Spending cuts mean big changes in the way services are delivered. Public sector employees are at the forefront of that change. What an opportunity!
There’s a myth that HR managers in the public sector are not commercial and won’t cut the mustard in the wider marketplace. Many people think that the public sector is about red tape and bureaucracy and that public sector staff don’t have to meet real targets.
They are wrong on all counts. That’s an old-fashioned picture of how the public sector works these days, they have long been pursuing best value and promoting efficiencies. HR strategies are broadly similar to those current in the private sector – the promotion of efficiencies and encouraging staff engagement. The sector routinely links performance with strategic objectives and the ongoing privatisation of public services has engendered an enterprise culture, where staff are professional, versatile and adaptable.
Some of the best HR people I know started their career in the public sector. It’s a perfect training ground; you get a lot of responsibility early in your career and work on some big ticket issues. Working under the constraints of very tight budgets and in a unionised environment prepares you to face a raft of challenges.
Alexander Stevenson looked the issues in his recent book, Public Sector: Managing the Unmanageable (Kogan Page, July 2013) and has a high opinion of the skills displayed by these managers “Under pressure, public sector managers are likely to be good at prioritising, making sensible decisions and communicating effectively.” Transferable skills, however, you look at it.
At all levels, whether civil service or local government, public sector managers have good academic backgrounds and also specialised training and management skills. Well honed project management skills, the ability to formulate policy or to handle difficult clients all translate perfectly into the business world.
Public sector managers are used to working on big budget projects with large teams and larger challenges. Make sure that expertise is obvious on a well-written CV; beware the state sector tends to use a lot of jargon and acronyms so be careful not to use this terminology. Look at the language used in the job description and translate your skills using the same key phrases.
The boundary between public and private will grow more blurred in the future with the emphasis on commissioning services and outsourcing.Wherever you work and whatever you do it’s sensible to look for opportunities to grow your career. There are some issues that you might want to consider.
If you’ve been working the public sector for some time you don’t have the contacts in the commercial world that will help you bridge the public-private divide, to recommend you or to give you a heads up on potential vacancies.
So a smart thing to do is to keep in touch with colleagues who leave, keep track of them and maximise your networking opportunities. And don’t forget about the suppliers you’ve been working with, exploit your contacts book to the full in networking for a new role. In fact make sure that, if you can, you choose suppliers who also serve the private sector, then you have a two-way street.
Ensure you make full use of your CIPD contacts too, take advantage of local events and opportunities to get alongside private sector colleagues who may be able to help you make the transition when you are ready.
The private sector is suffering too and substantial job losses in the private sector are a knock-on effect from the loss of public contracts and reduced demand as public spending is cut. The public sector is outsourcing more and more to mitigate budget cuts, so look for opportunities in outsourcing and resourcing partnerships as government and public sector organisations reduce their non-core and fixed cost operations.
If you are keen to move then perhaps you should think about the sector you want to target and set about building knowledge and tracking organisations that interest you so that you can network effectively to arrange introductions with the right people. Read about the industry you’re interested in joining, online and in the quality press. Follow your target companies on social media and communicate with them regularly. Check their website and Google press stories on them before interviews.
Another option may be to create your own business to exploit to the full expertise and contacts. There are plenty of examples in the business world of people who have created a business model to harness their experience and talents and been able to sell back in to the very company they started from. It’s already happened in the public sector with some outsourced services being provided by ex-public servants.
Public sector managers are groomed to become skilled negotiators and to work in a culture where they are expected to learn from each other and share good practice, ideas and experience. Ideally fitted for the corporate rat race in fact.