Winds of change for public sector finance staff

by Gill Kelly

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24 Oct 2012

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TIMES ARE CHANGING. Gone are the days when finance professionals could keep their heads down and immerse themselves in page after page of spreadsheets and formulae, avoiding anyone outside of their division. There is also no longer such a thing as a job for life in the public sector, which has dramatically changed – accelerated by the financial crisis which has had a major impact on what is required of employees. The finance professional needs to be a different type of candidate in 2013 and must embrace the change or risk being left behind.

As the public sector looks to engage with more commercial working practices, the dividing line between public and private sector organisations is less clear. The public sector is trying to attract candidates who have a more business mindset and greater focus on financial performance and productivity. Business acumen is therefore key for employees – demonstrating that information needs to be presented in a way which will allow it to be used for business purposes rather than just regurgitating figures.

While good accounting knowledge, financial analysis skills and project management skills continue to a be a must for candidates, these must be taken up a gear and further afield. Individuals now need to develop finance skills in policy and delivery areas, as well as the finance function, and have a higher level of financial knowledge. Perhaps surprisingly, communications is also a new skill finance professionals in the public sector will need to master. Communication within the immediate department is a given, but it must also go beyond this; individuals must be able to demonstrate that they are customer-focused, too.

In order to navigate through the changes and to respond to the challenges of the future, in-depth knowledge of emerging legislations in the public sector is a crucial skill for individuals. As further budget cuts can't be ruled out for the foreseeable future, the prospect of more streamlined environments brings with it the need to have better-managed information in order to help monitor the use of public resources and improved decision making. Organisations require highly adaptable managers and staff to have an array of new and transferable skills to help steer organisations through cutbacks and times of change. Individuals need to demonstrate how they would respond to budget cuts by doing things differently – be it cost savings, productivity improvements or adapting processes. The importance of flexibility is heightened during times of uncertainty. Meanwhile, those in management roles need to be strong enough in leading and managing change during these testing times.

With the carpet being pulled out from underneath us over the last few years, it falls to all of us in the public sector to react and adapt in order to successfully take public sector organisations forward in 2013. Candidates need to carefully consider the skills each role requires and do so in the context of the wider organisations and its stakeholders.

Gill Kelly is associate director for CIPFA recruitment services

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