We don't want ex-civil servants, say private sector firms

Bad news for the Government: the majority of private firms aren't interested in hiring any of these soon-to-be-ex public sector staff.

by James Taylor
Last Updated: 19 Aug 2013
The Government may be banking on the private sector to rescue the job market in the wake of the imminent public sector cuts, but most private employers don't seem convinced. According to a new survey by Barclays Corporate and the FT, 57% aren't interested in hiring ex-civil servants, largely because they don't think they have the right skills to flourish in the private sector. Whether they're right or not, this is clearly a perception that needs to be addressed - both collectively and individually.

The survey, which canvassed the opinions of 500 private firms, found that 32% had no interest at all in employing ex-public sector workers, while a further 25% were 'not very interested'. In fact, a measly 8% described themselves as 'very interested', which doesn't bode terribly well. Clearly these employers believe there's a skills gap: 52% said public sector staff were 'not at all equipped' or 'not very well equipped' to work in their businesses.

With the Office for Budget Responsibility predicting that over 300,000 civil servants will lose their jobs in the next four years, the onus is on the private sector to pick up the slack. But judging by these stats, transferring all these workers from the public payroll to a private payroll is unlikely to be straightforward.

You could argue that this is a dangerous generalisation; that it's crazy to suggest public sector workers are, by definition, unsuited to private sector jobs. After all, some of them will have worked in the private sector before; others will have worked alongside private sector providers; others will be talented enough to work wherever they want. But if nothing else, this does suggest there's a perception issue here: private sector employers, on the whole, clearly think that public sector job skills are not transferable. And since they're going to hire on the basis of these perceptions, that's a very real problem.

So what's the answer? Well, perhaps the Government could speak out on behalf of its staff, drawing attention to some of the very difficult work they do. But that might seem a bit mealy-mouthed, in the circumstances. Perhaps a more fruitful approach would be to boost its outplacement efforts: working with private sector employers to match leavers to new jobs.

But ultimately, it will also come down to employees themselves; they need to think about how to sell their experience in terms that will appeal to private sector employees. Based on anecdotal evidence, we suspect that might mean (inter alia) showing that they can deliver work on time and on budget; that they're not hidebound by process; and that they're not unfamiliar with the profit motive. Over time, this will be the most powerful way of changing perceptions.

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