Public vs Private Sector: How Does the Public Sector Compete with Private Sector Jobs?

For decades, the public vs private sector competition has revolved around the private sector's reputation for offering better benefits and higher pay, posing challenges for the public sector to attract top talent. To address these recruitment hurdles and retain skilled employees, public sector organizations are adopting aggressive recruiting campaigns and adapting to the post-COVID work environment. However, they face significant challenges in cultivating the next generation of leaders, especially in the technology field, as younger professionals often lean towards private sector opportunities due to concerns about limited advancement opportunities and lower salaries.

The ever-increasing pressure from the private sector and post-COVID work environment has prompted a change in public sector recruiting. The expansion of remote work has further increased the competition between the public and private sectors. Now organizations in the public sector are creating aggressive recruiting campaigns to hire skilled employees and combat the challenges they face.

The Challenges the Public Sector Faces with Recruitment

The government needs to cultivate the next generation of public sector leaders for numerous reasons. The current workforce is aging and will soon be retiring in large numbers. Tech giants such as Apple and Facebook often attract the next generation of IT professionals, leaving a gap that the government needs to fill. Only 3 percent of government tech employees were under 30 in 2018.  This gap makes it difficult for government agencies to protect themselves against cyberattacks and other security threats. It is one of the public sector's most significant challenges with recruiting talent.

But convincing younger workers to shift to the public sector poses considerable challenges. The public sector has long held the reputation of having too much red tape and too few opportunities for advancement, which keeps young adults from pursuing careers in government. And when it comes to salary, state and local government employees made anywhere from 3.7% to 8.2% less than those in the private sector in 2018.

A newer recruitment challenge for government agencies is the proliferation of remote work during the COVID-19 pandemic. Many organizations in the private sector have begun offering permanent remote and hybrid options work options for their workforce. Public sector organizations may face additional recruiting challenges if they do not offer similar flexible options.

These challenges are not insurmountable, though. Public sector leaders should look at the ways technology and modern innovation can make government careers more desirable to younger age groups and make the office much more efficient.

Benefits of Public Sector Employment

So, what does the public sector provide that the private sector does not? The public sector has many great benefits that can be highlighted more in recruitment campaigns. Some of the most desirable public sector benefits that can help attract younger employees include:

Signing Bonuses

Many people associate sign-on bonuses with private-sector jobs, but public-sector recruits can get them as well. Sometimes recruitment bonuses can be as much as 25 percent of your initial salary multiplied by the years in the service period. It’s usually capped at four years.

Job Security

Private corporate workers are three times more likely to lose their jobs than federal employees, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. With public sector employment, you get job security and a steady income stream. This benefit is huge during times of economic instability. Public sector organizations remain stable over time.

Retirement Benefits

Most full-time governmental employees receive competitive retirement benefits as these organizations contribute money to a thrift retirement plan, which is the government's version of a 401K. In fact, you can retire at 55 and enjoy retirement benefits which is much earlier than most private-sector employees.

A Clear Mission

Younger generations look for organizations that have a clear mission, like public sector employers. Many Millennial and Gen Z professionals list it as one of their top considerations, and government agencies often do well at creating clear and compelling missions. You can attract this generation by connecting the work they will do with that mission.

Final Thoughts on Public Sector Competition

Competing against private sector organizations for qualified candidates has always been difficult for public sector organizations. These challenges were present before the COVID-19 pandemic and the volatile job environment post-COVID has intensified public sector recruitment problems.

But these problems are not impossible to overcome. Crafting aggressive recruitment campaigns that highlight the many benefits exclusive to the public sector organizations can help even the competition with the private sector. Governmental agencies can change employment packages to be more competitive against the private sector. All of this can help public sector organizations gain skilled recruits, especially in critical and hard-to-staff positions like tech.

Melissa Asher

With over 24 years of experience in human resources, specializing in training and development, test administration, and recruitment, Melissa brings a wealth of practical expertise to her Senior Leader role. As a hands-on leader, she is responsible for the growth and development of CPS HR’s Training and Development and Executive Search Divisions as well as leading key business development activities.

About CPS HR Consulting

CPS HR Consulting is a self-supporting public agency providing a full range of integrated HR solutions to government and nonprofit clients across the country.  Our strategic approach to increasing the effectiveness of human resources results in improved organizational performance for our clients.  We have a deep expertise and unmatched perspective in guiding our clients in the areas of organizational strategy, recruitment and selection, classification and compensation, and training and development.