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ESRC: Public sector staff are missing out on training

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Despite pledges from the Government to expand access to training for those working in the public sector, many are seeing their opportunities to develop diminish rather than expand.

The finding comes from a report by the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), which looked at opportunities for training and development at all levels throughout the public sector workforce. The study found that, while some employees are benefitting from and increased emphasis on training due to a need for additional skills, others are seeing their jobs downgraded.

The ESRC team, whose research is part of the £4m Future of Work Programme funded by the ESRC, found that historically public sector staff, those working in large private sector companies and in unionised workplaces have benefitted from better access to training than those working in other areas. Now, despite a pledge from the Government's to improve the quality of public services, the public sector advantage is appearing to decline.

The researchers say there are a number of reasons why this change has come about. One factor is the move towards contracting out some operations, which has placed the onus on contractors rather than the public sector to train. Another factor is that workloads have intensified, in part because of lower staffing levels, which has made it difficult for staff to cover for training sessions.

Concern is expressed in the report over the effect that 'deskilling' staff can have on their motivation at work - the study cites the example of State Enrolled Nurses being regraded as care assistants - and the way that this can lessen incentives to learn. In contrast, some public sector workers have benefitted from a need to increase their skills, due in part to staff shortages and legislation requiring qualifications for staff. Carers in residential homes for the elderly, for instance, will soon be required to have NVQ level 2 qualifications. The report notes that these factors are leading to new career routes being developed into jobs requiring professional qualifications. In addition, trade union Unison, which has a key presence in most public sector workplaces, is currently involved with developing programmes to allow unqualified workers paid educational leave, in line with Government plans.

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