The highs and lows of working in the public sector

In a recent Networkers survey of over 1,600 technology professionals, we found that perceptions of those who work in the public sector are less than positive. At a sector level, almost two thirds (63%) of IT and telecommunications professionals who work in the public sector believe there is a skill shortage and only 44% believe the sector will grow and increase its revenues over the next 12 months; the least amount of confidence shown by any other sector.

When it comes to individual development opportunities, only 53% of public sector respondents are confident that their career will progress over the next 12 months, and only 51% received a pay increase in the last year, compared to 65% and 61% of private sector respondents, respectively. With these statistics in mind, it is no surprise that confidence in the public sector is low, but what other factors are influencing perceptions and how can the sector compete with the pay rates and job opportunities offered in the private sector?

Public perceptions and changing legislation

The skills shortage is not only a sign of a widespread digital skills deficit but may also be down to the perceptions of the sector. This is something recognised by Lawrence Talmage, Department Manager - NHS, Networkers:

“Compared with companies in the private sector, public sector organisations like the NHS can seem unattractive to some technology professionals due to the slow moving nature and high bureaucracy and ‘red tape’ that exists. The media have also been known to focus on the negatives, distorting the reality of what it is like to work in the sector. There are of course many benefits of working within the public sector but unfortunately these are often overlooked.”

Attitudes towards contracting in the public sector are also shifting as a result of legislation changes. The IR35 legislation was originally established as a way of ensuring individuals who were supplying their services as part of a personal service company (PSC) or limited liability partnership were paying the correct levels of tax. Despite a large amount of debate and resistance amongst employment agencies and the contractor community, changes to the IR35 legislation are coming into effect in April and will see public sector contractors be subject to taxes and being treated as employees, without receiving the associated employment rights of an employee. With tighter reigns on the way contractors in the sector handle tax, the private sector again seems the more attractive option for technology contractors seeking good pay and benefits. According to a recent poll by the Association of Independent Professionals and the Self Employed (IPSE), the public sector could lose almost 10,000 of its skilled digital workforce as a consequence of the reform.

So the combination of negative perceptions exacerbated by the media, a high level of digital skills shortages and forthcoming legislation changes which will negatively impact contractors, is all leading to a low level of confidence in the sector that has the greatest need for more technology professionals. So how can the industry respond to these alarming statistics, change perceptions and make the public sector more attractive?

The benefits of working in the public sector

While pay can be lower, there is often greater job security and a more clearly structured pay-scale in the public sector, which will be particularly attractive for those technology professionals seeking permanent positions. Damian Hayes, Head of Public Sector recruitment at Networkers said:

“Whilst the extent of the skills shortage in the public sector may seem like a negative, for individuals, it can actually help speed up career progression. With less tech professionals around, those who choose to work in the public sector have less competition from people with similar skills. They can therefore gain great experience and may have more opportunity to move into new positions that perhaps wouldn’t have come about so quickly in the private sector.”

Enhancing the reputation of the sector

The public sector presents technology professionals with some of the most exciting projects to work on - they just don’t happen to be as talked about as some projects in the private sector. In our survey, we found that other than good pay and benefits, interesting and meaningful work is the second most attractive attribute that would attract a technology professional to an employer. This is something the NHS has in abundance according to Lawrence:

“There are a number of truly exciting up and coming IoT projects in the NHS. These include the ‘Diabetes Digital Coach’ which equips people with diabetes with remote monitoring and coaching technology to allow them to better self-manage their condition, and ‘Technology Integrated Health Management (TIHM)’ which uses devices such as monitors and wearables to help patients with dementia remain in their homes for longer. For any technology professionals looking to make a huge difference to people’s lives I can’t think of a better organisation in the UK to work for. If the industry increases the promotion of some of these key projects it would likely engage a lot more tech professionals to move into the NHS.”

“With good pay and benefits seen as the most important factor in attraction and retention of technology staff, the importance of offering a competitive pay rate or salary cannot be underestimated so as long as the public sector can reduce the pay gap with the private sector it will attract more technology professionals.”

While the public sector may not suit every tech professional, it’s certainly an area that is undergoing rapid digital transformation and can offer some of the most exciting projects that will make a true difference to the society in which we live.

If you’re looking for your next exciting project or want to find out more about the public sector jobs that we have available please click here or alternatively email Damian.Hayes@networkerstechnology.com or Lawrence.Talmage@networkerstechnology.com.

To view our full Technology: Voice of the Workforce results. Please click here.

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