Singapore has observed, “Where nations will eventually stand in the economic ladder will depend on their strategic human resource management development.” The onus is on public leaders to find ways to increase the capacity to manage change and to improve public service delivery.
Competitive pressures to enhance productivity and performance prompt governments to embark upon ambitious public sector reform. The process is complex and requires specialized knowledge and strategic skills to catalyze change. Resource constraints and unpredictable budgets inhibit investment in public service competencies.
Meanwhile, the capacity of the public service in many countries has eroded. There are:
- Major human resource shortages in professional and technical occupations;
- Limited budgets for recruitment and retention of qualified knowledge workers;
- Talent migration towards stronger economies in other sectors and abroad; and
- Poor leadership skills to motivate and manage public service performance.
In developed countries, the workforce is aging, requiring attention to succession planning, working conditions, pension fund solvency, and health and social costs. In developing countries, the workforce is increasingly diverse, mobile, and motivated by higher paying job opportunities in a global market. There are trade-offs between the security and continuity of long-term public service employment and the performance basis of short-term contract employment, particularly for executive cadres.
The changing dynamics require new strategies and flexible policies, practices, and terms and conditions to create an employment environment conducive to attracting, retaining, and developing talent for the public service. The intent of reforms has been good, but the experience on the ground indicates shortcomings in support mechanisms.
The Commonwealth Association for Public Administration and Management, the West Africa Management Development Institutes Network, and the Association of Management Development Institutes of South Asia lead the way in networking training institutes to help replenish public service skill gaps. Faculty are being trained, experts are being placed, and heads are exchanging experiences and good practices to develop institutional capacity.
Cabinet Secretaries and Heads of Public Service are also instrumental in building an excellent public service to advance national development plans and outcomes. Their role is to explore and champion the political possibilities of whole-of-government strategies for capacity development. Turning individual competence into organization capacity requires institutional change.