Despite job cuts and high unemployment, health employers are currently finding it difficult to fill vacancies. But this is due to the availability of - or lack of - the right skills, something that is only going to become more important to the health service, says Simon Hudson.

It may seem contradictory, but at a time of high unemployment many employers are still having problems filling vacancies. The recent CIPD Resourcing and Talent Planning report, produced in partnership with Hays, suggests the war for talent still exists, despite the high levels of unemployment. It shows most organisations across both the public and private sector, from healthcare to manufacturing, are struggling to recruit people with the right skills and experience.

The survey found that more than half of employers (52 per cent) believe that competition for talent is even greater, compared to 41 per cent and 20 per cent in 2010 and 2009 respectively. Three quarters (75 per cent) of organisations experienced recruitment difficulties.

As in previous years, the main reason for these recruitment difficulties is a lack of necessary specialist or technical skills (72 per cent compared to 67 per cent in 2010), with managers / professionals and technical positions (28 per cent) the most difficult to fill.

The healthcare sector is no exception when it comes to recruitment difficulties, and the considerable structural changes being made across the NHS are having a marked impact on the jobs market.

The arrival of clinical commissioning groups has obvious implications for the healthcare jobs market. Hays anticipates that this drive for efficiency across the public sector is likely to result in an increase in demand for professionals with commercial and financial skills, and there are already signs that this is the case.

Whilst there are cuts across the whole of the public sector, including healthcare, recruitment is still taking place. New staff are required to support the new healthcare structure, drive efficiencies and improve services. In fact, we are seeing opportunities come through in both clinical and management roles, and more GPs are required to provide cover to the new owner GPs, as they become more closely involved in the management of their consortia. This is a sector already struggling to provide clinical cover from a reducing workforce.

With the primary objective being to move services into the community and away from primary care trusts, there is also an increasing demand for GPs with specialist skills to perform procedures, which were previously the preserve of hospitals. There is also a need to fill the vacant roles of GPs now occupied with the business needs of the consortia.

CCGs will have to recruit capable and experienced people who may even come from sectors outside healthcare, but have the transferable skills. Hays is seeing high demand for external recruits in fields such as organisational strategy and service redesign, either as interim professionals or as part of a broader outsourced service offering to support change. There is a similar demand in areas such as finance, internal auditing, change management, needs and risk assessments and tendering.

With change being such a constant in the healthcare sector, it is important for employers to communicate the skills they need in their workforce now and in the future. This will not only enable existing staff to work towards gaining these skills but also help young people who are interested in a career in healthcare make the right study choices early on.

Staff in the NHS value career development more highly than most other employees in the public sector and therefore healthcare organisations have a lot to gain by training and developing staff. Not only will it help move employees’ careers forward but it will also ensure organisations have access to the skills required. This said, workers should not simply be passive and wait for employers to offer the right development and training to meet future demand. They must take responsibility for their own professional development, making sure that they stay on top of what is happening in the industry and know what skills are will be in demand in the future.

If professionals have the right skills and experience they are halfway there to getting the job they want. The next challenge is communicating they have what it takes to employers. But with three quarters (73 per cent) of organisations saying that they have experienced an increase in the number of unsuitable candidates for job vacancies, improving applications is clearly an area some professionals need to work on. There are a number of practical steps jobseekers can take, most importantly to tailor their applications – a one size fits all approach is ineffective.

For employers, the image of their organisation needs to be addressed. Research we published earlier this year shows just how demotivated many public sector staff are feeling and many of them are considering moving to jobs in the private sector. It’s not a huge surprise that with so much restructuring and the ongoing threat of redundancies staff may be considering a career in what they perceive as a more stable sector but in order to retain and attract talented individuals this is something employers need to address.

Employers cannot over communicate when talking about organisational change. It is the job of leaders and employers in the public sector to communicate a clear vision and to show how the changes being made will result in better public services. Our research showed that staff think that the public sector’s difficulty in attracting professionals needed to oversee its transformation will impact on the delivery of frontline services. It is therefore essential for organisations to communicate the ultimate aim to staff clearly in order for everyone to work towards the common goal of excellent service delivery.