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Public sector faces 3Rs challenge

A SHORTAGE of specialist skills and the poor quality of applicants are being blamed for a crisis in public-sector recruitment.

The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) says recruitment pressures have surged in the past 12 months, despite the economic slowdown and resulting wave of redundancies. It describes a "three-Rs" situation- where mass redundancy surprisingly exists alongside recruitment problems.

Many companies preferred to sack staff rather than give time off for college courses or in-house training. The institute's research found that the problems exist across all sectors and regions, with 93 per cent of the 557 organisations surveyed experiencing difficulties.

But the recruitment problem is worst in the public sector, where 84 per cent of organisations also complain of difficulties in retaining staff.

Angela Baron, CIPD adviser on employee resourcing who co-ordinated the survey, said: "Recruiting and retaining staff remains (the) biggest challenge in spite of the economic downturn. While some may see this as surprising, a combination of low unemployment and a massive expansion in public-sector recruitment has meant that staff at all levels, in all sectors and in all regions are difficult to recruit and retain.

"The problems are particularly acute in the public sector where the demand for trained specialist staff currently exceeds supply." The CIPD says some organisations are now prepared to train new recruits and reduce the level of experience demanded in a bid to attract people. Other incentives include the provision of coaching and mentoring, flexible working hours and "family-friendly" hours beyond the legal minimum. If that fails, there is always the option of raising starting salaries to recruit staff, as 37 per cent of organisations have done. The survey also found:

* More than 20 per cent of recruiters in the North and South-west cite a lack of formal qualifications as a problem

* As many as 97 per cent of organisations prefer face-to-face interviews to select candidates, although phone interviewing has increased.

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