Public sector skill shortages bite


More than half all public sector organisations are experiencing shortages of suitably skilled applicants for jobs when they recruit, with skill shortages now more marked than in the private sector.

Some 53 per cent of public sector organisations face skills shortages when recruiting, compared to 44 per cent of companies in the private sector, a reversal of the situation in the 1990s.

Research by recruitment group Reed over 500 public sector organisations and 500 commercial sector companies reveals that local government is the most affected, with six out of ten organisations experiencing skills shortages when they recruit. This is despite initiatives to improve the image of local government careers such as the National Graduate Development Programme launched in 2002 by the Employers' Organisation for Local Government.

Around half of all healthcare, uniformed services and education employers also report recruitment difficulties.

The biggest shortages, cited by a quarter of public sector recruiters, are amongst technical and professional staff, suggesting that the key recruitment issues for the public sector may be more around shortages of specific skills than low pay for front-line employees.

But while shortages amongst those with the right public sector experience are one of the top three concerns, there is less pressure when recruiting people with private sector experience, at the bottom of the skills shortage table.

According to Reed, this may indicate that the issue here is one of demand (with non public sector recruits deemed unsuitable to address skills shortage areas) more than supply (with non-public sector recruits unwilling to apply). More may need to be done, they suggest, to accelerate training programmes to enable those already within the public sector to address shortages, as well as to explore conversion courses to fast-track non-public sector employees in the skills the public sector requires.

James Reed, CEO of Reed, said that the public sector is clearly facing significant skills shortages. But while this has coincided with a slow-down in demand across the private sector, making it easier for non-public sector to make the transition from one to the other, the situation is more complex than it might seem on the surface.

"Public sector recruiters may have to become more flexible in the recruits they consider, and perhaps explore options for conversion courses to help those from the commercial economy gain the new skills they require,” he said.

"At the same time a whole array of additional career development paths may need to be examined to help attract and fast-track the right people to meet specific technical, financial and managerial requirements within this dynamic sector."