The latest Comensura Government Index (GI) has revealed that during the financial year of April 2013 to March 2014, temporary labour usage in local authorities and other public bodies increased by 2.7%. This suggests that local authorities are continuing to use temporary labour to provide greater workforce flexibility in delivering front-line services.

In line with the overall national increase in temporary worker full-time equivalent (FTE), eight of the 13 job classes reporting in the Comensura GI were positively affected. The yearly increase in temporary worker FTE was mainly influenced by increases in the light industrial, construction and office/admin/clerical job classes, which increased by 9.3%, 36.6% and 3.4% respectively.

The year-on-year increase in temporary labour implies a continued reliance on temporary workers in the public sector. This could be attributed to continued budget pressures, permanent recruitment freezes and challenges filling vacancies. Therefore, temporary labour has provided local authorities with an immediate solution to short term resourcing problems, with high levels of flexibility and the addition of expertise or specialist skills as and when required. In turn, this has helped hiring managers to control their costs better and make more efficient use of their resources.

The Index also highlighted other key findings including:

  • A growing trend towards highly skilled, ‘professional’ temporary workers
  • Increase in the use of older workers

The growing trend towards highly skilled, ‘professional’ temporary workers

Findings also revealed strong growth in skilled and ‘professional’ white collar temporary work.

The Comensura GI reports a consistent shift in the type of temporary worker used by local authorities with a trend towards highly skilled and professional white collar roles. Whilst temporary workers in finance roles declined in 2013/14, all other professional white collar roles increased. The number of temporary workers in IT roles increased by 11.2% and professional white collar roles increased by 10.5%. The figures suggest that local authorities and other public bodies are increasingly broadening the scope of temporary work to provide the skills, expertise and experience that may not exist from within the permanent workforce.

Jamie Horton, Managing Director at Comensura, said “The growth in professional white collar temporary workers, especially in information technology, is indicative of a rapidly changing public sector, which needs to access specialist skills and expertise on a short-term or project basis. As the economy continues to improve, we could see a talent tug of war between the private and public sector for highly specialist temporary and contractor labour.”

An older, more experienced public sector

Findings from the Comensura GI show that local authorities and other public bodies continue to remain an employer that offers significant temporary employment opportunities to young people, with 34.0% of all workers under the age of 34. Yet, the Comensura GI shows a continued and declining use of younger workers. Temporary workers aged 16 – 24 and 25 – 34 declined by 7.1% and 2.9% respectively in 2013/14 versus the previous year. The under 34s tend to work in light industrial, office/admin/clerical and social care roles and only light industrial increased usage year-on-year by 3.0%. Under 34s working in office/admin/clerical and social care roles experienced year-on-year declines of -3.2% and -9.5% respectively.

The trend towards older workers has been a consistent theme in previous issues of the Comensura GI and there doesn’t seem to be any sign of it reversing. In 2013/14, temporary workers 35 and over all increased, most notably in the 45 – 54, 55 – 64 and 65 and over age ranges, which increased year-on-year by 9.3%, 8.0% and 12.1% respectively.

Local authorities appear to be shifting their temporary recruitment focus as they recruit to more skilled positions and are asked to do more with less due to continued budget cuts in the sector. Therefore, when looking to recruit into temporary labour roles, they are tending to hire workers with greater experience and proven capability. Investing in younger, less experienced workers means more time, effort and training which has a knock-on effect on both time and finances – two resources that continue to be under extreme scrutiny for local government.

Jamie Horton continues, “Variation in the age of workers speaks volumes as to the changing mix of temporary labour. Hiring managers are turning to more experienced temporary workers to minimise impact on front line services as they can’t always afford the extra cost and time associated with hiring younger employees.”