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Creating a Future-Ready Council

Creating a Future-Ready Council

by Patricia Hubbard, Mansi Sachdeva and Chirag Jain

Local government councils in Australia and New Zealand are struggling to hire and retain the talent they need to deliver vital services to their communities.

The more than 600 local councils in both countries handle a wide range of public services, from town planning and road, bridge, and sewer maintenance to managing and maintaining libraries, parks, and other community facilities. These entities also provide communities with healthcare, public transportation and other essential services.

However, in an Australian Local Government Association (ALGA) report published in September 2022, nine in 10 Australian councils reported that they had experienced skills shortages in 2021-2022, marking a slightly more than 30% increase since 2018. These skills shortages are hindering local councils’ ability to deliver public services effectively, with, according to the ALGA report, 65% of local councils reporting delays or effects on project delivery due to vacancies, skill shortages, skill gaps or training needs.

Local councils are also finding it difficult to retain existing staff and attract new talent. Involuntary turnover nearly doubled in Australian councils from 2018 to 2022, increasing from 8.3% to 15.6% annually, with staff turnover as high as 20% in the country’s rural councils. Four out of five councils cited an aging workforce as a factor affecting their ability to fulfill future skills demands, underscoring the need to recruit younger Generation Z and millennial candidates.

Fraser Coast Harnesses the Power of Engagement

However, some local government councils in Australia and New Zealand are bucking this trend. They have partnered with Gallup to measure and improve their employees’ engagement and create a culture that promotes performance and wellbeing. In 2023, 34% of these councils’ employees were engaged and thriving at work, significantly higher than the 23% of employees in the region who were engaged and thriving.

One such council is the Fraser Coast Regional Council in Queensland, Australia, which collaborated with Gallup to enhance its people strategy. This council’s approach focuses on attracting, engaging and retaining the best people.

In 2023, the council prioritized improving manager capability and confidence using a strengths-based, performance-oriented approach to enhance team engagement and wellbeing. With Gallup, Fraser Coast launched a leadership development program for over 80 managers designed to improve their ability to have meaningful coaching conversations with their teams. This program has empowered managers to work more effectively with their teams, identify and resolve issues quickly, provide timely recognition, and encourage employees to share their ideas for innovation and improvement.

According to Holly McBride, Fraser Coast Executive Manager, People, Safety & Wellbeing, the program has resulted in several seemingly small changes in manager behaviors that have made a real difference. McBride remarked, “Managers are recognizing the needs of younger generations are different and identifying learning and development opportunities for them. They are adapting their communication style, knowing when to coach and when to advise and mentor.” Operational managers now regularly ask their teams for input about what they need to do their jobs. Taken together, these positive changes in manager behavior are helping to increase engagement, performance and employee wellbeing.

Fraser Coast and the other local councils in Australia and New Zealand focus on three core areas to boost engagement and address recruitment and skills challenges:

1. Equip managers to engage their teams. Managers are responsible for 70% of the variance in team engagement and performance. It’s crucial for local councils to equip their managers to have effective, ongoing conversations with their teams to coach, develop, motivate and improve their performance while strengthening their connection to the organization’s purpose.

2. Create a purpose-led employer brand. Gen Z and millennial employees value an organization’s purpose and how it aligns with their personal values more than older generations. Local councils should highlight their mission-driven support for the communities they serve in their employer brand to attract the right candidates.

3. Provide an employee experience consistent with the employer brand. A compelling employer brand that only attracts the right talent isn’t enough. New hires, especially Gen Z and millennial employees, must quickly connect with the purpose-led brand in their new workplace. Gallup’s Q12 employee engagement survey includes the item The mission or purpose of my organization makes me feel my job is important, which assesses the alignment between the organization’s purpose-led employer brand and employees’ day-to-day experiences.

“Future-Ready” Local Councils

Fraser Coast is harnessing the power of engagement to be “future-ready” and ensure its workforce is equipped to tackle stakeholders’ changing demands, fulfilling its vision of building better communities together.

Gallup’s work with Fraser Coast and other local government councils in Australia and New Zealand focuses on improving employee engagement to address critical skills shortages and increased employee attrition. Many have incorporated this engagement approach into their strategies to build workplace cultures that foster greater productivity, attract and retain vital talents and skills, and prepare them to confront future challenges.

“By investing in our people to build an engaged, high-performing and healthy workforce, we are strengthening our employer brand,” says McBride. “So, if you already work with us, you will want to stay, and if you don’t, you will want to be part of the team.”

Become a future-ready organization.



James Rapinac contributed to this article.

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