The Key to Modernising the Hiring Process in the Public Sector

The Key to Modernising the Hiring Process in the Public Sector

The UK has a productivity problem. We have had the slowest productivity increases coming out of the pandemic and the worst productivity growth since 2010 of all the G7 countries. One of the biggest barriers to increasing productivity is our outdated ability to get people into jobs, and to get them working at their best quickly. 

The UK has one of the slowest time-to-hire processes in the world. A Glassdoor survey in 2019 found that the average time to hire in the UK was around 28.6 days compared to a global average of 23 days. And frankly, that figure of 28.6 days is generous. Often these surveys measure the time from a vacancy being identified to signing a contract, rather than time from vacancy to having a productive person in the role. 

Time to hire increases even more dramatically in the public sector. The NHS, for example, says that their average figure is around 45 days, with just the safeguarding process after interview taking around 25 days. Anecdotally the whole process can take closer to 100 days. Now this is understandable – there is a lot of risk involved in hiring medical professionals and safeguarding checks must be done properly. But there is no reason a public sector hiring process should take so long.  

If we want to solve the productivity crisis, we need to get people into work quicker and we need to use technology to do that.  

Why is the UK’s time to hire so slow?

Much of our current hiring speed are hindered by the vast quantity of personal data that needs to be transferred between employers and employees. Currently this is a time consuming and often frustrating manual process. 

Employee’s need to provide extensive documentation including: 

  • Proof of address  
  • Passport  
  • Right to work  
  • Tax details 
  • P45  
  • DBS check  
  • Qualifications/certifications 
  • References  

In return, to onboard new employees the employer needs to provide them with: 

  • Staff credentials 
  • Log-in details  
  • Onboarding checklists 
  • Health insurance  
  • Pension information 
  • Security passes  
  • Contract  
  • Employee handbook  

You might argue that a lot of this can be emailed. But HR teams spend so much valuable time going back and forth soliciting documents, providing onboarding packs and answering questions from new employees, time that could be spent better elsewhere. Is there a way we can digitally exchange this information, without either party having to go through this labour-intensive process. 

The answer is yes. I believe the solution already exists and has been part of the global conversation around how we live online and in the real world for some time. The answer is digital identity. 

Dispelling the myths of digital identity

Digital identity is a bit of loaded phrase that brings up all sorts of preconceived ideas from government ID cards to the erosion of data privacy. To understand how we can use it to speed up the recruitment and onboarding process we first must define it. 

When most people think of their digital identity, they think of how they prove who they are – their passport or driving licence. But digital identity encompasses so much more than just proof of ID. It can mean everything from your purchasing history to your IP address, location, search history, contacts, biometric data and your photographs. All the information that businesses online can and do monetise. A better term would be your personal data. 

Now we know what your personal data is the question then becomes “how can we use that personal data to demonstrate all the paperwork needed to onboard a new employee digitally rather than manually.” 

Let’s take basic passport checks as an example. At the time of writing the government has approved 44 different applications employers can use for this purpose. What we need is a universally accepted aggregator platform that can be used with all these applications. Once we have that people will no longer have to download a new app and upload their passport to it every time, they apply somewhere new. 

A universal personal data platform is quick and easy to use for employees and has many advantages for employers as well. Not only can it cut the time it takes to hire and make onboarding a new employee more efficient, but it can also: 

  • Improve employee experience, keeping potential employees from dropping out  
  • Reduce hiring costs 
  • Increase productivity for both hiring teams and new employees 
  • Be used as staff credentials and logins reducing IT spend 
  • Improve data security, limit access to sensitive data and improve GDPR

What’s being done….and what isn’t?

The digital identity market is growing at a staggering rate that has accelerated post pandemic. It is currently estimated to be worth around $20billion. By 2030 it will be worth $120billion. It is a massive industry. But while there are lots of individual companies providing pieces of the puzzle, there isn’t one overarching platform in existence right now that is useful for both employers and employees.  

Because of that there is an opportunity to develop a personal data platform that gets it right. Both the government through an APGG and the independent Better Hiring Institute are leading conversations on how we can use personal data and digital identity to the advantage of the economy, employers and jobs seekers. 

More widely the EU is on the second iteration of their EU Digital Identity Wallet despite some concern over data protection and cybersecurity. In the UK a similar scheme is unlikely to gain acceptance. There has been public pushback to the idea of central government involvement since the days of Tony Blair’s National ID Card scheme.  

What is clear is that user consent is the crucial element needed for success. Any scheme must be trusted and prioritise being 100% controlled by the individual, 100% private, and 100% secure. 

Getting employees to embrace a personal data platform

In the UK, the NHS has been experimenting with an in-house digital identity platform called the Staff Passport. However, results from a recent trial were underwhelming. The CDDO Service Standard assessment report stated that the initial trial had NOT met the alpha assessment requirements and highlighted failings in 4 key areas: 

  • Understanding users and their needs 
  • Make the service simple to use 
  • Make sure everyone can use the service 
  • Iterate and improve frequently 

I go into more depth on this in a recent LinkedIn post but based on this I think we can safely say the reason the NHS staff passport trials are struggling to get uptake is, as it often is in the public sector, poor candidate experience, or in this case user experience. 

People need to be encouraged to download the platform and use it. Whether they are looking for a job or not. It therefore must have a purpose outside of the recruitment process for people to want to have a personal data wallet.  

The value for employers only follows when there is enough user traffic. Any platform must become interoperable across the web and host reusable credentials that reduce friction in multiple areas of a user’s online, and offline, life. Of course, in some interactions such as banking and security friction is necessary but to encourage user adoption any digital identity platform needs to be easy, and it needs to have a broader use case than just job seeking and then although users will have to upload their documentation initially, they only need to do so once. After that they can use the platform securely and repeatedly.  

Uptake could be accelerated if other carrots can also be offered to employees to encourage initial adoption.  If businesses who offer discount schemes (such as the NHS or Armed Forces discounts and other employee discount schemes) accept users from the platform they could seamlessly validate the employee status and use it to apply those discounts online or instore.  

There is always going to be hesitation from organisations and individuals when it comes to adopting new processes and putting faith in new technologies, particularly when they are at such as conceptual stage. You might already be thinking that this sounds inconvenient and expensive to implement. But I promise you we will only solve the puzzle of the UK’s slow time to hire if we can present a revolutionary approach to personal data and digital identity with win/win solutions for both employers and applicants. I hope that I’ve underlined just how numerous the benefits of a modern, digitally led hiring process are for public sector employers. But I want to make clear that I feel that this is the future, not just of recruitment for both the public and private sectors, but of our wider online lives.  

This change is coming. It is going to happen in the next five years. And the UK needs to take advantage of these changes if it wants to transform hiring, improve productivity, and grow the economy.

Founding partner of Morgan Law, David Morgan is responsible for strategic development and involved in all areas of the business. With over 20 years’ professional experience as a specialist public sector recruiter. He has also been actively involved in Digital Identity and Personal Data for the last 3 years. 

If you are a public sector leader or hiring manager, contact us today to discuss your recruitment needs or explore our in-depth insights and advice.