Posted by:7 August, 2012
Balancing your council’s interim staff requirements and long-term ambitions at a time when budgets are being cut is one of the toughest challenges facing local authorities. Tom Hadley, director of policy and professional services at the Recruitment & Employment Confederation, pictured, gives his advice on the matter.
Hiring and procurement managers across the public sector are facing the challenge of maintaining front line services whilst reducing overall costs. National frameworks such as Managed Service to Temporary Agency Resources promise significant cost savings with regards to recruitment budgets but it is crucial to ensure that safety of supply and quality of staff are not jeopardised. This is a difficult balancing act between short-term priorities and the longer term need to maintain an effective and sustainable supply of key staff in order to deliver front-line services.
Recruiting specialised interim staff
Specialised temporary and interim staff provide a fast and efficient way of bringing in new skills and expertise, of delivering short term projects and of boosting resources at busy periods of the year. Rather than seeing this as a budget line to be systematically slashed, more employers are recognising the benefits that flexible staffing arrangements provide. One priority is to find ways of maximising these benefits by enhancing and measuring the contribution that flexible and temporary staff make to the organisation.
From the outset, the key is to ensure that any external recruitment providers sign up to industry codes of practice and are committed to training their consultants. Things to look for here include membership of the Recruitment & Employment Confederation and of the Institute of recruitment professionals (IRP). The key is to enable the recruitment or interim management provider to understand the specific needs of the hiring manager so that they can find the ideal candidate and brief them quickly. They act as guarantors of an employee’s credentials, so it is in the best interests of their business relationship to ensure they supply suitable candidates. LAs and other public sector employers should set solid criteria for selecting the right provider, which brings us back to the need to ensure that framework agreements achieve the right balance between cost control and quality of service and staff.
Another initial step is to be clear on the skills and competencies required - job descriptions and person specifications are just as important when recruiting temporary and interim staff as they are when recruiting permanent staff. This is another area where the recruitment provider can add real value by helping to review requirements and sometimes providing a ‘reality check’ on current availability of specific skills sets.
Temporary staff can often be supplied via a third party Master Vendor or Vendor Neutral service. Part of the REC’s work is to promote the sustainability and quality of supply where these models are being used, through the development of a Code of Practice for providers of Vendor Managed Services (VMS). The aim is to enable VMS providers to demonstrate a clear commitment to best practice in dealing with employers, candidates and suppliers and to ensure that VMS arrangements are sustainable and reflect the concerns of the whole supply chain.
Recruiting permanent staff
With regards to permanent recruitment, LAs are understandably anxious to attract the ideal candidates. The less external recruitment is happening, the more important it becomes to get it right. One trend we have seen during the economic downturn – in both the private and public sector – is that appointment decisions are taking longer. The risk here is of losing good candidates if there is too long a delay in making job offers.
The REC/KMPG Report on Jobs showed that permanent hiring through recruitment agencies increased month on month for the first five months of this year (though it has declined a little in the last couple of months). One of the main reasons for this is that using an external organisation for permanent and executive recruitment can save significant time and resources with regards to filtering candidates and sifting through hundreds of applications.
One other trend is that LAs and other employers in both the public and private sector are taking the opportunity to review each job description to ensure it accurately reflects the organisation’s needs going forward. This review stage is also an opportunity to consider other options such as bringing the right skills in on a temporary, part-time or contract basis. The key here is to make sure that the right questions are being asked and that pre-conceptions are cast-aside.
The reform agenda
Wider changes to public sector services will inevitably impact on employment patterns and recruitment procedures. Flexible staffing arrangements – an intrinsic and cost-effective part of resourcing models within large private sector employers – must be seen as part of the solution rather than part of the problem. Looking ahead, one of the drivers may be that pay freezes throughout the public sector deter applicants for certain specialised permanent roles, further accentuating the need to bring the right skills in on a temporary or contract basis.
LAs will have to do more with less and find innovative ways of delivering front line services. Flexible staffing arrangements will play a key role in ensuring that the right skills are brought in at the right time, which is why the way recruitment services are procured must be handled with care. Ultimately, getting the right people and skills in place must be at the heart of the reform agenda.
Tom Hadley, director of policy and professional services, Recruitment & Employment Confederation
Care Recruitment UK is an ‘exclusively specialist qualified social care’ recruitment consultancy that sources temporary and permanent positions for over 8,000 specialist qualified social care professionals across 100 UK Local Authorities.
Helena Benjamin, Company Director at Care Recruitment UK, has led the organisation since 2004 with an ethos of building and maintaining strong working relationships with LAs combined with a deep understanding of the life and responsibilities of social workers. The experience of recruiting for LAs’ social services in recent years has changed dramatically, as many now contract all of their temp recruitment out to third party master vendors, in a bid to make cost savings.
What hasn’t changed is the need for specialised recruitment consultancies to demonstrate a personal approach and a commitment to communicating with social workers in a way that addresses their needs. Helena explains: “There is huge and consistent demand for frontline social workers but there is also very little understanding of their heavily burdened roles, plus fierce competition which is forcing many to relocate away from their families. It is important that we understand how such issues impact on social workers’ personal lives and their own family’s needs and requirements. This could result in them having to relocate back at short notice, with a knock-on impact on the vulnerable families they have been working with.”
At least 10,000 abused and neglected children were reported in the UK in the last year alone, according to the Children and Family Court Advisory and Support Service (Cafcass). Nation-wide, mental health case reports are quadrupling and our increasingly ageing population is continuously posing an urgent, ever growing problem for this country.
Helena adds: “The LAs that will reap long term benefits are those that recognise the need for specialist social care expertise when recruiting for vital frontline social services. Thankfully, we are gradually seeing a return to the ‘old days’ where direct communication and personal contact between recruitment agencies and LAs is seen as an important part of ensuring the right staff and the right levels of service are supplied”.
The need for cost controls and efficiencies is well understood. However, the key is to find the right balance and to ensure that contracts are commercially viable for suppliers and that margins are not so low as to jeopardise the safety, quality and sustainability of supply. This is a core message of the REC’s ongoing public sector resourcing campaign.
A high number of small agencies have already been put out of business and it is crucial to ensure that the specialist support that LAs need is not further compromised. Short-term cost savings can have huge implications for the ongoing supply of suitably skilled and properly vetted social work staff. The priority is for LAs to manage their supply chain and to develop resourcing models that provide opportunities for small, specialist agencies with a genuine commitment to industry standards.
Looking ahead, Helena concludes: “Social work shouldn’t be about big businesses getting bigger and specialists being pushed out. Social services, specialist providers, social workers and the vulnerable would all benefit from an approach that puts quality and sustainability at the centre as well as efficiency”.
“Social work is a unique sector. We owe it to the elderly citizens and to all the vulnerable children and adults in our communities to develop a system that delivers the right level of care and support. This can only happen if we have a steady supply of frontline workers with the right skills and commitment which is why specialist recruitment agencies must continue to play a key role”.
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