Councils woo top staff with lifestyle perks

Local authorities are competing well with the private sector in attracting and retaining high-calibre IT professionals, according to a survey by local authority IT managers group Socitm.

Local authorities are competing well with the private sector in attracting and retaining high-calibre IT professionals, according to a survey by local authority IT managers group Socitm.

Implementing e-government systems, flexible working and down-shifting from City jobs are among the attractions for IT professionals working in the public sector, the survey of 140 local authorities found.

The study, conducted by research firm Computer Economics, showed an average salary increase of 4.8% in local authorities, compared with an average 3.5% in the private sector.

However, public sector pay still lags behind the private sector, said Stewart Jackson, Socitm's member services activity manager. For lower-level IT jobs, public sector pay is 90% of that in the private sector. At director level, public sector pay is about 75% of that for equivalent private sector roles, he said.

Despite the pay gap, local authorities are doing better than private companies in terms of overall recruitment, the survey found.

The proportion of local authorities experiencing staff retention problems rose from 17% in 2004 to 23.5% this year, and 31% experienced recruitment difficulties, compared to 27% last year.

However, the private sector is experiencing much greater recruitment difficulties, with 58% citing problems this year - more than double the figure for 2003, the report found.

Chris Guest, Socitm president in 2004, said IT was now seen as a key contributor to the transformation of local government, both in terms of efficiency and putting services online, and this has made recruitment easier.

"There used to be this image about it being a dead-end job, but that has changed over the past three years or so. The increase in pay reflects the changing role of IT in local government; it is not just a support role but a key enabler of improvement and efficiency," he said.

The Socitm survey also found that fringe benefits and more flexible ways of working help local authorities compete with a private sector that offers higher pay. The survey revealed 93% of public sector bodies offer flexible working hours and 66% allow selected staff to work from home, compared to 27% in 2004.

In addition, 84% of local authorities offer job sharing, and 71% have a structured training and development plan for all staff.

Guest said IT professionals were also moving to rural councils in an attempt to downshift from City-based IT jobs and gain a better quality of life.

But the strategic role IT now plays in government was the biggest recruitment driver, Guest said. "Those softer benefits are an attraction, but more importantly, it is about the role of IT in delivering the new agenda. IT professionals are seen as leaders of change."

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