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Published on 16 de March, 2018 at Cities and Regions

How does public administration attract talent?

By Pol Solà
6 min read

Public Administration plays a key role responding to the basic demands of citizenship through quality public services. However, it is difficult to face the challenges of the 21st century through a model that was conceived in the 19th century, which has ended up in a hostile institutional design towards change & innovation.

This is the reason why it is worthwhile asking ourselves how we can rethink the system of attraction & promotion of talent in the public administration in order to make it more flexible and to improve its efficiency. We need a human resources system encouraging & responding to the public service vocations of its members, as well as enhancing internal coordination in order to offer a high-quality service to its recipients: citizenship.

The reason for the current management model of the public administration

The traditional view of public administration consists in a strongly bureaucratized body, where formalist procedures can ever overcome its mission: providing optimum services to respond citizens’ needs. Accomplishing this mission requires quality human resources as well as strong internal coordination among them. In this sense, the acquisition of talent with a true vocation of public service and, consequently, the awareness that public administration workers are due to the welfare & quality of life of citizenship plays a key role.

The current public service system obeys the guarantees & institutional inertia of the last 40 years. This is the reason why selection systems are standardized by means of opposition systems and/or interim examinations. In exchange for job stability, applicants must learn an extensive syllabus by hearth for a single exam that does not evaluate some crucial elements that are key in the selection processes.

An uncompetitive wage policy -if we compare the salaries to their equivalents in the private sector- and the lack of both positive and negative incentives to daily work are other elements that difficult headhunting for public administration.


The barriers of the current model

Beyond recurring stereotypes, the current structure and the lack of incentives in management of administration staff can lead to barriers such as:

  • An excess of procedural regulation that difficults vocational public servants to develop their tasks in an innovative and creative way and to break the dynamics adopted by inertia and inheritance (path dependence).
  • Priority of formal merits rather than effective performance, resulting from procedural hyper-regulation. In fact, the current system discredits non-formal qualifications providing high-value cross-sector abilities such as teamwork, proactivity, initiative… or the learning capacity of people.
  • Barriers to internal promotion and labour mobility of talent that can lead to lack of motivation of the public servants to develop their tasks in a good way.
  • Hyper-protection of employment and, therefore, of personnel that does not develop their tasks properly. This point might have a bad outcome on the internal and external functioning of the administration.
  • Production shortfall of managerial skills. The promotion model in public administration gives more priority to experience rather than meritocracy, managerial skills and talent.
  • Centralisation and depersonalisation of the human resources function. Public servants can never be conceived as a cog in the wheel, as people who merely carry out their assigned duties with no kind of motivation, aim and vocation to serve citizens.


Talent matters

The success or failure of an organisation depend on its ability to attract and retain people with commitment, vocation and talent. In the case of public administration, it is worth to ask ourselves whether the current staff is the right one, whether their professional development is promoted and whether their recognition and innovation are encouraged.

New Public Management was born in the 80s in a greater extent to respond to these challenges. This school of thought lays out a set of initiatives and instruments that – reflecting public management on the values ​​and experiences of the private sector- seek to transform its modus operandi inspired by the idea that competition is the main stimulus to improve the operation of any public administration.

In short, it is not enough to count on the public vocation of public servants: it is also necessary to establish mechanisms to motivate, recognize, retain or -if appropriate- to replace them for continuous improvement and for innovation.


How can we introduce changes to attract and consolidate current talent?

Before the comprehensive reform of the current system -which will a titanic & thankless task for the government that has the courage to face it- there is a margin of action that every government should take advantage of. In this sense, some interesting measures would be:

  • Management programs and continuous training plans. During the last years the Public Administration School of Catalonia (EAPC) has tried to rethink itself as a reference training centre for public workers and executives. In 2016 it launched, together with the Open University of Catalonia (UOC), a Master’s Degree in Public Management, and in 2017 the draft bill for his reform was registered in the Catalan Parliament in order to move forward in this regard.
  • New models to attract talent, going beyond the ineffectiveness of a rote learning system when it comes to detecting and filtering the talent and vocation of public service in an increasingly smart environment.
  • Promotion of the evaluation and impact indicators. Establishing a variable remuneration related to the fulfilment and degree of execution of the purposed items.
  • Guarantee the satisfaction of the involved workers. Public recognition of good workers is also key in order to promote their motivation and to identify themselves as a driving force of a country, city or regional project. Likewise, it is essential to incorporate their visions into the new institutional design. In this sense, an interesting experience being carried out by the City of Barcelona is the “Donem-hi una volta!” Ideas box.
  • Reduction of interim workers’ percentage. Linked to the previous point, it is necessary to establish special selection processes so that interim workers have the opportunity, where appropriate, to improve their work status.
  • Develop the status of professional management personnel in such a way that talent from the private, academic and third sector sectors could also be attracted, establishing in any case the necessary mechanisms that prevent its politicization, as well as an incompatibility regime that prevents the so-called revolving doors.
  • Mentoring Plans to incorporate new profiles, collecting and maintaining the know-how of those who will retire, accompanying them in their process of landing in the public administration. We cannot forget that a very high percentage of public employees will retire in the upcoming decade. This fact can be an opportunity for the public administration to attract young talent, able to work with information and communication technologies (ICT).

  • Promotion and recognition of public service awareness. Public administrations should preach among their workers about the importance of their role and to attract community-minded people. That is, public servants committed to guarantee attractive cities and regions, ruled by public policies devoted to respond to nowadays challenges: social cohesion, citizens empowerment, competitivity and sustainability.

In 2015, the Basque Government approved an ambitious employment plan to adapt the autonomous public administration to the current challenges (aging, gender inequalities, adaptation to new technologies) and to put an end to the internality of its staff. The Plan contemplates some measures of those previously mentioned, such as the special processes of consolidation of the job for interns and a mentoring plan.

In this sense, we believe that there is no excuse for the public administration not to begin to get down to work to redirect the situation and adapt to the challenges of the future that is already here.

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