Public sector jobs seen as safe bet during economic downturn

Workers are flocking from private companies to the public sector to avoid the worst of the economic storm, senior HR figures have revealed.

State-funded employers say they are suddenly finding it easier to fill vacancies in professions that have long suffered from skills shortages.

Figures from the Office for National Statistics showed that in the three months to July, the number of ­people employed in the private ­sector fell by 29,000 to 23.7 million, while the number employed in the public sector grew by 13,000 to reach 5.77 million.

Carmel Millar, head of HR at Surrey County Council, told Personnel Today: “The private sector is feeling the impact of the downturn first. There is a migration from private to public as people see it as less of a volatile option, at least during periods of economic turmoil.”

Millar said she had noticed a jump in applications for positions previously classed as having skills shortages, including procurement and project management.

Jon Turner, HR director at Harrow Council, has been explicitly targeting staff from troubled banks HBOS and Lehman Brothers.

“While we are a completely different sector to banking, we do have some areas in common, with potential vacancies and opportunities for staff whose employment is affected by the economic downturn,” he said.

“Whether the public sector is more attractive in a recession is a moot point. Clearly we don’t have the same issues that some in the private sector have.”

Meanwhile, John Waters, HR manager at Ipswich Council, said he was expecting a rush for jobs by quantity surveyors and builders following the downturn in the construction sector.

The CBI insisted the private sector was not facing a mass exodus, but said it was not surprised the public sector was seeing a rise in job applicants.

“Some companies are more likely to ride out the storm by reviewing their employment numbers,” said CBI head of economic analysis Lai Wah Co.

“With more people unemployed, it obviously becomes a numbers game in terms of candidates.”

The Public Sector People Managers’ Association said organisations should be wary of staff looking for a safe job.

President Stephen Moir said: “If suddenly we see lots of people from the private sector moving to the public, I would be worried, because they are motivated by the wrong reasons.”

Moir said benefits, such as pensions, would make up for differences in salary between the sectors, but added that the public sector did not guarantee a job for life.

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