Public sector staff shortages

February 07, 2008 10:49 AM

The Guardian reports on threats of a teacher shortage:

"Schools will face a shortage of maths and English teachers next year, new figures reveal. They show a dramatic drop in the number of teacher trainee applicants.


The number of applicants to start postgraduate teacher training for primary and secondary schools this September has fallen by 9% compared with this time last year, the figures show.


The most dramatic falls are in physics (30%), maths and English (15%), information and communications technology (16%) and geography (14%)."

There have recently been similar stories of staff shortages in the armed forces and the health service - with GPs threatening to leave the country.  Is there a common reason why the public sector is finding it so difficult to recruit necessary staff?


A lack of professional autonomy is widely understood to be a major source of workplace stress, from BusinessLink:

"Where possible give employees more autonomy, allowing them to plan their work schedule and decide how to tackle problems."

Working within the bureaucratic public services people have far less autonomy.  Accountability to customers or specific objectives is replaced with hierarchical control.  “Good people, good systems:  Former public servants talk about delivering public services in the private sector” from the Serco Institute contains plenty of anecdotal evidence on the difference:

"‘Implementing change is much quicker.  In the private sector, you have the capacity to change quickly and to react almost instantaneously.  But it is left to individual [contract units] to react to the changing pace of the [customer] – head office is behind on these development most of the time.’


‘In the public sector if you wanted to change something, you would have to put forward a business case, which would then go to [the public sector organisation] board level and then be negotiated with the union.  It would take a long time.’


‘I am free to manage with greater autonomy, most certainly.  But that freedom comes with a price.  If you get it wrong – I’ve always accepted that if I’ve made a mess of my job I will be called to account at some stage.  It doesn’t have to be a nasty falling out; it’s just that if I run this contract and it doesn’t go well – either because we lose a lot of money, or the client is permanently unhappy with us, or we have a terrible safety record – it’s quite right that I should be called to account.’"

If public services can be freed from political management then not only can those services improve but staff can be better off - enjoying greater autonomy to get on with their jobs.  We will all benefit if that makes recruiting quality staff to the public services easier.

The Guardian reports on threats of a teacher shortage:

"Schools will face a shortage of maths and English teachers next year, new figures reveal. They show a dramatic drop in the number of teacher trainee applicants.


The number of applicants to start postgraduate teacher training for primary and secondary schools this September has fallen by 9% compared with this time last year, the figures show.


The most dramatic falls are in physics (30%), maths and English (15%), information and communications technology (16%) and geography (14%)."

There have recently been similar stories of staff shortages in the armed forces and the health service - with GPs threatening to leave the country.  Is there a common reason why the public sector is finding it so difficult to recruit necessary staff?


A lack of professional autonomy is widely understood to be a major source of workplace stress, from BusinessLink:

"Where possible give employees more autonomy, allowing them to plan their work schedule and decide how to tackle problems."

Working within the bureaucratic public services people have far less autonomy.  Accountability to customers or specific objectives is replaced with hierarchical control.  “Good people, good systems:  Former public servants talk about delivering public services in the private sector” from the Serco Institute contains plenty of anecdotal evidence on the difference:

"‘Implementing change is much quicker.  In the private sector, you have the capacity to change quickly and to react almost instantaneously.  But it is left to individual [contract units] to react to the changing pace of the [customer] – head office is behind on these development most of the time.’


‘In the public sector if you wanted to change something, you would have to put forward a business case, which would then go to [the public sector organisation] board level and then be negotiated with the union.  It would take a long time.’


‘I am free to manage with greater autonomy, most certainly.  But that freedom comes with a price.  If you get it wrong – I’ve always accepted that if I’ve made a mess of my job I will be called to account at some stage.  It doesn’t have to be a nasty falling out; it’s just that if I run this contract and it doesn’t go well – either because we lose a lot of money, or the client is permanently unhappy with us, or we have a terrible safety record – it’s quite right that I should be called to account.’"

If public services can be freed from political management then not only can those services improve but staff can be better off - enjoying greater autonomy to get on with their jobs.  We will all benefit if that makes recruiting quality staff to the public services easier.

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