We know attracting and retaining public sector finance talent is a challenge in both developing and developed countries, and one that must be overcome if governments want to achieve strong and sustainable public financial management (PFM). When talent management is done right, organizations have the right people in the right positions at the right time to get the work done—which is crucial to good PFM. In the turmoil of the modern age, having this agile talent pool is more important than ever.
A successful public sector organization in the 21st century must have the financial skills in place to sustain itself through political and social turbulence, global shifts in economic power, and new technologies that reshape how we do business and communicate. This is why the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy (CIPFA), on behalf of the International Colloquium on Financial Management for National Governments, surveyed 72 public sector organizations around the world to better understand the challenges in building sustainable talent.
CIPFA aims to kick start a crucial conversation about talent management strategies with our report, Talent Management in Government Finance, which provides an initial evidence base from which public sector organizations around the world can start to develop a truly sustainable PFM prepared workforce.
The initial results suggest government has “category issues” to overcome in attracting the best talent to its workforce. Respondents highlighted how bureaucratic processes, organizational conservatism, and lower pay with respect to corporate alternatives all contribute to negative perceptions of careers in government. Conversely, government’s relative terms and conditions, not least its pensions, job security, a supportive culture, and the uniquely challenging complexity and variety in the roles available could—with the right emphasis—far outweigh the perceived drawbacks.
The report’s findings also highlight the increasing importance for the public sector to improve how it approaches managing, developing and retaining financial talent. Ensuring finance teams get the chance to explore continuing professional development (CPD) opportunities, which are critical to engagement and retention strategies in any profession, is an essential step to retaining financial talent. However it is not the only step, and government employers should also provide mentorship or secondments, as providing your teams with timely and relevant opportunities can make all the difference when it comes to keeping talent in the public sector. Leadership skills are linked to behavior, which is best imparted through mentorship programs.
Another way organizations should attract and retain talent is to make work “work” for your people. This could mean evaluating how you could improve your employees work life balance, whether through flexible hours or the opportunity to work remotely or trying to take steps to ensure people’s jobs feel meaningful. With the public sector ethos, where organizations are driven by more than just profit, this should be an area the public sector can excel at in the competitive job market of finance. Such dynamics can make all the difference in attracting fresh talent, in particular those millennials determined to make a positive impact through their work.
One other interesting point to consider from the research is how in the next 10 years the public finance professional will need to take on more complex skills and undertake an increasingly strategic role, focusing on planning and resourcing. Future accountants will likely need to understand and harness digital technology, the exponential growth in the availability of data, and be able to adapt quickly to changing work practices. Being prepared for these shifts means getting the right strategies in place now. If the finance profession in government can get this right, it can build a high performance workplace, encourage a learning environment, and contribute to a more diverse workplace. For more information on the study, please visit CIPFA’s website.