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The Driver And Vehicle Standards Agency’s Approach To Resourcing, Talent Management, Retention And Succession Planning

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The Driver and Vehicle Standards Agency (DVSA) is an executive agency of the UK Department for Transport (DfT), which is part of the wider Civil Service. It is fair to say that with fewer resources and political ministerial pressures, as well as considering internal and external factors, it is a challenging time. It is therefore vital that the agency has talented people to deliver its services to the public. DVSA’s 5-year strategy and individual directorate plans highlight a focus on its people. Wanting staff to demonstrate commitment, enthusiasm, and professionalism and to have skills to deliver are central to its success. Noise from permanent secretary and ministers regarding ensuring supply meets demand further stresses having the right people, in the right place with the right skills. It is also probably the reason why succession planning gained momentum across the department. The organisation has a number of strategies and plans in place, all of which have been considered to establish DVSA’s approach to talent management.

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This report will focus on outlining the current approach to resourcing and talent management for frontline operational staff and leaders and whether it supports retention and succession planning. It will also consider if these may have any implications on the wider organisation. An organisation with over 4, 500 thousand staff, more than half (2, 932) are frontline operational staff, therefore, it is essential to understand if the approach is fit for purpose for both staff groups. The report will also make recommendations based upon key findings to generate robust strategies/ plans for improvements to talent management for frontline operational staff and leaders within DVSA.

Talent

The DVSA 5 Year Strategy outlines a focus on people and the need to have a talented workforce and high-quality leadership. Recognising this part of the wider business strategy is a positive step and highlights the business’s commitment to appoint and develop talented staff. Securing the most skilled, highly experienced staff and those we would want to invest in sums up talent management within DVSA. The CIPD defines talent management as seeing “to attract, identify, develop, engage, retain and deploy individuals who are considered particularly valuable to an organisation”, most likely those who deliver frontline services. The talent and capability plan aims to support the 5 year strategy and vision setting key principles for developing talent and future capability in line with DfTs talent management plan. It comprises of three key sections that focus on leadership and inclusion, talent management and succession planning; and building capability and frameworks for professions, which supports the recognised twenty eight Civil Service professions. The Civil Service professions by government department data outlines that DVSA are part of 14 professions, however the plan focuses on 12, but both highlighting majority of DVSA staff (figure includes operational leaders) are within the Operational Delivery Profession (ODP). The 2017 people survey highlights the overall percentage for learning and development is low at 39%, this could be the reason for focusing on professions within the agency. Although it shows a slight increase from the previous year, it is difficult to determine the number of operational staff who actually enrolled onto the ODP profession and at what level, which would provide a more accurate picture on the development of frontline operational staff.

For leaders it focuses developing tomorrow’s leaders, strengthening leadership skills which are fit for the future. The leadership programme will develop key requirements for leaders, building a common language and framework that aligns to current and future business challenges.

Recruitment

The recruitment strategy outlines its focus on attraction, inclusion, process, candidate experience and continuous improvement; which would form a strong foundation for recruitment and selection and an inclusive approach. Supporting the strategy, all directorate plans have a business plan measure to work with both internal and external providers to develop recruitment and selection. Focusing on bringing in the right people with the right skills will have a positive “impact on longer-term issues, such as future skills development, organisational performance and employer brand”. Traditionally the agency has struggled to recruit frontline operational posts, therefore the recruitment strategy is predominately focused around operational staff to ensure the business meets its customer demand. It is not supported by the lengthy DfT group model for HR, as the DVSA recruitment support is provided through the Departmental Resourcing Group and the central Civil Service Resourcing (CSR) team as well as internal recruitment processes. DVSA no longer has direct access to advertising or recruitment agencies and the services are not up to the standard required. Frontline operational staff are made up of 62% of the workforce who have so far conducted 2. 1 million theory tests, 1. 9 million practical driving tests and an extensive number of vehicle testing. Therefore, it is important to recruit people with the right skills to deliver services.

Succession Planning/ Retention

Weeks (2017) outlines that succession planning predominantly covers more senior posts to ensure successors for the short and long term (CIPD factsheet). Although DVSA have implemented the government wide documentation for succession planning (9 box grid tool to help identify and provide context for individual potential) it solely focused on leaders, which again highlights Taylors (2014) exclusive approach. DVSA as an organisation have very specific skills especially for frontline operational staff and not considering these key positions could be catastrophic in not meeting demand. It is evident that majority of the organisations starters are frontline operational staff, which is interesting as that is a true reflection of the recruitment strategy described above. However, it is also evident that the attrition rate for this staff group is currently at 89%, significantly higher than the UK national average at 15% according to Monster for Employers (online). Even with the focus on leadership something isn’t quite right as the turnover for leaders in the last year is also way above the average at 89%. Furthermore, the attrition rates for both staff groups is much higher than Cabinet Office at 35% and the Ministry of Justice (who also have multi-skilled workforce) at 12%. The article does outline EU Exit being the reason for turnover within the Cabinet Office, which is an external factor that DVSA need to take into consideration when managing talent.

Diversity

Part of wider governemtn action planDVSA is committed to considering equality, diversity and inclusion in all aspects of its work; and ensuring the workforce reflects the wider population of the diverse customer base. The DVSA inclusion action plan 2017 outlines a number of key priorities, which will help deliver the Department for Transports diversity and inclusion strategy. Priority 2 is much more specific to frontline operational staff outlining 2 key actions. The 3rd priority, second action point is very encouraging in that it feels much more of an inclusive approach to supporting and nurturing talent.

Flexible Working

The organisation has a flexible working policy that offers a number of options, however, there is no data to show an exact uptake of these options. Frontline operational staff are also offered flexible working through summer and winter hours to ensure delivery of various services. These are further supported by additional allowances which make flexible working even more appealing. It can also act as a powerful recruitment and retention tool, which is utilised by highlighting different working patterns on DVSA job adverts. This is encouraging in that it enhances the corporate image and reputation. Flexible working is also likely to be more appealing to generation Ys and millennials valuing more of a work-life-balance and development opportunities. Furthermore, it can help frontline operational staff and leaders who have different needs to manage their careers still ensuring performance and productivity; and less likely to seek opportunities elsewhere.

Evaluation

Taking into consideration the above internal approach to talent management it can be seen that the organisation is making efforts to address resourcing, talent management and retention for both frontline operational staff and leaders. Whether it is the right approach this is questionable. Nevertheless, DVSA Annual Review 2018 (online) outlines that the organisation has made good progress on its delivery, therefore performance of the organisation has not plunged even with high retention rates. In the last financial year 2017 to 2018 DVSA made a surplus of £13. 8million.

Whilst the organisation seems to be performing, it is also important that operational staff and leaders are motivated, perhaps this could be the reason why some staff members have resigned. It appears not to be the case upon reviewing the DVSA Annual Review 2018, as it highlights an engaged workforce. With new technology equipment such as iPhones and iPads, new motorcycles and clothing. It appears this investment is helping retain staff with more than 47% of frontline operational staff with 10 years plus service and leaders with 70%, but yet this doesn’t reflect in the overall people survey – engagement score which is less than 50%. It is possible that this is because both staff groups are more content with what the Civil Service offers as a whole i. e. good pension, annual leave, which would meet the lower level of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs such as psychological, security and belongingness. As Vorhauser-Smith (2011) outlines, this is where neuroscience is best used to help understand the talent management life cycle, something the organisation could benefit from either through succession planning or workshops.

Talent Management & Capability

From a birds eye view it could be seen that the plan is incorporating an inclusive approach when outlining the aim for developing talent and future capability, which would lead to a more sustainable competitive advantage. However, when exploring the plan further it highlights the focus is more weighted around leadership qualities, how leaders can evolve, building leaders capability and supporting ‘our high potential people’. Taylor (2014) outlines this is when talent management activities are more orientated towards supporting, developing and retaining your ‘queen-bees’ – exclusive approach. It could be argued that only developing this group of employees is a short-sighted business strategy, particularly when frontline operational staff make up majority of the organisation. The organisation needs to be aware the impact this maybe having upon other staff and potentially feeling ‘isolated’. There is a lot of literature out there which focuses on talent management around leadership, but Fitzgerald-Shaw (2016) emphasises a good point in that talent management is a continuous journey for all, whether that’s someone who needs support to be able to reach their potential or someone exceeding expectations who’s ready for the next step. The plan outlines the team will work with directors to identify who in teams have qualities to lead in the future and what support is provided, but is this a fair selection process for identifying talent. With a number of family relationships in the organisation, the risk here could be that of nepotism, not demonstrating an open and fair process, which in turn can have disgruntled employees. “Favouritism can lower employee morale, lose you valuable employees, cause resentment, lead to overlooked potential, and stunt the growth of the business through reduced productivity”, which could again be another reason for resignations.

Recruitment

The People Plan as well as the Operations Plan include specific measures for frontline operational recruitment in particular to attraction strategies and selection methods, but they have a generalist approach on measures for talent and succession, which does not make it clear what the goals are in retaining staff. The talent and capability plan outlines that the aspiration for DVSA is to be an organisation that is fit for the future and not just filling pipelines, but then again that is what the current recruitment strategy is achieving, recruiting operational staff to meet customer demand. The return on investment (ROI) for resourcing and talent management is low because the time and resource spent on recruiting both staff groups is not of value as seen through the high turnover rate. Furthermore, ‘fishing from the same pool’ is not a creative approach. It is apparent that the organisation is constrained by civil service processes, but by understanding scarceness of critical operational posts and analysing trends such as seasonal, leavers etc. , would help focus the recruitment strategy. Taylor (2013) summarises that recruitment oversees attracting, selecting and on boarding of staff. Therefore, does this mean that DVSA need to focus more on resourcing considering a longer term plan, including the end-to-end talent management cycle right from attraction to developing staff through the organisation, which would have a stronger emphasis on retention.

There are a number of reasons for leavers but the highest reason which is resignation (30% for frontline and 34% for leaders) doesn’t provide further detail that could assist in determining what more could be done to manage staff turnover. Upon reviewing the talent management end to end process it came to light that exit interviews are not practised within the organisation. Implementing these can provide adequate valuable evidence to help make improvements to retention. Again the low survey result could be another reason for resignation, staff not feeling invested in.

Diversity

As much as the diversity action plan seems to be taking positive steps to becoming a more inclusive employer, there are some areas for concern. For example, there is a real push to promote ODP within the organisation which is made up of 42% of frontline operational staff and 15% of leaders, both staff groups comprising of 57% white ethnicity; more than half the workforce (could be more as 20% of frontline/ leaders have declared either prefer not to say or left blank). The risk here is that staff of other ethnicity backgrounds may perceive lack of development or promotional opportunities is due to their ethnicity, which could fall foul of the Equality Act 2010, race discrimination section 9(1)(c). DVSA would need to consider this as a risk, as in the case of Essop v Home Office; Naeem v Secretary of State for Justice [2017] UKSC where the Supreme Court upheld indirect discrimination. Furthermore, it can be seen (Appendix G) that DVSA does have an aging workforce (47% mix of both staff groups) and would again need to be mindful of not falling foul of the Equality Act 2010 of which Age section 5(1) is a protected characteristic i. e. when considering staff for development and promotional opportunities. The organisation must however consider how long its aging workforce would last, as according to NHS (2016) “Obesity ‘now a leading cause of death; especially in men’”. Although wellbeing is encouraged within the organisation, DVSA’s workforce is predominantly made up of 70% males and should be considered as a risk through long term workforce planning. A male dominated workforce, the organisation should also consider how it is perceived externally, for example frontline operational roles such as vehicle examiner – technical/ dealing with cars, seen as a ‘man’s job’. The diversity questionnaire does highlight some positive steps the organisation takes such as collecting data on employee profile and knowing how staff feel about training and development opportunities. However, the data is used on an ad-hoc basis and doesn’t seem to link in with recruitment, workforce and talent management planning. It is also important that unconscious bias does not creep in through these stages. Having a joint talent and diversity plan could offer amore holistic and inclusive approach to talent management.

Flexible Working

The flexible working policy does seem to be a useful tool with managing talent, however, close monitoring of the misuse of the flexi policy will need to be considered so that unethical behaviours are managed. Ensuring the Civil Service code – Honesty, Objectivity, Impartiality and Integrity; all of which are values supporting good government are not abused. These set the standards and behaviours expected of a Civil Servant, forming part of the contract for both staff groups.

Furthermore, bearing in mind the organisations aging workforce (babyboomers), considering apprentices and graduates for frontline operational and leadership roles, could be an advantage in helping balance the risk of an aging workforce and losing key skills in the next 3 to 5 years. External factors such as EU Exit and technology will also need to be a determining factor, especially the demand for how theory and driving tests are offered due to change in technology, the change in skills required from frontline operational staff.

Conclusion

DVSA part of the wider Civil Service and Department for Transport could be seen as reacting to comply with guidelines and pressures i. e. succession planning, talent and capability plan; rather than being intuitive and proactive to internal people needs. This in turn would determine a short term emphasis on resourcing and talent management. There are positive signs of progress of talent management across the organisation for frontline operational staff and leaders. These are including a people vision within its 5 year strategy, working towards developing staff within operational profession, supporting leaders through leadership programmes, having a flexible working policy and a diversity and inclusion plan. Nevertheless, taking into consideration data, plans and strategies for frontline operational staff and leaders; it would imply that the overall direction is implicit and of a blended approach.

18 March 2020

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