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Recruitment and Retention of Top Talent in Public Service Worldwide

Recruitment and retention of the right staff are two of the major challenges confronting modern organizations as they determine their level of productivity and sustainability. Recruitment determines the quality and caliber of human resources within every organization, while retaining staff is a function of motivation and management style.

Oyadiran (2008) defines recruitment as the process of searching for and obtaining a sufficient number and quality of potential job seekers or applicants to enable the organization to select the most appropriate people to fill its job needs. It is important to note that the process of recruitment begins with the analysis of the manpower needs of the organization.

In a similar vein, Pigors and Myers (2004) notes that the quality of a company’s personnel is frequently the single factor that determines whether the organization is going to be successful, whether it will realize satisfactory returns on its investment and whether it will reach its basic objectives.

Recruiting high caliber personnel is one thing, but retaining them is quite another. The motivation package and management style of any organization determines the extent to which employees turn over at an organization. Employees are not likely to leave their organizations if the welfare policy and management style of their establishments are attractive and convenient.

Bureaucracy, which is a major feature of every large organization, emphasizes a systematic, rigorous and scientific recruitment process in order to attract the best and brightest brains into the public service. For example, the bureaucratic theory proposed by Max Webber, emphasizes some management principles which include, among others, recruitment, placement and promotion of staff based on personal merit, competence and technical specialization; hierarchy of authority and powers; adoption of a legal framework as the basis of all organization policies, programs and activities; and the routinizing of activities including creating a filing system and formalistic tendencies in all the activities of the organization.

Similarly, the scientific management theory as described by Sir Frederick Taylor, emphasizes that recruitment, placement and promotion of staff should be based on personal merit, competence and payment of wages. These factors should be used as opposed to salaries for instant motivation for higher productivity, quantification of every activity in addition to determining the exact time and resources required for its accomplishment, and strict supervision and monitoring of staff to ensure compliance.

For efficient and effective utilization of human and material resources for public service in any modern democracy, the application of the above management principles, especially on recruitment and retention of personnel, is imperative. If these principles are observed in the recruitment of staff, certainly, the best and brightest brains (people) will be attracted and retained in the public service.

It is sad to note that most modern democracies find one excuse or the other to circumvent these sound management principles. In the United States, for instance, the concept of “Affirmative Action” is used to curtail racial discrimination and secure equal opportunities for all Americans in the public service. Pergl and Waters [1989] have noted that under the U.S. laws, affirmative action requests that employers take the necessary steps to guarantee placements of women, blacks and other ethnic minorities in order to accommodate them.

Oyadiran (2008) has noted that the post-Apartheid South African government adopted “Affirmative Action” programs for national restructuring, reconciliation and re-integration, as well as equitable distribution of resources among the blacks, the whites and other contending groups. Similarly, India, which is a pluralist federal state, adopted the policy of “equity and inclusion” to accommodate minority and other disadvantaged groups in the form of a quota for public service and the parliament.

Nigeria, another federal state, adopted the federal character principle and quota system to accommodate the diverse ethnic and sectional groups in the country’s public service. Section 14[3] of the 1979 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, as reinforced by Section 14[3] of the 1999 Constitution provides that “the composition of the Government of the Federation or any of its agencies and conduct of its affairs shall be carried out in such a manner as to reflect the federal character of Nigeria and the need to promote national unity, and also to command national loyalty, thereby ensuring that there shall be no predominance of persons from a few ethnic or other sectional groups in that government or any of its agencies.”

Similarly, section 14[4] of the same constitution further provides that the “composition of the government of a state, a local government council, or any of the agencies shall be carried out in such manner as to recognize the diversity of the people within its area of authority and the need to promote a sense of belonging and loyalty among all the peoples of the federation.”

The implementation of a federal character and quota system in Nigeria has robbed public service organizations of the best and brightest brains, who are usually dropped in preference for mediocre individuals just to ensure that every segment of the federation is given a sense of belonging. Public servants are only promoted when there is a vacancy for their respective states. The implication of this obnoxious policy is that the brightest and most competent personnel who managed to smuggle themselves into the public service are frustrated and dehumanized, as they can only be promoted whenever the incumbent of that position retires.

One major consequence of this ugly development is that since people have realized that their promotion and rewards do not depend on hard work and loyalty, but rather the sponsor of their recruitment, they hardly bother to impress their bosses. Loyalty is given to primordial forces such as powerful traditional rulers, ministers, senators and captains of industry among other powerful individuals in the country.

The U.S., India and South Africa, among others, may have developed some measures to ensure that merit is not sacrificed for mediocrity, ineptitude and corruption during recruitment and placement, as has been the case in Nigerian public service. The ministries, agencies, commissions and government hardly bother to discuss best practices on how to recruit, train, develop and retain the best and brightest brains in the country despite plenty of funding that is budgeted annually for human capital development. The money is usually shared among “top cats” in government.

Who can really focus on recruiting and retaining the best and brightest personnel for public service when public employment policies have been compromised for the sake of national unity and a sense of belonging? The best and brightest personnel have become scarce commodities in the Nigerian public service, and this trend may become a permanent feature. This explains why more than 70 public enterprises have been privatized just to improve the lot of the citizens.


Author: Charlie Nwekeaku, Ph.D., works in the department of Public Administration at Nasarawa State University, Keffi. He can be reached at [email protected]



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The American Society for Public Administration is the largest and most prominent professional association for public administration. It is dedicated to advancing the art, science, teaching and practice of public and non-profit administration.

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