6 minute read 2 Jul 2017
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How to attract the talent to turn digital potential into results


George Atalla

EY Global Government & Public Sector Leader

Working with governments to address complex issues and build a better working world.

6 minute read 2 Jul 2017

We’ve identified four strategies to help the public sector compete with business for top digital talent.

As the needs of government change, talent acquisition must step up to meet them. Digital is disrupting governments worldwide as public sector organizations work to adapt to digital models. And young people are a shrinking proportion of public sector talent. With a wave of retirements coming, it is time to replenish the talent pool.

Missing out on talent poses a significant risk for governments

Skill surveys, including for several major governments, point to a sizable gap in digital talent, highlighting problems with recruiting. In 2015, the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) identified skills shortages in various government occupations, including cybersecurity and information technology.

The Australian Government has also acknowledged a shortage of data skills, releasing a data capabilities framework in 2016 to drive its preparations for a digital future.

Governments are on the back foot in the race for talent

The gaps in digitally savvy and young talent highlight a critical need for governments to attract an unprecedented amount of skill and experience from outside their organizations. However, competitiveness is a roadblock in recruiting the digital talent, young talent and, in particular, young specialized talent required for the “government of the future.”

Key business drivers and widespread demand for these competencies are fueling intense competition. LinkedIn data on hiring and recruiting activity shows that government and the private sector are competing for the same talent. The most in-demand skills include cloud and distributed computing, along with data storage, retrieval and analysis.

In this competitive environment, governments are lagging in talent acquisition. US agencies report 800 funded positions open for at least 90 days for systems engineers and other science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) roles, with open and unfilled opportunities in cybersecurity as well. Such results underline that attracting young talent, particularly with in-demand digital skills, is a significant pain point for governments.

Governments must transform their approach to talent acquisition by speaking to the audience they want to attract — the young and the digitally savvy.

To compete, governments must transform their approach to talent acquisition

Clearly, the face of in-demand talent in the public sector is changing to those with a digital skill set, to young people and, in particular, to young talent with a digital or data specialization. To match these needs, governments must transform their approach to talent acquisition by speaking to the audience they want to attract — the young and the digitally savvy.

The value proposition for recruiting today’s top talent should emphasize skill development and purpose at work. In this market, the employer-employee relationship is impermanent and is instead focused on an alliance between both parties for a common purpose. Gone are the days of long-term tenure and retirement benefits. Instead, entrepreneurship and adaptability are now critical to growing a career. For the public sector, that means focusing the talent acquisition strategy on mutual value creation rather than long-standing loyalty.

Transforming talent acquisition is also about approach, with a switch to a digitally driven strategy and digital platforms. The LinkedIn Global Recruiting Trends Survey (2016) highlights the importance of relationships. Among 4,000 respondents, social professional networks ranked first as the key source of quality hires, besting internet job boards (second) and employee referral programs (third). Employer investment in brand is also making a resurgence and is now cited as a key element in effective recruiting.

This is telling because it reflects the changing pool of in-demand talent as much as the availability of new media to drive recruitment. By and large, millennials possess the sought-after skills, so the way top talent in this generation looks for work is a vital consideration. US survey data suggests that 60% of millennials apply directly to a company when searching for a job. That is significantly ahead of the 45% who search through a networking or recruiting event and 42% who use their campus career services. Thus, the “pull factor” of a social and digital talent acquisition strategy — through both brand and relationships — is crucial.

Four elements of talent acquisition for the ‘government of the future’

1. Use social platforms to build your brand and communicate

Compared with more conventional recruiting, transitioning talent acquisition to social platforms is an obvious and immediate win in cost reduction, reach and transparency. Governments can widen the pool of available talent by communicating at scale, including connecting with “passive” candidates who are not actively looking for a new role but could still be considered for a viable position.

Social-led digital recruitment also presents an opportunity to develop a personalized connection with potential candidates. Governments can create a dialogue with top talent focused on purpose at work. Through direct communication and discussion with young candidates and digital specialists, governments can build a brand focused on career opportunities with social purpose and the ability to “make a difference.” This is a huge differentiator for the public sector and should be amplified in the strategy.

Governments can use tailored digital communications to consolidate their brand in diversity and flexibility. This will help convey a crucial message — that government is a desirable place to work — to younger workers or those from a tech or digital background who are accustomed to an entrepreneurial organizational structure.

2. Use data analytics to stay ahead

Through data analytics, public sector organizations can assess and anticipate demand for certain skills. One possible form is a thorough workforce assessment that examines talent, gaps, intersections and threats, then links talent data to market and economic information so government entities can anticipate future needs and shortages. It could include the use of data mapping tools to better see the ecosystem of available talent. Government and public sector organizations can use this information to plan for the future, including connecting with relevant talent early.

Digital social channels are an important asset not just for executing talent strategy but also for generating information. The ability to connect market and economic information with internal strategy and projections, including through predictive analytics, provides a powerful platform for talent planning and for wider budget and resourcing decisions. This new data and these new test cases should be incorporated into planning and performance metrics at the leadership level and within human resources.

3. Elevate and expand talent acquisition skills

The burning need for young, in-demand talent points to an elevated role for talent acquisition in government. Talent acquisition would become a strategic priority at the level of organizational leadership, giving it executive sponsorship, while ownership of strategy would sit with human resources.

The rising importance of social talent acquisition strategies can be a conduit for governments to reposition recruitment in their organizations and revamp recruitment skills far and wide. The social nature of recruitment means that everyone, at all levels, is the “face” of the company and can play a proactive role in acquiring talent.

4. Test, measure, refine, repeat

Social talent acquisition runs on a fast feedback loop in a noisy environment. Organizations must keep sight of long-term objectives and work within a formal monitoring, evaluation and investment framework. This requires solid investment in testing, measuring and refining strategies.

At the same time, agencies should develop specific criteria for monitoring and reporting on skills gaps and on the “fit” of candidates acquired through social channels, including individual action plans, targets and outcome metrics. The metrics must be tracked consistently, such as in regular reporting dashboards within human resources and for department leadership.


Government needs to attract top digital talent if it is to apply digital technologies successfully. But because it can’t match the salaries on offer in the private sector, it must follow alternative recruit and retain strategies.

About this article


George Atalla

EY Global Government & Public Sector Leader

Working with governments to address complex issues and build a better working world.