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A week in HR: Brown in cash boost to stem rising unemployment

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HR week The key story this week is the ‘golden hello’ that Gordon Brown is offering to employers willing to take on the long-term unemployed. In other news, a new survey has found that HR managers see employee retention as the greatest challenge this year. By Annie Hayes.


Prime Minister Gordon Brown has announced far reaching plans to get 500,000 people back into work or training in an attempt to stop the rising jobless count. Last week, HRZone.co.uk reported on figures from the centre for economics and business research, predicting unemployment to hit 2.8 million within 12 months. As part of the reform package, Brown said employers would be given up to £2,500 for every person they trained who had been unemployed for more than six months. The move was unveiled as Brown hosted talks with business and union leaders about measures aimed at safeguarding jobs during the downturn.

At the ‘Jobs Summit’, Brown said spending £500m would help 500,000 people into work or work-focused training. Meanwhile, parents and carers who have taken more than five years off work will be offered £500 training grants, to make them more employable, The Guardian reports. The Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills is planning to pilot the scheme, more details of which will are expected to be revealed this week.

According to a further report by the BBC, the announcement comes as retailers announce yet more closures. Kent-based retailer Land of Leather has announced it is suspending its shares, while administrators for the ceramics firm Wedgwood have confirmed 367 staff are to be made redundant. More than 400 jobs are under threat at Findus frozen food firm Newcastle Productions, which has also gone into administration, and another 875 at distribution company Wincanton, after it confirmed two of its depots may close in the spring. But supermarket Morrisons unveiled plans to take on 5,000 extra staff for its store expansion programme.

On where the jobs are going to come from, Lord Mandelson, Business Secretary, said that the UK should take advantage of the opportunities available in the growth of the UK’s goods and environmental services sector and said that if this could be realised, Britain could see over a million jobs in this sector by the middle of the next decade.

But according to the BBC, the Conservatives are dismissing the event as more spin than substance, designed, they say, to cover up that Brown’s recession policies are not working. The Trades Union Congress (TUC) said that any subsidies for the long-term unemployed need to be “carefully designed and supervised” and it is making calls for “urgent changes to the benefit rules” which, it says, currently “force those who are temporarily laid off to give up their jobs after 13 weeks to search for new jobs”.

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In related news the TUC is further calling for state-funded training to be made available to all those facing redundancy. The TUC is suggesting the Train to Gain funding rules are relaxed, “so that all workplaces threatened with job losses can access funding”.

The report also calls for the government to revise the ’16 hour rule’ that prevents people studying for more than 16 hours a week from claiming unemployment and housing benefit. The TUC claim this discourages benefit claimants from taking further education courses, even though the evidence suggests that it can help people back into work.

As well as short-term measures to help dampen the impact of the recession, the report calls on the government to link its skills strategy with a more active industrial strategy.

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In a further hand-out from the government, sister site, <a TrainingZone.co.uk reports of plans to fund a further 35,000 apprentices next year as part of government efforts to tackle the economic downturn. Brown said he wants one in five young people to be on apprenticeships within 10 years. John Cridland, CBI deputy director-general, gave the £140m investment a cautious welcome.

He said: “This is a useful initiative designed to help those people who are particularly vulnerable to unemployment develop their skills. However, the only way to protect real jobs is to get the credit markets working again.” The government is already committed to increasing spending on apprentices in the next year to just under £1billion and the £140m is in addition to that.

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Whilst the government is championing the cause to get the unemployed back to work, the TUC says that it also needs to address rising numbers that work excessive hours for no pay. According to its findings, more than five million people worked unpaid overtime in 2008, bringing its total value across the UK to a record £26.9 billion.

The TUC has calculated that 5.24 million people across the UK worked unpaid overtime in 2008 – the highest number since records began in 1992. The previous record was five million in 2001. And according to its calculations, employees who work unpaid would receive an extra £5,139 a year if they were paid for the additional hours they are putting in. Yet an HR and management consultant says the report “misses the point” on overtime.

“Whether businesses recognise it or not, whether it’s conscious or subconscious, unpaid overtime is a sign that the UK’s workforce is banding together to do their bit to help haul us out of economic nosedive – and in many, but admittedly not all cases, they’re working harder and longer because they enjoy it,” said Bridget Biggar, managing director of Management Intelligence Consulting.

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Despite government efforts to put confidence back in the jobs market, latest data from the ETS Employee Survey shows that 37% of employees fear they may lose their jobs, a figure that is up by 10% in the last quarter of 2008 alone. Employees are now far less confident that their companies will meet their objectives – with numbers dropping to 57% in quarter four of 2008 from a steady 84% over the previous two years.

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Yet even workers that are enjoying their jobs are having to deal with negative perceptions from others for doing so. A study commissioned by workplace psychologists OPP, has highlighted an ongoing contradiction in the workplace. UK workers seem committed to their employers, and yet ridicule people when they go the extra mile, they say.

According to the results, three quarters reacted negatively to the 46% who worked over Christmas, calling them anything from a “martyr to their employer” to a “scrooge”. Lucy McGee, head of marketing at OPP, said: “There needs to be a change of mindset amongst many employees. It’s OK to enjoy your work.”

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With all the doom and gloom, many would expect sickness levels to rise, but a new study by Beechams All in One shows that as many as 70% have not had one day off sick due to a cold in the last 12 months.

According to the results, those working in the public sector fared best with 64% not taking a single sick day in the last 12 months. Retail professionals followed with 60%, putting the customer first and fighting on.

Generating emotional positivity and energy may help stave off illness. For tips on how to get through the dark days see A&DC’s director of consulting Will Mitchell’s blog, packed full of tips.

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And in further good news, Britain’s most family-friendly employers have been recognised by the Prime Minister and the Minister for Women and Equality, Harriet Harman. The three companies – BT, Henmans LLP, and Achieving Quality Leads – have won a Jobs 4 Mums National Award organised by recruitment company jobs4mothers.com and Take a Break magazine.

According to the organisers, four out of five new mothers would like to return to work but don’t think they’ll ever find suitable working hours. The awards recognise employers who are ready to help them.

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And finally, Taleo Corporation has released its third annual survey entitled ‘HR Challenges in 2009’. The survey found that HR managers are anticipating a change of focus in the coming year with employee retention being seen as the greatest challenge overall.

According to the report, almost half of HR managers named ‘a system to improve performance management, succession and career planning’ as the one thing that would help them do their jobs better in 2009.

And in a reversal of last year’s research, more HR managers expect their budget to decrease (25%) rather than increase (22%). About half expect no change. Whilst more than half of management teams view HR as an enabler or driver of their business. Just 20% see HR purely as a hiring function.

Oliver Chivers, head of business marketing, T-Mobile UK, has posted his insights on how remote work can help attract and retain staff in his HR blog, found at: www.changeboard.com.

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