Stuart Gentle Publisher at Onrec

Public sector pay rise plans hit new record in response to inflation and staff shortages, but still lag behind private sector

Education and healthcare sectors face biggest challenges recruiting staff, CIPD research shows

Under-pressure public sector employers are struggling to find the staff they need to deliver public services, with more than half (52%) reporting hard to fill vacancies, despite the highest pay increase expectations seen in the public sector in a decade.

This is a key finding from the CIPD’s Spring Labour Market Outlook survey, which shows that the health and education sectors are facing particular challenges recruiting the staff they need. In response the CIPD is urging employers to focus on job quality and how they attract and retain employees, through inclusive recruitment, flexible jobs and investment in workforce skills and manager development.

Six in ten education employers and 55% of healthcare employers across the UK report hard to fill vacancies. Looking ahead, 45% of public sector employers expect significant problems filling vacancies over the next six months.

As a result, public sector employers are anticipating making record median base pay increases of 3.3% - the highest level for more than a decade.

However, this still lags behind the median base pay expectations of 5% among private sector employers, who also report difficulties recruiting the staff they need. Four in ten private sector employers report hard to fill vacancies, while 23% expect significant difficulties filling vacancies over the next six months.

Besides increasing pay, the most common responses by UK employers to tackling hard to fill vacancies over the last six months were:

  • upskilling staff (55% public sector vs 49% private sector),
  • increasing the duties of existing staff (48% public sector vs 34% private sector)
  • improving job quality, for example, by increasing flexible working (21% public sector vs 32% private sector)

Marek Zemanik, senior public policy adviser (Scotland and Northern Ireland) at the CIPD, the professional body for HR and people development, comments: 

“Despite some softening in the labour market, employers continue to report significant labour and skills shortages, with real competition for workers across the economy. Public sector employers in particular are finding it hard to find the staff they need.

“While pay has an important role to play, there is a range of measures employers can take to boost how they recruit and retain their employees. More inclusive approaches to recruitment to widen talent pools, looking beyond home and hybrid working when it comes to flexibility, as well as investing in training and developing line managers can all make a real difference.

“The Scottish Government could also help employers upskill their workforce and fill skills gaps by boosting work-based learning pathways, improving lifelong learning provision and providing more flexibility for Apprenticeship Levy payers.”

To boost job quality, employers can consider a range of approaches including:

  • Offering flexible working arrangements - this must go beyond homeworking to ensure people with frontline roles can also benefit
  • Improving employment conditions, such as changes to contractual arrangements
  • Giving employees more say in decision making
  • Increasing progression opportunities and investing in skills development
  • Improving job design
  • Improving training for managers to enhance their people management skills
  • Introducing or increasing automation for routine or menial tasks