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Annie Hayes



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News in Brief: The week in HR



Catch up on the week in HR with our at-a-glance news round up including why appraisals are failing to deliver, reaction to soaring A-Level results, how CV fraudsters can slip through the net with the help of shoddy pre-employment vetting procedures and the ‘deadwood’ that is breeding resentment in UK plc.

W/C 15/08/05
A-Level results lambasted by business group
The British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) has said that record A-Level results published today are evidence of a further ‘dumbing-down’ of the system and warned that re-branding the exam would not be enough to plug the skills gap.

The numbers of students gaining a pass at A-Level has once again soared by 0.2 percentage points from 96% to 96.2%
There has also been a rise in the numbers gaining A grades at A Level from 22.4% to 22.8%.

BCC President Bill Midgley commented: “We have significant skills shortages in the UK and we are already lagging behind many of our global competitors. Now our figures show over half of small firms in the service sector have reported facing difficulty recruiting staff with the right skills.”

In reference to last year’s Tomlinson report, Midgley criticised the government for failing to pick up on an opportunity to replace the exam with a single, overarching diploma.

Schools Minister Andrew Adonis, however, dismissed the criticisms and said the rising standards were merely the reflection of hard work and improved teaching.

The BCC is calling for a three-step approach to reforming the system to ensure that young people graduate with the skills businesses need.

Alarms sound as language and science take up plummets
The CBI has alarmed the business community by highlighting the fall in science and foreign language take up amongst students.

The number of 16 to 18 year olds taking A Level physics more than halved (55%) between 1984 and 2004 while chemistry declined by a third (33%).

While just one in 25 students study a modern language at A Level. Mandarin, Russian and Spanish take up is worryingly low too, said the CBI.

According to the CBI statistics, the number of 16 to 18 year olds studying a language A Level decreased by a fifth between 1999 and 2004 with German and French down 34% and 30% respectively. Last year just 451 people in England and Wales took A Level Russian, 1,677 studied Chinese and 4,650 learned Spanish.

Sir Digby Jones, CBI Director-General said: “Britain is the country of Stephenson and Brunel, Watson and Crick, Sir Frank Whittle and Stephen Hawking – but while its heritage is rich with scientific achievement and engineering endeavour, the future is less certain.

“Youngsters need to be equipped with the skills to make their way in the competitive globalised economy of the 21st century and business must have them if it is to meet the onslaught from countries like China and India. China alone produces almost 300,000 high quality science and engineering graduates each year.”

For more on this story see:

Appraisals fail to deliver
Despite an impressive belief in the appraisal system most managers say they are disappointed and concerned about their delivery.

A large majority (90.9%) consider appraisals to be an essential management tool yet despite their loyal following four in ten say that they are often conducted badly while 37% say that there is too much emphasis on paperwork.

According to the findings by analysts IRS, part of the problem is lack of management commitment to the system and inadequate training.

Just over half of the 145 respondents consulted with managers regarding the appraisal system while just a quarter conferred with staff before introducing one.

Most organisations agreed that identifying training and development needs, aligning individual and organisational objectives, and evaluating performance were the main reasons for appraisals.

Nevertheless, just over a third (34.9%) reported that their appraisal systems worked well or very well. Slightly more were neutral on whether or not appraisals achieved their aims and almost one quarter (23.4%) believed their appraisal system had failed in some way.

IRS Employment Review managing editor, Mark Crail said:

“Our latest survey shows that UK employers still have faith in the performance review tradition and believe in its intrinsic value to the organisation. The practice is widespread, although it is constantly being adapted to suit changing needs.

“At the same time, there is substantial evidence that, in many cases, appraisal systems are not delivering what employers expect. Some hard questions may have to be asked, and appraisal systems that fail to support corporate objectives could find themselves facing an uncertain future.”

For more on this story see:

Job ads fail to mention pensions
Just 6% of job ads mention pensions provisions according to the Trades Union Congress’s annual survey released this week.

According to the findings out of 1,132 job advertisements only 69 mentioned the pension benefits, a drop of 0.5% from 2004. Of those that did just 29 referred to a final salary scheme.

TUC General Secretary Brendan Barber said: “Employers who offer workplace pension schemes should be boasting about it. Those who don’t are missing a golden opportunity to attract and retain key workers who are seeking a pension in their benefits package.

“If all job adverts gave clear information on their pension schemes prospective employees would take the advertisement more seriously.”

This poor response from employers comes despite strong encouragement from the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) for them to mention pensions in their job adverts. The DWP has itself recently arranged for all adverts through Jobcentre Plus to include pension information as part of their ‘Informed Choice’ programme.

Shoddy pre-employment vetting exposed
CV fraudsters are slipping through the net thanks to inadequate pre-employment checks.

According to Powerchex, a pre-employment screening service 39% of organisations in the UK have experienced a situation where poor vetting procedures have allowed an employee to be hired who was later found to have lied or misrepresented themselves in their application.

Of these organisations, 85% had carried out all vetting in-house.

Alexandra Kelly, Director of Powerchex, said: “The potential consequences of hiring an unscrupulous candidate are huge, both from a financial and reputation perspective. This research shows that today more than ever, companies should take a serious look at how they vet prospective employees.”

The research also revealed that almost half of the organisations polled do nothing by way of screening temps.

Of those who leave the task to a temp agency, only 59% have established vetting standards while the remaining 41% are uncertain of the agency’s standard of vetting.

US pension provision outstrips UK’s
Employer pension plans in the United States (US) are four times more likely to be fully funded than occupational pension plans in the UK.

This is according to latest research from Aon Consulting who estimate that only 5% of UK pension plans are fully funded compared to 20% of US pension plans for year-end 2004.

Comparables show that on average, the pension plan deficit of a US company represents around two months worth of profits (before tax), compared to seven months of profits (before tax) for the average UK company.

Alarmingly, the Aon research says that around a quarter of companies in the UK have pension plans with a deficit representing over two years worth of profits, putting a significant strain on profitability, whereas less than 5% of US companies are in a similar position.

One of the main reasons why US pension plans are better funded is because US companies have put in cash contributions of over 10% of planned assets over the last two years ($90bn), compared with only 7% for UK companies (£25bn).

Andrew Claringbold of Aon Consulting in the UK said: “Contributions to UK pension plans have doubled over recent years. However, this increase in contributions has been insufficient to compensate for a combination of falling bond yields, increasing life expectancy and poor equity performance.”

Coaching climate demands cultural change
Employers universally accept that coaching can deliver tangible benefits for both individuals and organisations but admit to having little confidence in management ability to deliver it.

Ninety-nine per cent of bosses believe in the benefits of coaching and 88% of them now expect their line managers to deliver it as part of their daily routine. Yet 17% have little faith in management abilities to roll it out.

The findings come on the back of a book launch by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD).

Making Coaching Work is written by David Clutterbuck and David Megginson, co-founders of the European Mentoring and Coaching Council.

According to the authors, a systematic approach is needed when coaching staff in order to achieve change. Clutterbuck and Megginson identify seven stages of coaching:

  • Identify the need

  • Gather the evidence

  • Motivate and set targets

  • Planning how to achieve

  • Create opportunities to practise

  • Observe and give feedback

  • Support through the setbacks

David Clutterbuck commented, “Coaching can help manage performance by addressing individual’s weaknesses and potentials, making sure staff have the knowledge to fulfil their role and develop so that they can take on new projects and progress within the organisation.

“Most organisations are now using their line managers to develop staff through coaching. This can have huge benefits, making employees feel their line managers and the organisation as a whole care about their development and job satisfaction. However, if coaching is to deliver on its promise, employers need to ensure that line managers are provided with sufficient training themselves.”

’Deadwood’ breeds resentment
Employees that consistently ‘underperform’ are more of an issue for employers of 1000 or more staff than smaller businesses.

Three quarters of UK bosses (75%) and almost 80% of their staff (79%) believe that consistently poor performers are dragging them down.

These are the findings of Investors in People, the people quality standard.

Half of employees also admitted that they are working directly with someone who fails to do their fair share.

And it’s not just employees who are feeling the strain. Nearly four in ten bosses (39%) also complain about colleagues not pulling their weight.

However, whilst bosses see deadwood as a problem in their organisation, it seems that they are turning a blind eye with 40% of employees saying their employer doesn’t take any action to address the issue.

Ruth Spellman, Chief Executive of Investors in People UK says prevention is better than cure and warns of breeding resentment for bosses that bury their heads in the sand.

“It’s vital that managers are equipped with the skills and confidence to tackle the issue before it becomes a problem.

“Prevention is always better than cure. Employers need to establish a clear approach that develops and motivates their staff to achieve their potential – and to deal with those who don’t. It’s key to the success and future growth of any organisation.”

Investors in People offers the following advice to employers who think that deadwood is an issue in their organisation:

  • Create clearer goals and objectives to ensure that your people feel valued and translate their motivation into productivity within their roles

  • Provide your staff with a personal career development plan with appropriate training where needed

  • Make sure that you don’t neglect your recruitment process – getting the right person for the job sounds obvious, but it’s surprising how many companies fail to give enough consideration to the type of applicant they need

  • Take a look at yourself – you need to lead by example. If you’re not motivated and giving of your all, how can you expect your team to deliver?

  • Keep talking – ensure that you put in place a review structure to give your staff the ongoing feedback that they need to develop.

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Annie Hayes


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