The Civil Service Capability Plan identified secondments as one way to build key skills, but just 16 per cent of our 656 survey respondents thought that secondments improve officials’ career prospects (see graph).
Head of the civil service Sir Bob Kerslake told CSW the findings indicate that the civil service must do more to publicise “positive stories about people who’ve gone out and come back”; encourage more people to go on secondment, “because the more people who do it, the more they’ll be confident with it”; and do more to “welcome back in” people who have been on secondment.
The survey also set out various ways to tackle gaps in commercial, digital and project management skills identified in the capability plan, and asked respondents to pick the three most effective approaches.
In each case, the most popular answer was: “Run more dedicated training courses and high-potential development programmes for specialists in this field”, while the least popular three were to make more use of consultants, and to increase the Cabinet Office’s role in supporting, and in recruiting, specialist staff within departments.
Kerslake said the concern about a more corporate, Cabinet Office-led approach is “because it’s new and it looks like it reduces control”, and the Cabinet Office will need to “work with departments to convince people that the outcome will be a better way to recruit talent.”
Nearly half – 44 per cent – of respondents said that allowing civil servants to be promoted while remaining in the same role would help to address a lack of commercial skills. Kerslake said this change is now on the cards: “We’re absolutely clear we want to do it; it’s the only sensible thing to do.”
Graeme Stewart, director of public sector strategy at McAfee, said one way to plug skills shortages is for government and industry to run short-term secondments that “allow civil servants to learn how skills are used and deployed in the private sector, with a view to transferring this knowledge to the civil service, without losing touch with their network.”