Boris’s apprenticeships

15 May 2012


He wants to know whether the problem lies with the pay and terms, our education system, or differences in work ethic.

I think this is something that as HR professionals we could all give him some views. Personally I'd be saying to him that the problem is so deeply rooted in the history of this country since 1945 that I don't envy the challenge he has set himself.

It seems to me that nobody in power has been able to face up to the fact that the total dismantling of tripartism in the education system from the 1960s was a mistake. Out of this evolved a general understanding that any kind of work with a blue collar connotation is to be despised, and that governments must judge their success by the amount of young people that stay on in education for as long as possible, however divorced most of the programmes of study available are from the needs of British employers and the economy.

Many commentators would add that the fact that people are sometimes better off on benefits than taking lower paid work does not help. But time and time again we read that young people, including graduates, don't have the attributes and attitudes that employers need.

And then again there are all to many young people who have suffered genuine deprivation leading to homelessness, mental health and substance misuse, and need a great deal of highly specialised support to get them ready for employment. The way the current Work Programme funding is structured makes it impossible for them to access this support because it is financially unviable for organisations like mine that have the necessary expertise.

I would be very interested to hear from colleagues who have had success in attracting and keeping young Britons in unglamorous jobs that serve as a stepping stone to better things. Has Boris got any realistic hope of filling those 250,000 apprenticeships? Particularly in respect of people who haven't had the best start in life or education. And what spade work does he need to do before sending out the application packs?


CEOs unlikely to come from HR profession: could there be a gender issue here?

14 Nov 2011

Helen Giles

One obvious correlation, it seems to me, is that most HR professionals are women and most CEOs are men. There must be a relationship here somewhere to that current high profile debate about why there are not more women on boards.

One thing I've noticed time and time again is the vicious circle that prevents HR professionals being more strategic within their organisations. HR has not traditionally been seen as a strategic function which adds measurable value, so CEOs are reluctant to invest in it properly.

It's too much of an article of faith to spend a decent amount of money on it since they've never seen with their own eyes the return on investment that comes from a properly resourced team, with truly competent individuals, operating at the right levels.

The HR staff they employ are then often operating at too low a level with too few staff in their departments to handle even the basics of the job well.

I have seen many a bright and able HR 'head' or 'manager', reporting to the top tier through a finance director, with a tiny team of juniors to support him or her (most often a her). They desperately want to get out there, understand the business and focus on long-term strategic planning, but are bogged down handling the complex and time-consuming work of dealing with regulation and employee relations.

They are seen as pretty useful and reasonably competent within the business for fire-fighting reactive purposes. But, their potential to do the more strategic work of influencing the business to operate in a way that minimises the potential for such problems to arise in the first place remains unseen. This means the top decision-makers lack the evidence to invest more to have the right people in the right places within the function to make it a leading contributor to the success of the business.

In short, I believe that it is this vicious circle that serves as the main barrier to progression of HR people to the top, rather than anything intrinsic about the HR function or the mindset or capabilities of the people who go into it. Then again, as the article pointed out, there are a number of HRDs who have broken through this vicious cycle to become high impact contributors to successful businesses and public bodies but haven't become CEOs because they don't want to, being more inclined to venture into setting up successful HR businesses of their own.

Helen Giles is HR director at Broadway Housing


The HR profession: one of the worst perpetrators of unnecessary complexity

15 Sep 2011

Helen Giles

I'm sure many of us have witnessed groups of senior people who should be focused on pragmatic implementation of long-term strategy and product or service quality getting themselves into a twist over unnecessary process and protocols.

I was also quite amused by the article since in my view, the HR profession as a whole is one of the worst perpetrators of unnecessary complexity. And I don't mean - referring to an example in the article - because an HR officer might spend time chasing managers for completed appraisal forms. In fact, from the lamentable degree of voluntarism around conducting performance reviews that I've encountered in many organisations, I think HR staff might need to do more and not less of that particular activity.

What I mean is the general cant and obfuscation that surrounds the world of HR generally. I often train or speak to groups of HR practitioners who, led astray by HR guru writings and presentations or direct mail from consultants, have tortured themselves over the question how they can be more 'strategic'. Their exposure to all of this leaves them perplexed about what all this 'adding value to the business' means. What they really want to get to the bottom of is, the day to day practical things they might do to make themselves an indispensable pillar of the business rather than a necessary evil clearing up the mess made by managers who find managing people difficult.

I find that the mist soon lifts for them - with visible relief - when it's pointed out that whatever the business, whatever the climate, what managers want from HR invariably boils down to six things:

  • Identifying what attributes people actually need to be able to the jobs, and then find ways to recruit them.
  • Working out what and how to pay them.
  • Support with motivating, performance managing and developing those staff while they're with you.
  • Making sure they turn up.
  • Support with moving them onwards or outwards when things don't work out.
  • Handling change such as mergers and redundancies in a way that meets regulatory requirements and doesn't cheese employees off.

The only complexity involved is the need to work out how best to do these things within your particular environment for the foreseeable future. All the rest is just noise.

Helen Giles is director of human resources and consultancy, Broadway Homelessness & Support

Ministers' considerations of TUPE and redundancy consultation is music to my ears

27 May 2011

This is music to the ears of people trying to run businesses or public services which incur enormous costs and impaired efficiency as a result of the disproportionate way these laws operate in practice.

John Philpott of the CIPD said this week that the perception that UK businesses are bound up in employment legislation 'red tape' does not stand up to an examination of the evidence. Pointing to an OECD research finding that the UK has the third least regulated labour market in the world, he goes on to say that 'It is time UK businesses stopped seeing red whenever employment regulation is mentioned and instead adopted a more balanced, evidence-based perspective'.

I would respectfully point out that Mr Philpott already had occasion to eat his words earlier this year when he went on record saying that there's no need for reform of the ET system, and shortly afterwards the CIPD's Conflict Survey of its members revealed that three fifths of respondents had had employees tagging discrimination claims on to unfair dismissal cases in the hope of achieving greater compensation while 55% reported complaints against their organisations on malicious grounds. The caption of the associated press release was 'ET System is Broken'.

Perhaps Mr Philpott should think about what constitutes a relevant evidence-base. I suggest that if he were to get out and about on the ground, as I believe ministers have been doing, to see and hear the case studies of employers struggling with the law and the way it is being applied by ETs, he might not be quite so undermining of what he describes as the "drive to deregulate" advocated by sections of the business lobby.

I have met and spoken with many small business people who have experimented with various ways - some ingenious and some reckless - to grow their businesses without employing staff because the costs and risks of being an employer so are so unmanageable. I have encountered others who have been driven out of business by one vexatious claim against them. For the most part these are people who are genuinely keen to motivate their staff and treat them well.

I appreciate that the CIPD doesn't represent small businesses since most of them are too small to have HR professionals on their staff even if they are brave enough to employ a workforce. But I'm a CIPD member, a director of an SME organisation, and I can't believe that I'm in any way unique in thinking that Mr Philpott's bold statements about employment regulation are so far removed from my daily experience of the reality that he is surely guilty of ignoring both the evidence and the interests of the people who pay his salary.


In this issue: September 2015
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Shared value: Why the investment community is getting interested in human capital

Continuous improvement: Re-engineering HR at IMI

Out and proud: John Browne on inclusive workplaces

Retirement planning: Shake up your pensions strategy

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