So, where did 2018 go? For us, and I am sure for the other major players in local government recruitment, the year both went in a flash and interestingly, felt a bit like 2008. Yes, 2008; you have to go back a decade to remember the last time the market felt this buoyant.
For those of you who, in 2018, have read by R&R articles or blogs, you will know that my insight pieces focus on four things –pay, digital, collaboration and skills shortages. So, as we say goodbye to 2018 and wave hello to 2019 here are my thoughts on key trends we have seen this year and what 2019 might hold.
Private sector pay far outstripped that of the public sector in 2018 making it harder for local authorities to attract talent from outside of the sector at a time when commercial experience, skills and acumen are needed more so than ever. Reliance on market supplements may solve that hard to fill role today but this not a sustainable solution to longer term talent attraction and pipelining, retention and promotion. This will only get worse in 2019 if the continued demand for senior managers and leaders continues. Indeed, if candidates continue to be faced with job choice, appointment process will be tougher, longer to deliver, with shorter shortlists and a greater likelihood of non-appointment because of ‘buy-back’.
Digital was the most talked about subject in 2018 appointments we managed and we fully expect this to continue throughout 2019. Whilst putting forms on a council website or enabling citizens to request or transact basic services online is now the norm, the sector is a long way from embedding a cultural and organisational mind-set that is digital by default and shaped by citizens. There are few candidates in the sector with the digital strategy development and citizen engagement experience currently in demand and those from the private sector are reluctant to make a cross-sector move. Expect recruiting to these roles to be tough in 2019.
We have seen a growing number of joint health and social care commissioning roles in 2018 and expect this to continue throughout next year. Again, there will be limited fields for appointments of this nature, particularly if you are an authority of significant scale looking to attract someone already at the level and with NHS experience as well. The new Combined Authorities have taken some of the best Chiefs in the market and there will continue to be demand for heavyweight regeneration candidates in both new and existing organisations focused on housing growth and collaborative place-based leadership.
2018 saw continued candidate shortages in finance, legal, highways, planning, education and social care and there is no sign of this changing in 2019. The long-gone role of Assistant Chief Executive seems to be making a return in the form of the Chief Operating Officer – a non- finance corporate role designed to enable transformational change and commercialisation in the organisation. Such roles are highly appealing to the market and pulling well. There are still mixed views on the pros and cons of the twin-hatted Joint DASS / DCS model and good candidates are few and far between; interim is often the default position.
So, more of the same in many ways from our perspective. The impact of the Budget on some parts of social care and lifting the housing cap should generate further demand, but our sense is that the general uncertainty surrounding peri-Brexit economic conditions and long term local government financial sustainability will continue to cloud the sector and present challenges around attraction and retention.
Nick Cole is director, local government at Veredus