Dáil debates

Thursday, 1 October 2015

Ceisteanna - Questions - Priority Questions

Public Sector Staff Recruitment

9:45 am

Photo of Michael ColreavyMichael Colreavy (Sligo-North Leitrim, Sinn Fein)
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4. To ask the Minister for Public Expenditure and Reform his views on the recruitment process and competitions conducted by the Public Appointments Service; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [33644/15]

Photo of Michael ColreavyMichael Colreavy (Sligo-North Leitrim, Sinn Fein)
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This question relates to the Public Appointments Service. Specifically, I propose to ask questions about a recent recruitment competition for assistant principal officers in the Department.

My understanding is that a competition was held for the assistant principal officer grade and there was a change in the recruitment process. While change is not necessarily a bad thing, part of the process involved candidates sitting an online test. I imagine this was part of an assessment prior to short-listing those candidates.

9:55 am

Photo of Brendan HowlinBrendan Howlin (Minister, Department of Public Expenditure and Reform; Wexford, Labour)
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The remit of the Public Appointments Service, PAS, includes conducting a wide range of campaigns for key roles across the Civil Service and broader public service. Its recruitment mandate encompasses a large volume of entry level competitions, including clerical officer and Garda Síochána trainee recruitment as well as administrative, professional and specialist posts at all levels, including hospital consultant and senior management positions across the Civil Service, public service, regulatory bodies and some State agencies. PAS, therefore, plays a pivotal role in ensuring that the human resource and workforce needs of the public service are met by qualified, high calibre and committed candidates. PAS operates within a strict legal and regulatory framework to safeguard the core principles of Civil Service employment which have played such an important role since the foundation of the State.

The easing of the moratorium on recruitment to the public service in late 2014 has resulted in a significant increase in activity for PAS, particularly in the large volume competitions. To the end of August this year, PAS has completed 313 recruitment campaigns, handled over 45,000 applications and assigned over 3,640 people to positions in the public service. In terms of the scale of individual competitions that PAS have successfully run, it is worth acknowledging that the Garda Síochána campaign in December 2013 attracted nearly 25,000 applications while 28,000 people applied to the clerical officer competition in 2014. In order to effectively manage the significantly increased workload of recent years, PAS has implemented significant changes and process improvements in its methods of operation while continuing to adhere to its strong values of independence, fairness, transparency and the making of appointments on merit. In operational terms, all applications for positions in the public service are handled online via the bespoke website . The initial testing stages of recruitment processes are also completed online allowing candidates the benefit of competing for positions from wherever they are in the world. Many interview processes are now conducted in a paperless fashion.

Finally, I ask the Deputy to note that PAS also took on responsibility for the new State boards assessment process following the reforms introduced by Government in 2014.

Photo of Michael ColreavyMichael Colreavy (Sligo-North Leitrim, Sinn Fein)
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I understand two British companies were recruited - Saville Consulting for the verbal and numerical analysis tests and CEB for the situational judgment questionnaire. Are there not Irish companies which could have done this? My second question relates to the fact that it is a little bit like "phone a friend". I could be sitting in a room anywhere with my laptop and have a friend do the test for me. I would not even have to phone that friend. The third issue is that when some of those who did the electronic questionnaire sought a response as to where they performed well and where they did not perform quite so well, no information was forthcoming. Anybody who is anxious to get a job and goes through this process will be keen to know where he or she can improve whether it is an interview or electronic assessment. People have good grounds for complaints as to the lack of feedback regarding their participation in the process.

Photo of Brendan HowlinBrendan Howlin (Minister, Department of Public Expenditure and Reform; Wexford, Labour)
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PAS is one of the success stories of Irish public administration. It is very well regarded not only by the Irish public but by international comparisons. It has robust online procedures which meet the best international practices. If the Deputy has any individual concerns about them, I would be happy to hear from him. PAS itself would also be delighted, I am sure, to meet with the Deputy to go through its processes. In terms of the volume of work, where one has 28,000 applications for a clerical officer position or 25,000 for a Garda Síochána recruitment campaign, one must have an initial sifting procedure in place. As is now normal, that is done online. The Deputy is correct that it must be done in a very robust way and I am assured and am confident that it is.

Photo of Michael ColreavyMichael Colreavy (Sligo-North Leitrim, Sinn Fein)
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Can the Minister refer to the lack of feedback from the company? It is unfair on a person who does an interview or fills in a questionnaire that there is no response or indication as to which areas they have done well in and which areas they have not. An interview should be a two-way conversation. It is one thing asking people who are desperate for work to give information but it is unfair that there is no feedback. As caring potential employers, we have a responsibility to let people know where they have performed well and where they have not. Will the Minister take that on board?

Photo of Brendan HowlinBrendan Howlin (Minister, Department of Public Expenditure and Reform; Wexford, Labour)
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I will. I will also ask the chief executive of PAS to contact the Deputy directly to go through that, see what concerns he has and how they may be addressed.