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Vacancies, Vacancies Everywhere: Why The Government Can't Attract The Right Talent

04/03/2016 8:17 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:26 AM IST
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It seems that clowns and the government have a lot more in common than we may think. How? A shortage of talent. The New York Daily News recently reported that the US may be on the brink of a national clown shortage. Older clowns are retiring, while today's youth can't find the "cool" factor in putting on a curly wig and red nose. Similarly, the US federal government is finding that many college graduates are not interested in public sector jobs, including IT. In fact, a recent survey cited that less than 6% of college graduates list the federal government as their ideal job

A government is a far more complex organism than a corporation... the need to innovate on the talent acquisition process should be even higher.

UK Labour's Digital Government Review worked with IT recruitment specialists Mortimer Spinks to survey 2,152 technology workers about their attitude to the public sector. The results--which Mortimer Spinks have kindly released as open data--demonstrate the scale of the challenge that the next government will face.

• Even if the requirements and remuneration of the job were the same, only 47.4% of these technology workers would choose to take a job in the public sector, while 83.4% would happily work in the private sector. Interestingly, even fewer (41.5%) would work in the public sector via a private sector firm. That is seen as the worst combination of all.

• But it gets worse. Only 15.9% of technology workers think public sector technology work is in the top-three areas that would add value to their CV and experience. E-commerce, start-ups, software consultancy, fintech, Banking and large corporates all score higher.

Having established that this phenomenon is not uncommon in the world, back in India, The Economic Times reports:

There are over a million vacancies for the country's most coveted jobs--employment in the Central government--and they're just not getting filled. These include, says the article, "the police and defence forces, which together have nearly 700,000 estimated vacant posts, valued for the security of tenure and reliable, inflation-linked pay and pension schemes that they offer.

The outlook is even bleaker if we take vacancies for skilled professionals such as doctors, scientists, statisticians and economists. These, if left vacant, could dent India's growth prospects in the near future.

While there are some systems in place to attract freshers from colleges, what we really need is people with real world experience.

Based on data from 2011, the situation does seem alarming and we have no reason to believe that things have improved. And it is not because we have run out of people in the country to fill them. We are just unable to get people with the right skills to take these jobs anymore.

The irony of the issue is that we have an equally large if not bigger number of unemployed, unemployable and educated unemployed in the country making this a seemingly easy fix. But that is not the case.

A government is a far more complex organism than a corporation so, in reality, its need for talent should be even higher. Consequently, the need to innovate on the talent acquisition process should be even higher. However, across the world, there is still only one method known for the last 400 years and that is the civil services. This in turn draws from the education system geared to feed it which is 300 years old. In the meantime, the world has changed and we are in the midst of the 4th Industrial Revolution.

While there are some systems in place to attract freshers from colleges, what we really need is people with real world experience (more on that later).

What is needed is a way for anyone to choose to join the government through a formal, clearly understood, easy-to-follow and transparent process. The person behind the wheel is the most critical component of any project success. If more projects like Aadhaar are to succeed, we need to find and put in place these right people before we can even begin to initiate the work.

What is needed is a way for anyone to choose to join the government through a formal, clearly understood, easy-to-follow and transparent process.

Nandan Nilekani in his book Rebooting India talks about addressing the 10 grand challenges for India with a 100 people. We need to make it possible for him to find the correct 100 people and deploy--drawing from the entire universe of the Indian population and not just the civil services.

In the past, the government in India has experimented with getting experts into the system to work in specific areas. They have been through the following methods

• Sabbatical from current work

• Invited by PM - OSD

• Hiring SMEs as consultants into ministries

• National Institute for Smart Government and NIC possibly

All of these efforts, though commendable, lack adequate visibility/public awareness, seem sporadic, un-coordinated and unsustained. They fail to make any lasting impact. They cannot scale to fill the gap we are trying to address.

We may yet manage to fill lower skill positions but the experience and skill level we need to make initiatives like Digital India, Skill India and Make in India (to name a few) succeed cannot be got by these means.

The target segment needs to be regular people with significant experience (not just celebrity technocrats and academicians) looking to do something else with their lives--possibly give back to the country. Money would not be their sole motivation-- they need to be given a purpose, a clear mandate and a three-year window in which to accomplish the task set out for them. Most importantly, the process of socializing the need and streamlining the intake needs emergency fixing.

Will people take up the offer if given a chance? I think so. If the responsibility is correctly defined and the right authority is delegated. Will the government benefit? Undoubtedly.

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