“With Covid closing international borders, the competition for technology talent has reached all-time highs creating greater challenges for the public sector, but there are options” – Brent Leahy, Executive General Manager – Peoplebank.
The Mandarin caught up with Brent Leahy from Peoplebank, Australia’s largest specialist IT & Digital recruiter, for his views on the challenges and opportunities for the Public Sector trying to source technology talent in the current market. Peoplebank supply technology personnel to the Federal Government and six of the eight Australian State and Territorial Governments.
Leahy tells The Mandarin that the inherent opportunity within each role is the major contributor to candidate application.
“Highlighting the type of work public sector technology specialists are involved in usually increases the candidate pool markedly. Our government technology employees are responsible for really interesting missions,” which he believes is a big plus government can use to its advantage over the private sector wherever possible. He adds “The Governments’ early adoption of and continuous commitment to diversity objectives like engagement with First Nations communities, gender equality, and broader inclusion efforts have resonated deeply with our candidates and broadens the target audience.”
Employment volatility over the pandemic period has also shifted job security even higher on the list of must haves for many of our candidates and they view that as synonymous with public positions.
Longer initial contracts and high chance of extension are also seen as positives for the public sector by our contract candidates.
Leahy says there are two major obstacles to technology recruitment for the public sector. “Departments compete more directly with the private sector when recruiting technology talent than they do elsewhere. Government departments usually can’t afford to pay as much as the private sector in terms of permanent salary or contract rates, and this can limit both the size and the quality of the shortlist” he states.
Government selection rigor can also limit its appeal in that, unlike private firms that have flexibility to offer positions to qualified applicants on the spot, the public hiring process can leave them waiting longer than it takes for another opportunity to present itself. Leahy cites the expedited and streamlined pandemic decision making by governments as cause for hope in terms of what is possible in critical situations and says “Any red tape reduction or improvement in process efficiency always helps the recruitment outcome”.
As a flood of IT employees approach retirement, it becomes vital to secure a pipeline of young candidates who will become future leaders in technology. Leahy believes the rapidly evolving nature of the IT field creates a unique situation where a lack of experience may be beneficial, and that government should turn that to its advantage. Younger specialists are not only more comfortable around new tech but with each new cohort the diversity of talent is increased.
“In most occupations, the more time and experience you have means that you usually become more expert at it,” he said. “In specialist technology that doesn’t necessarily apply. The cutting edge is moving so quickly that those fresh out of university may have newer and more relevant skills than someone who graduated four or five years ago.”
Leahy explains that initiatives like Peoplebank Group’s brand Leaders IT Capacity Uplift program allow departments to access this talent as both a greater value proposition and more malleable solution. “We source the candidates and then mentor/train them on-site in whatever skills or environment you plan for them. Effectively we help you develop IT Services consultancy level talent for a fraction of the cost.”
“The greatest threat for government is not securing sufficient and sufficiently talented technology resources at a time when they are needed more acutely than ever” says Leahy.
High-profile cyber-attacks highlight the changing security landscape, and the technology response required to combat it, have roused government officials globally to approach the IT resource gap with a renewed sense of urgency and sounded a warning as to the consequences for failing to do so. For our public sector this means tackling the weaknesses already mentioned to ensure critical technology talent can be secured.
Procurement does a tremendous job of saving money for the public sector in the short term but sometimes this doesn’t align with essential public strategy or prevailing market conditions which can ultimately be harmful over the long term. Leahy says it is important for public servants to consider the opportunity cost of procurement criteria within the context of hiring decisions.
“Missing out once or even a few times because current market rates don’t align with public service pay scales won’t be disastrous but if this becomes the paradigm the efficiency, integrity and most importantly, security of Australia’s information systems could potentially be compromised. Market knowledge is essential to achieving balance” he continues.
“Peoplebank, as well as several of our industry associates produce excellent periodic reports detailing rates and other market factors and I encourage the public sector to take advantage of them.”
To download Peoplebank’s most recent report on Salary & Employment, see here.