Does the public sector need to polish its sales pitch?
When New Zealand’s nail-biting election result was finally announced in October, it signalled a new government with fresh policies for the nation.

The latest data from SEEK Employment Trends shows opportunities in the public sector are on the rise as the government looks for talent to help drive its agenda for the new year.

Job ads on SEEK for government and defence increased by 23% year-on-year in January and the average an advertised salary was $83,431.

Ben Pearson, General Manager – Wellington at Beyond Recruitment, is seeing growing demand across a range of government areas.

“It is a fairly predictable cycle of the sector pausing during the election phase as uncertainty prevailed,” he says.

“We’re seeing business-as-usual vacancies that weren’t being actioned at that time and now they’re all being actioned simultaneously as the government direction is clearer. On top of that, there are some fast-track policy changes occurring that have created a range of new opportunities, particularly in contracting.”

Shane Mackay, General Manager, Wellington, at OCG Consulting Limited says there is an increasing demand for candidates with policy experience. This is also reflected in the latest SEEK data, which shows a 51% year-on-year lift in job ads for policy, planning and regulation over the three-month period from November to January.

“Government is on the lookout for strategic policy people,” says Mackay.

A strong employer brand

While many private sector organisations invest heavily in their employment brand, Mackay says this has rarely been a focus of the pubic sector.

“There is growing competition between public and private sectors, so I think brand will become more important for government if they want to stand out as an attractive employer,” he says.

One government agency with a strong and trusted brand is the Department of Conservation (DOC), which is charged with conserving New Zealand’s world-renowned natural and historic heritage.

DOC employs approximate 2,300 people across New Zealand including some of the country’s most remote locations.

“Luckily, we have a beautiful country to conserve and we play on that,” says Nicki Fuller, Senior Advisor Human Resources at the Department of Conservation. “A third of New Zealand is conservation land. We have an attractive brand that’s very trusted. Brand goes a long way for us, but not all the way.”

Fuller says that a key source of attraction for candidates is that DOC enables them to align their work with their passion.

“This is a growing expectation for candidates, especially from the Millennial generation,” she says. “We are seeing more candidates with a desire to work somewhere that shares their own personal values.”

As turnover at DOC is quite low, Fuller says traditional career progression can be challenging, however the department works to provide other career opportunities.

“We can’t always provide a linear path, so sometimes the opportunities are presented from other parts of the department and this allows people to develop a broader range of skills.”

Creating opportunities

New Zealand’s Ministry of Women is another government agency that takes a lateral approach to career development.

“The development opportunities we can offer our people are an important way in which we attract and retain our staff,” says Jessica Mooney, Principal HR Advisor, Ministry for Women.

“As a smaller agency, the opportunities we offer our staff include working closely with out Chief Executive and leadership team, opportunities to lead work streams and exposure to our Minister,” she adds.

“We view career development in terms of the wider state sector system and when people are ready we act as a catalyst for further career development opportunities in bigger agencies through inter-agency work programs, projects and secondments.”

The Ministry provides policy advice on improving outcomes for women across the country and Mooney says attracting the best talent starts with having well-defined job roles.

“We ensure we have a really clear understanding of what we expect from the role we are recruiting for and this in turns ensure we target the right market and get the best person for the role,” she says.

Mooney adds that the Ministry has a clear strategy for retaining employees.

“As a small agency, we involve our whole workforce in Ministry-wide planning sessions and the development of strategies and initiatives to achieve our strategic goals,” she says.

“Collectively, this enables us to build a ‘oneMinistry’ culture, with transparent and open communication and shared understanding of Ministry-wide purpose and priorities. Our employee involvement fosters a greater sense of ownership and commitment to the Ministry and their colleagues.”

As New Zealand’s new government rolls out its agenda for the country, it may face fierce competition for the talent required to implement its policies. Clear recruitment strategies and a strong employer brand will help attract and retain the very best.