Its an often over used phrase ‘start with the future in mind’ but when it comes to planning the workforce needs of the future, its incredibly hard to get agreement on what that vision of the future is and even harder to start planning for that future.
The CIPD recently launched its revised purpose statement aimed at HR Professions, with the strap line:
“Principles led, evidence based, and outcome driven”. This has the aim of focussing HR professionals to stand behind this rallying cry and improve on the HR offer for the future.
So, within the world of Local Government, with ever reducing resources, a skills shortage in social care and education already impacting on hard pressed HR leaders, how can they work with their Chief Executives and political leaders to deliver further transformational change?
What might be more appropriate in this context is to reverse the proposition – and start from the outcome statement.
What outcome do we need to see for the future? Efficiencies and productivity are not likely to be driven by reducing staff numbers or cutting services, for many Authorities this is now “old news” and scope to address this is no longer an option. A key question however is how well has the public sector embraced a “private sector” mentality in looking at innovative ways to resource efficiently in the future? The outcome would be the same – filling of skills gaps, an engaged and productive workforce who are clear about what they are there to deliver – but it would be achieved along a very different route.
Private sector organisations who have embraced the gig economy, adopted the use of alternative working arrangements in truly flexible approaches to work or have looked to move away from traditional career pathways to consider the skills requirement, not the career history, are winning the battle to deliver efficient services in a cost effective way, where local government has failed to fully embrace this approach.
Is it our concern for the “principles led” part of our purpose statement? Are we scared to “use” people in a way which does not provide them with a nine to five job, without the support of our raft of policies and procedures to govern their work? – In which case I would ask us to consider the “evidence led” part of our mission statement as the HR leader – how can we evidence that the way we are working currently best serves both the individuals in the job – and the public who they serve?.
A 4G workforce provides challenges in adapting our management approach to work – a challenge which most public sector organisations are failing to meet. This may be due to the current demographic balance of the workforce and those who are the decision makers – dare I say mostly older, in traditional public sector roles.
But as an example think how we could tap into the approach of private sector organisations who use students in their university town in term time, and their home town in the holidays – maintaining and developing the skills of the employee, providing an option to reduce student debt and fill gaps, as well as identifying a pipeline for younger entrants to local government.
What stands in our way as HR leaders to being truly radical in addressing some of these issues? Are we worried about sending a signal that we are privatising by another means? Are those who we need to influence unaware or opposed to these different ways of working, or are we unable to square the challenge and perceived risk?
Programmes such as the jointly CIPD and West Midlands Employers developed Aspire HR Business Partner programme was developed to focus the part of HR which aligns to the business to see, test and develop such opportunities to maximise the effectiveness of the wider workforce in the Local Government setting –on a whole range of relevant areas of HR and OD, with reported impact and effectiveness for the participants - but upskilling of HR is only one side of the equation. Service delivers, managers and leaders have to be open to trying these new approaches and to be brave in working innovative ideas into traditional services, to test, adapt and evolve for the future.
When we recruit HR leaders into the local government sector are, we still asking for “local government experience?”, but to what end? Do we want our HR leaders to be exposed to the wide and fast paced environment of the private sector – and trust that they recognise and can use the transferrable skills to bring that expertise and experience to the party, whilst also still understanding the complexity and vagaries of life in the public sector? No organisation is unique, and whilst they all have their own way of working, look and feel, a seasoned HR professional should be competent and savvy enough to work their way through this, without having to bring local government experience as baggage to the role.
If we need a different type of workforce to deliver efficiency and productivity, working agilely with a transferrable skills set in a way which delivers for us and our service users, our challenge as HR leaders is to demonstrate that with the supporting evidence and a principled approach, we can create different outcomes for the future.
Director of Corporate, HR and Membership Services
West Midlands Employers