SEEK Employment Trends: spotlight on the government and defence industry

With a strong focus on business transformation, New Zealand’s public sector is at the centre of some of the country’s leading-edge projects. Experts say this is resulting in greater demand for top talent and the latest data from SEEK Employment Trends shows that job ads for the industry are on the rise.

SEEK job ads for the government and defence industry increased by 21% year-on-year in August 2016 and the average advertised salary was $80,569. Ben Pearson, General Manager – Wellington of Beyond Recruitment, describes the industry as buoyant. “The New Zealand Government is in the middle of its term and there are a lot of projects going on,” he says.


Transformation of the public sector

Pearson says the public sector shook off its cushy reputation long ago and is now a key site of business transformation. “There aren’t tea trolleys going around three times a day – the idea that it’s a cushy environment is very outdated. It’s a dynamic sector and can be quite challenging,” he says.

“There is significant social welfare reform, the Inland Revenue Department is experiencing business transformation and the new health and safety laws are also creating demand for expertise in that area. All this activity is combining to fuel demand. Some of the larger organisations have the leading-edge technology projects and digital transformation, and people want to be part of it.”

The broad focus across the industry also means government and defence looks far and wide for the best talent. The Inland Revenue Department’s business transformation, for example, involves end-to-end change that will be introduced incrementally from 2017. It will re-shape the way the department works with customers, including improvements to policy and legislative settings, and this requires well-honed skills.

“For our current government, public service is about delivering value and good customer service and so hirers may be looking to the private sector for excellence in customer service, efficiency and innovation,” says Pearson.



Corrections roles lead the way

Within the government and defence industry, SEEK job ads for policy, planning and regulations roles increased by 21% year-on-year for the three-month period from June to August 2016. However, job ads for police and corrections roles were out in front, rising by 171% over the same period.

Bridget Cooksley, Principal Adviser Recruitment at the Department of Corrections in Wellington, explains that while staff turnover at the department is quite low, the level of internal promotions is high. “We recruit about 1,400 roles a year and, while nearly half of those are internal movements, we have a very busy portfolio. Most of our external recruits are for frontline positions and corrections officers make up the majority of this group,” she explains.

It takes several months for external corrections officer recruits to be fully trained before they can go on the roster and Cooksley adds that this creates a lag in staffing numbers. “We’re trying to get a more proactive sourcing model to keep ahead of turnover,” she says. “The recruitment process is thorough and includes a number of steps so the idea is that we start sourcing candidates ahead of there being vacancies.”

Cooksley adds that applicant screening extends well beyond assessing resumes for the Department of Corrections. Online psychometric testing and a motivational phone screen are crucial parts of the application process. Candidates who make it beyond this point are invited to attend an assessment centre, which includes role-plays and other practical assessments. “We see how candidates would react in certain situations that they’re likely to face on the job and they also complete an interview,” explains Cooksley.

Successful candidates undergo training for approximately three months. “It combines staff college training and onsite training,” says Cooksley. “It’s a very thorough program and they also get to understand the offenders journey and how corrections fits into the justice system.”



Recruitment challenges

Cooksley explains that one of the greatest challenges in attracting corrections officer candidates is getting people to visualise themselves in the role. “People often grow up wanting to be a police officer or to join the navy but they don’t really have aspirations from a young age to be a corrections officer,” she says.

“A lot of people also assume that corrections officers are big burly blokes, but that’s actually not the case. Force is used in prisons as a last resort. Yes, you deal with difficult people but having good communication and problem solving skills is much more important than having brawn. Also, each prison in New Zealand requires 80% of staff to be the same gender as the prisoners.”

The Department of Corrections is just one area of New Zealand’s government and defence industry where recruitment demand is growing. This diverse sector is experiencing significant transformation and experts say this puts it in a good position to attract the best and brightest.

“It’s a dynamic place to work,” says Pearson. “There’s a lot of change going on and this is creating demand for talent.”



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