A Checklist for Making a Move to the Public Sector

Hamilton Forth’s Joshua Moreland highlights the key points of note for technology professionals considering a move to the public sector in Scotland.

In 2021, Scottish public sector organisations allocated more spend towards the appointment of technology professionals than ever before. The Scottish Government’s budget for its own framework agreements tripled from the previous year and spend on interim professionals surpassed £70m for the period until the end of April 2021.

The Scottish Government has also laid out a number of resource spending programmes to conclude as part of the 2023/24 Scottish budget including The Digital Payments Programme, Cloud First, Digital Identity Platform & Connecting Scotland – all of which will run in parallel with the hundreds of technology projects undertaken by public sector organisations.

In short, the appetite to spend and secure tech talent in the Scottish public sector has never been more voracious than it is today.

At Hamilton Forth, we partner with a number of public and third sector organisations to help deliver bespoke recruitment solutions tailored to their needs. Where there is great demand for talent, there is also great competition – and to effectively support public sector clients requires accurately understanding the nuances, attractions, challenges, and benefits that they can offer.

Public Sector vs Private Sector – What are the Differences? 

Pay

Separating interim (contract) and permanent professionals to begin with – the biggest observation that is often made is that salaries in public sector organisations sometimes fall below that of a similar job working for a privately owned company. Public sector organisations are regularly restricted by salary gradings and bandings which are pre-agreed and cannot be moved, and don’t have the same flexibility around spending money on permanent employees as they are centrally (publicly) funded.

Contract professionals may not experience the same discrepancy in earnings as the likes of NHS, NRS and Registers of Scotland have spent large parts of 2021 and 2022 procuring interim contract resource for high daily rates.

Benefits

Many public sector clients offer extremely good benefits to technology professionals – including large pension contributions (often surpassing 20% employer contribution), additional annual leave, enhanced maternity and sick pay, flexible working patterns, cycle to work schemes, training support, employee assistance and mental health support. Some of these benefits are also offered by private businesses, but few match the total benefits package of a public sector organisation.

Depending on career stage is or personal drivers, it could make more sense to join an organisation with enhanced benefits and pension options rather than trying to maximise a bottom-line salary.

Pace and Perception

For some, a negative stigma associated with public sector bodies is that the pace of these organisations can slower than compared to private businesses. For technology professionals, this could be an understandable deterrent – as many IT workers are driven by a thirst for progression, development, and delivery of technical solutions.

To counter this perception, however, one only needs to look at the huge investment that has been made by The Scottish Government into fast-paced technology initiatives such as CivTech and The City Region Deal – where universities, local authorities and ScotGov are collaborating on the creation of brand-new, cutting-edge, tech solutions.

Altruism

Hamilton Forth has asked a number of personnel working in public sector organisations (clients and candidates) around their motivations for doing so – and one item which raises its head time after time is the idea of ‘doing good’ and ‘giving something back’.

Often, employees of these businesses place less emphasis on maximising income and more on creating something which impacts people for the better. IT professionals in particular have commented on how they enjoy working on something which they can then see in use on a daily basis – whether that is within a council, a healthcare division, a school, the fire service etc. This is an important revelation and may be one which hirers within public sector organisations should lead with in interviews and assessments,  starting with ‘why’ rather than ‘what’.

 

What can be summarised regarding recruitment, particularly of technology professionals, within public sector organisations is that there are certain idiosyncrasies which are unique to those who have spent some time in this sector.

Public sector businesses will face the same labour market challenges which the private sector faces, with a demand for top tech talent impacted by macro-economic phenomena and changes to UK income tax legislation. However, it’s worth looking inwardly if you are a public sector organisation looking to fill a tech role. Are you leading with the relevant details and information to attract a job-seeker who may not be solely motivated by finances? And to the job-seekers, have you considered what’s the best route to being introduced to a public sector organisation where you can make meaningful impact within organisations designed to serve the public? Food for thought.

For a confidential discussion about your technology career, contact [email protected]

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