Generation next and the public sector

BY Perry White

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

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A vast majority of employees in the public sector join in order to make a difference to communities and, just as importantly, to progress in their respective careers. However, the latter is under threat for much of the future finance talent in the sector across the Caribbean and there are calls for greater emphasis on effective talent management strategies by public sector employers to respond to this issue.

Young finance professionals in the public sector are in the dark about their future due to a lack of transparent career paths, according to a new report from ACCA (the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants).

The report, 'Generation Next: managing talent in the public sector', uncovered that young finance professionals in the Caribbean value clear career paths, but only 17 per cent believe that clear paths exist in their current organisation.

This report explores the work preferences and career ambitions of more than 1,400 ACCA members and students working in the public sector, aged 16 to 36 years old. Respondents in the survey say a transparent career path is the most important issue in both attracting this age group to an employer and retaining them there.

Across the sector, developing talent has been a challenge given austerity and the tightening of government budgets, which often hit learning and development allocations.

Taking Jamaica for example, the ongoing salary curtailment and apparent lack of or limited investments in business process modernisation, as well as training and development — all resulting from budgetary constraints — are factors contributing to this challenge.

However, the Generation Next survey showed that 96 per cent of respondents were attracted to public sector employers that would provide the opportunity for them to learn and develop skills. It therefore follows that public sector employers need to take a deliberate look at their talent attraction and retention strategies, relook at their value propositions, and ensure that they are constantly working towards creating that environment of learning and skills development essential to meeting this challenge.

It is widely expected that the public sector transformation programme now under way locally will yield some of these results. It is purported to be more than a mere redundancy exercise, but rather to support a broader objective of effectiveness, and will include creation of new jobs and opportunities for career progression. Similar initiatives should continue to be effected across the region.

The research also found that the level of experience being afforded at work was essential for attraction and retention in the public sector. The sector itself can offer a dynamic work experience in which employees can develop professionally whilst working to tackle leading societal challenges.

On-the-job learning was one of the most used learning activities in the sector globally and was ranked the most effective learning strategy by public sector respondents in the Caribbean (35 per cent). Attending external workshops were considered to be the second most effective (31 per cent), followed by job rotations and secondments (28 per cent).

On-the-job learning and job rotations are forms of experiential learning through which the employee 'learns through doing'. There's clearly an opportunity for public sector employers to increase the use of these experiential forms of learning to increase the effectiveness of their learning and development strategies.

It is also critical to emphasise the role that technology will play in this process. A large majority of Generation Next in the Caribbean believe technology will enable finance professionals to focus on much higher value-added activities in the future. Ninety-one per cent of public sector respondents in the Caribbean took this view, compared with 87 per cent across the global public sector.

The Government of Jamaica has reiterated its commitment to “leverage technology” across the public sector to improve service delivery and has already secured a US$68-million loan commitment from the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) towards this effort. This is a welcome move and should be accelerated as it is vital that employers respond to the work preferences of Generation Next in order to position themselves best for responding to this changing landscape.

It is broadly recognised that public sector organisations are typically unable to compete on remuneration for top talent and must instead communicate a holistic offering to their candidates that includes clear career paths and a positive work environment. Yet, whatever strategies they decide to adopt, it is essential that public sector employers recognise the importance of talent management as a key component of their future strategies.

Public services can be overlooked and people sometimes take what they do for granted. The finance professionals that support them are often also forgotten, but they do very important work to ensure a number of community needs are supported.

The ability to communicate the meanings and implications of financial realities in a useful way to key decision makers, for example, is something provided by a well-trained finance team. Great technical skills are a given, but a top finance team also brings strong leadership skills, effective decision-making and change management skills to the public sector.

The Caribbean public service sector will therefore be able to continue to deliver on its mandates so long as there are high-quality, well-trained finance professionals spearheading its financial prudence and accountability. It is therefore worth reiterating that it is essential that public sector employers recognise the importance of talent management as a key component of their future strategies.

Perry Wright is a senior manager for assurance and business advisory at PwC. He has over 11 years of audit experience, delivering external audit services to a wide range of clients across varying industries including: telecommunication, distribution, financial services, and insurance. He is a fellow of the Association of Chartered Certified Accountant (ACCA) and a member of the Canada-based Certified Public Accountant, Certified General Accountant (CPA,CGA). He also holds a bachelors degree (first-class honours) in business administration with a major in accounting and minor in international business from the University of Technology, Jamaica.

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