ensure the public service has a competitive advantage over its competitors in other sectors. Various factors such as compensation, career training, advancement and development, flexibility, and engagement of the workforce all contribute to the low retention rate that the public service is experiencing. McMullen explained why the "issues associated with government compensation, especially concerning how it compares to the private sector's continue to attract policy attention".

In Drysdale (2010) it was also discussed how "excessive pay can lead to excessive expenditure and hence higher taxes or budget or budget deficits, both of which are resisted", and considering that government compensation levels have been frozen for a period of years following the reform and restructuring of the public service. Therefore, leading a significant number of qualified candidates below management level to leave public service to take up higher paying offers in other sectors. These all occurred due to the "rise of neoconservatism which brought increased criticism of the public service, as it was believed that the government had become too large, complex and unwieldy, and a primary instrument of obstruction to the free operation of markets". Inwood (2009) stated that this growing chorus of the neoconservatism demand to reduce the size of government and to put the art of governing on a more businesslike footing based on the theories of New Public Management affected the public service's identity, role, composition, and morale.

These years of criticism led to reform in the public services from downsizing to wage cuts and freezes and impeded recruitment efforts which made it difficult for the public service to attract, motivate and retain qualified candidates. These pressures and changes constituted to an extended deficiency of compensation levels in the public service, makes it onerous to retain candidates, where the private sectors and others can offer significantly higher compensation. Although the public service continues to have an advantage when it comes to job security, employee benefits, and retirement, this is not sufficient as most younger candidates are more fixed on the extrinsic rewards than the benefits given in the public service. Lavigna & Hays (2004) added to this belief stating that the public service's "opportunity to compete for salary increases in the labor market is less likely to appeal to the today's applicants far more than the seniority system that dominated the compensation and advancement in some public service systems". While compensation is a play a crucial role in retention, it is not the only factor driving job decisions, most candidates also place a high value on having a challenging and stimulating work that allows for opportunities for skills and career development.

The recent changes and reform in the public service especially the downsizing initiatives have diminished career opportunities, now making it difficult for employees and prospective candidates to advance their career. Changes in the labor market on the basis on demographics, technology advances, globalization and new ways of completing tasks, has seen that younger candidates have different work-related priorities, they are more concerned in building career and attracted to employers who can provide enhanced work experience. This shift resulted because the "public service is known to have a culture that doesn't support career development due to daunting bureaucracy, unrealistic workload from downsizing leading to no focus on people and little support for career advancement and training".

Lavigna and Hays stated how workers derive grater intrinsic satisfaction when they have autonomy, flexible work arrangement which they are engaged in and can make contributions. They are also looking for new innovative ways of completing their work assignments that go in hand with the education and skills they possess. The public service needs to underline the importance of human capital in their organization by leveraging ways to revising compensation policy to better compete in today's labor market. Provide accessible resources to promote job flexibility, for instance, introduce job rotations programs that will enable employees to work in multiple departments to explore and develop various skills, also, maximize new technologies to attract and retain employees. Public service will have to create a culture that will support and encourage career development which will challenge employees' career goals on the job.

Succession Planning

Effective succession planning is fundamental in today's competition for human talents in ensuring that public service is capable of replacing leadership lost to the rapidly aging workforce -retirement of older employees. Jarrell & Rewitt (2007) estimated "some government agencies would lose 40% to 50% of their workforce, resulting in the retention of employees with fewer than 15years of experience". Therefore, impeding the availability of qualified employees who will be trained and prepared to move quickly into leadership roles. Succession planning is much more than training employees; it also requires financial and observable support from all members of the executives; to frequently shape the workforce to respond to changing trends, fluctuating priorities and technological changes. Leaders in the public service will need to prepare qualified employees for these trends and change, for example, the new emphasis on transparency and accountability and for the swift response of the government to these trends. Organization challenges constitute to why succession planning is not a priority in public service, as the leaders play a vital role in directing organizational objectives. It becomes difficult for the leaders to participate in succession planning because they are often tied to a particular political administration and make assumptions that succession planning issues are beyond the range of their work.

Therefore, allowing it to limit their scope and choosing to allow employees to involve in other initiatives other than succession planning. Some public service leaders have also thrived in winning nation-wide recognition for their inventive jobs so that removing them is perceived a political risk. Lack of support from executives who view succession planning as a replacement problem and not a strategic duty may hinder the implementation of succession planning. Given the public service reforms that have led to downsizing, hiring freeze and budget as also put a constraint on implementing an effective succession planning. Limited government spending puts a strain on projects the public service can embark on. Inwood (2009) discussed how the "issue of raising and spending money could usefully be conceptualized by thinking about some public service departments as savers and others as spenders". The savers will be engaged in a constant financial struggle which will impede succession planning. Budgeting in the public service involves many actors; the Cabinet, Parliament, Auditor General, and historically the media and interest groups have been keen observers of the process of allocation of resources.

Due to these constraints, public service leaders may choose to spend their limited resources on present issues. For succession planning to be recognized and enforced, there must be a high level of executive support to persuade the Cabinet that succession planning is essential and that budgetary revenues should be set aside for this purpose. Support from the Treasury Board, who has been given the sole responsibility for determining budgets for the administrative organization could dictate the various initiatives that public service will engage in. The political executives need to support the significance of succession planning to convince administrative leaders that it needs to be a priority. As the "government will have to continue to innovate and flexibly respond to changing labor market conditions in order to fulfill the ongoing demand for the provision of public goods & services" and with many public servants retiring in few years, prioritizing on knowledge transfer will help public service reserve esteemed information and build on effective practices.

The federal government is the largest single employer in any country. In Canada alone, there are more than 1600 government programs and 2000 point of service. Under the guidance of political actors, public servants – the people who work for all departmental organizations and other government institutions – are responsible for formulating, implementing, and evaluating policies. The ability of government to deliver public goods and services effectively and efficiently rely upon an experienced team of public servants who coordinate and manage the wide-range services the government offers. The objectives, vision, and goals of any organization can only be realized to the effective management of human resources – public servants. The proper implementation of active recruitment and selection, retention an succession strategies will strengthen the anticipated perceptions of the public services, increase public servants productivity, enable public service to retain best talents and keep up with best practices in other sectors.

15 July 2020
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