July 2024


Local Government Recruitment: Addressing Challenges and Proposing Solutions

By Rod McMillan, Marketing Manager, Monster UK

Rod McMillan

As we usher in 2024, local authorities across the UK find themselves at a crucial crossroads in the continually evolving employment arena. A Local Government Association survey reported last year that over nine out of ten councils were experiencing recruitment difficulties in at least one occupation. 

Although councils offer a wide range  of over 800 roles –  spanning social work to IT – they grapple with persistent staffing challenges. These include employee shortages, budget constraints, outdated recruitment processes, and a growing reliance on agency staff. However, there are a number of steps that local authorities can take to improve the situation.

Key Challenges

  • Recruitment and Retention

An alarming 78% of councils report difficulties in attracting qualified staff, with retention posing a significant hurdle, as per the Local Government Association’s 2021 report.  Particularly problematic is hiring and retaining younger talent in areas such as social services, education, and healthcare, recruiting skilled professionals.

The Office for National Statistics reveals that, despite a modest increase in public sector employment to 5.87 million employees in June 2023, local government experienced slower growth compared to central government, not helped by ongoing issues in recruitment and retention.

  • Financial Constraints

The burden of financial constraints, exacerbated by unresolved pay disputes, further complicates the recruitment landscape. Examples such as Guildford Borough Council freezing recruitment due to a £300 million debt and Glasgow City Council having to settle a £770 million pay dispute underscore financial strains faced by local authorities. With costs rising, many councils are struggling to balance their budgets, intensifying the urgency for strategic solutions.

  • Outdated Recruitment Processes

While the private sector has largely adapted to modern recruitment practices, many local councils lag behind, and  it is high time they followed suit. Workforce planning strategies must include a thorough review of processes and tools. Notable efforts, such as Halton Borough Council replacing long paper application forms with CVs and introducing immediate interviews highlight some positive strides. Centralising departmental recruitment, as many councils are now doing, and implementing modern applicant tracking systems and recruitment software help standardise processes and enhance efficiency.  This enables potential employees to find the roles that fit best and helps councils hire better candidates faster and cost-effectively.

Developing Solutions

  • Employer Branding 

Creating a compelling ‘Employer Brand’ – that is, how candidates perceive a potential employer – is pivotal in attracting and retaining talent. Many factors influence this, including their positive and negative experiences with the council as constituents, and news coverage. Local councils, delivering essential services to the community as they do rather than selling a product,  must differentiate their value proposition to potential employees. Understanding employee aspirations such as flexibility, security, and meaningful work in a culture that aligns with their values is crucial. It’s important to communicate shared values to potential candidates, and deliver on those promises, especially in attracting younger workers and competing for experienced talent against the private sector.

  • Communicating Unique Benefits

Emphasising the unique advantages of working in local government is also vital. Stability and job security, work-life balance through innovative practices such as the four-day work week, diverse career opportunities, and the ability to make a tangible impact on the community are powerful selling points that recruiters should underscore.

  • Community Impact: Working for a council means making a tangible difference in people’s lives, a powerful motivator for many
  • Stability and Job Security: The public sector offers a lifeline in an era of economic uncertainty and recruiters should not underestimate this advantage.
  • Work-Life Balance: Innovative councils are finding ways to introduce flexible work arrangements, including the four-day work week 
  • Diverse Opportunities: With roles spanning urban planning to environmental health, local councils offer many diverse opportunities, with clear progression paths.

All this needs to be communicated clearly to candidates.

  • Process Modernisation

Leveraging technology for online campaigns and streamlining application processes is imperative for councils to stay competitive. Embracing such change while ensuring a consistent employee experience not only aids recruitment but also reduces risks and enhances return on investment. Council successes, such as those highlighted in this local government recruitment case study, demonstrate the positive impact of embracing modern tools and strategies.  It shows how campaign tools such as  our Pay for Performance helped the council increase their application volume and improve their conversion rates, particularly in sectors requiring specialised skills. 

  • Strategic Planning and Partnerships

Recruitment is not a one-off activity but an ongoing process that demands meticulous planning. Identifying current and future workforce needs and establishing the right  partnerships with educational institutions and commercial organisations are strategic moves that can offer invaluable support to local councils.

The challenges facing local government recruitment are many but not insurmountable. By modernising processes, strategically highlighting the unique benefits of council jobs, and forming effective partnerships, local governments can attract and retain a skilled and committed workforce, thereby shaping the future of effective local governance.

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