The concept of the « start-up » nation has become (almost) commonplace under the impetus of Emmanuel Macron, formerly Minister of the Economy, current French President of the Republic. However, it does not simply mean creating a more favourable framework for business and innovation. It also involves a profound rethinking of the French civil service model, both envied and disparaged by France’s European neighbours.
By Sarah Pineau
The rise and fall of the civil service
Over the last five years, the civil service has undergone major transformations designed to combat a lack of attractiveness linked to, among other factors, stagnating salaries and lack of interesting career prospects and societal and political recognition, important levers in the choice of a public career.
Similarly to its predecessors, the 2022 annual report on the state of the civil service notes a decrease in the number of candidates for competitive examinations: « the average number of candidates for a position offered has fallen from 16 in 1997 to 6 today ». An additional concern is that this decline affects most competitive examinations in all three branches of the civil service. The study on young « people’s experience and perception of the civil service » published in 2023 by Direction Générale de l’Administration et de la Fonction Publique qualifies the statement. One young person in three has a reasonably close relationship with the civil service, either because they work there or because they have worked or applied to work there.
Including those who plan to join the civil service in the future, more than four out of ten young people (45%) have some link, however tenuous, with public employment. Among these young people, almost two-thirds of them have a positive feeling about their future in public employment.
However, Sigrid Berger, president and founder of Profil Public, a media platform established to boost the image of the public sector and a recruitment site designed to help institutions make their job offers more attractive, remains cautious: « Candidates’ expectations have changed since the Covid crisis; they want to find more meaning in their work, have missions with a measurable positive impact on society, and greater flexibility to improve their work-life balance. » In fact, at a time when « the public service no longer has a monopoly on the general interest, in the face of competition from, among others, mission-driven companies and the social and solidarity-based economy » institutions, in particular the ministries, must clearly promote their attractive features as workplaces, if they are to meet the expectations of these young people. In addition, « the challenge is twofold: not only to dispel preconceived ideas about the sector, but also to transform HR practices to attract and retain talent ».
Attracting and retaining talent: a challenge for the MIOM
The Ministry of Interior (MIOM), a ministry at the heart of security policies and also inter-ministerial policies, particularly in the territories, is an essential player in democratic life, organising elections and guaranteeing civil liberties. The broad scope of the ministry is reflected in the wide range of professions that it employs. Changes in society are raising the public profile of this ministry and are likely to attract young graduates.
According to the single social report published in 2023 (2020 figures), the total number of civil servants recruited to the Ministry of the Interior was 19,085, 4.5% less than the previous year. MIOM recruited 8,548 contract employees, an increase of 3.9% from the previous year, an indication of the first effects of the Civil Service Transformation Act of 6 August 2019, which intensified the use of contract recruitment.
MIOM is also acquiring a reputation for having a large number of women in senior positions: 43.6% of first-time appointees to senior or executive positions are women, and the proportion is 50% even for the National Police, complying with the Sauvadet Law, which requires a minimum of 40% of each sex among first-time appointees to the main senior and executive positions.
Capitalising on the next decade
Sigrid Berger makes a number of recommendations to ensure that MIOM continues to attract and retain talent, including the adoption of a proactive recruitment strategy, the streamlining of recruitment processes, and making interviews more enjoyable. This last point is significant considering that 90% of Generation Z and Generation Alpha people are gamers! It is much easier to find a job in the public sector than in the private sector both overseas and in rural areas, and this is an increasingly frequent request from 18- to 25-year-olds.
Another essential lever that MIOM can mobilise is to develop its employer image, backed up by the government’s « Choisir le service public » (« Choose the public service ») campaign. In fact, in its new communications campaign launched on 25 September 2023 to meet the objectives of its orientation and programming law, which provides for the creation of 8,500 additional positions for gendarmes and police officers over the next five years, MIOM has adapted this employer brand by developing its own slogan: « to experience the exceptional on a daily basis ». This slogan is in line with the aspirations of the younger generation: according to a survey by the Montaigne Institute, 43% of young people want to work in a profession because they are passionate about it, compared with 33% for their parents.
Indeed, MIOM has many exciting professions to offer but needs to make effort to publicize them. Real progress has been made on this point since 2019 and the first media coverage of the DGSI recruitment campaign. With its rock-electronic music, red headband and secret defence stamp, the short video clip published at the start of the campaign on the Ministry of the Interior’s Twitter account had considerable impact. Director Nicolas Lerner explained: « Our observation is that a certain number of our professions and expectations are poorly perceived today by potential candidates. This approach continues to be strengthened by the presence of top-level athletes, who help to promote the diversity of professions within the security forces through the values of sport and inspirational role models.
The latest source of inspiration for renewed recruitment is the experiments of neighbouring countries. In the study « World Tour of HR Innovations in the Public Sector » (October 2022), Sigrid Berger identifies a dozen innovative international projects, including « Impact Canada », a digital platform designed to recruit employees needed by the public sector in highly targeted fields of expertise such as behavioural sciences, innovative financing and impact measurement.
For MIOM to continue achieving its recruitment goals, it is vital for it to retain its momentum and actively invest in student fairs and other opportunities to convince young people that experiencing the exceptional is within reach.