Staff shortages in education and health are worse than in any other area of the UK economy as public sector wages fall further behind those offered in the private sector, according to a survey of employers.

Six out of 10 employers in education said they had vacancies that were hard to fill, while more than four in 10 expected “significant problems” filling posts over the next six months, a report by the CIPD organisation for HR professionals showed.

In healthcare, 55 per cent of employers had hard-to-fill vacancies, compared with 40 per cent of all private sector employers, according to the survey, which is published on Monday. The research was conducted between March 12 and April 12.

The findings point to worsening strains on the public sector workforce as unions representing teachers and nurses prepare to ballot their members on fresh strike action.

The CIPD found that private sector employers were more likely than those in the public sector to improve job quality when they were struggling to recruit, for example, by offering better career pathways or greater flexibility.

Public sector employers, in contrast, were more likely to respond by loading more duties on to their existing staff.

Concerns over workload and a growing recruitment crisis in schools have fuelled the resolve of teaching unions to seek a mandate from members to launch co-ordinated strike action from the autumn.

The National Education Union will on Monday begin balloting teachers across England to renew its current six month strike mandate, which expires in July, after rejecting the government’s pay offer of a £1,000 one-off bonus for 2022-23 and a pay rise of 4.5 per cent in 2023-24.

The Royal College of Nursing, whose members rejected the NHS pay deal accepted by other unions, will also launch a new England-wide strike ballot later this month.

Pat Cullen, general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing, has urged health secretary Steve Barclay to reopen pay negotiations after union members refused the government’s pay offer by 54 to 46 per cent.

The RCN leader told the Sunday Times that she had “underestimated” the determination of her members and said that talks needed to “start off in double figures”.

Cullen had originally pushed for a 19 per cent pay rise but later called on members to accept the government’s offer of 5 per cent for 2023-23 plus a one-off payment of at least £1,655, which was equivalent to a 9 per cent annual increase.

Jon Boys, senior labour market economist at the CIPD, said private sector employees were “pulling away” from their public sector counterparts when it came to take-home pay, against a backdrop of ongoing strength in employers’ appetite for hiring new staff.

The survey showed public sector pay deals were set to improve over the next year: the median increase in basic pay expected by employers had risen to 3.3 per cent, up from 2 per cent in the previous quarter. But this still fell well short of the median increase of 5 per cent predicted in the private sector.

The findings on staff shortages in education echo those of the Recruitment & Employment Confederation, which last week said that job postings for support staff such as teaching assistants, school secretaries and crossing patrollers had risen even faster than for teachers.

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