Youth unemployment – more attention is needed!

The latest unemployment figures are not good reading. The published figure states that unemployment has gone down in the last quarter but anyone with half a brain cell can read into the figures and see that a large number of people (from every employment level) are working part time or else are working for themselves.

As a headhunter I have of course come across this story far too often. The number of highly skilled engineers with excellent pedigree that have been made redundant due to amalgamation or corporate bureaucracy is quite alarming. Yes many of these individuals have been well paid middle to senior managers and first tier executives with salary packages that will seriously affect the balance sheet once removed but the problem seems to dive much deeper into the workplace.

I’ve previously raised the problem of insufficient academic focus on STEM subjects and engineering at undergraduate level. This therefore shows a far more significant problem for the sector.

My view at a national (governmental) level would be to put a great deal of focus (resource!) into engineering and technology education programmes for the longer term skill necessities of the economy. Such investment will be a key driver for economic growth and sustainability. The private sector will create the growth the economy needs but again it needs to be supported at government level.

So how do the two (academic and private sector sme’s) come together to aid economic growth?

Businesses are currently wary of employing 16-24 year olds. 71% of them say they have a role in tackling youth unemployment but a quarter haven’t employed anyone from this age group in the last 12 months and worse only 56% plan to do so in the next 12 months. Very few businesses engage with students during their time at school or college to build the students employability skills or provide apprenticeships, work experience or internships.

The reason is fairly clear for the smaller SME’s – cost and time! In my opinion, apprenticeships are improving but are still way behind the times. Things are different to 20 years ago. People move jobs and therefore employers are loathe to spend time and money training young people only for them to leave or be ‘stolen’ by the competition. A difficult one to fix but work engagement programmes which fiscally assist employers who put time into the next generation could be a start.

As you already know from previous posts (and for anyone who knows my business background), I care tremendously about education being delivered in a vocational and skills orientated manner. As a product of the private education system I also recognise the massive value of classical education and the breadth and depth that such an education provides an individual, but there comes a point where actual work based learning (career specialist skills) are vital. I enjoy a good philosophical / high brow conversation with friends about the nuances and beauties of history, art and culture but such enjoyable moments come in my spare time and certainly don’t pay the bills.

The end of GCSE’s is wonderful news (if they don’t change their minds again!). There are far better systems and styles of education to give better and more detailed approaches to educating our children. Sadly I was schooled during year two of the GCSE’s and I’m pretty sure my peers will largely agree that they were not an improvement on the previous system. But my fears are that the system will change for another watered down version of what youngsters really need to be ready for the challenges of the next phase of our global economy. My childhood was dominated by the first personal computers (ZX81, Spectrum etc – my microwave is cleverer than they were!), scientific calculators, the first mobile phones (even my peers were frightened of the first ones in the early nineties – and my first one was the size of a house brick!). This all happened a mere 20/25 years ago. I still have nearly 30 years of working life  to complete. What is going to happen in that time, let alone for the working lives of our current youngsters – sobering thoughts when we gaze into our crystal balls and imagine what the world will be like and therefore how we need to educate our children in preparation.

This has been more of a social commentary today – I hope it’s given a little more food for thought though. Bureaucrats will merely put in more bureaucracy rather than really guide the economy. I believe it is up to the thinking parent and the business leaders to take time out and really consider the strategic future.

The future is indeed bright …. but the future is not orange!!!

Paint it your own colour – you’re the artist of your life!

The days of sheep-dip leadership & management training are over!

I love this phrase but according to the CIPD, the days of sheep-dip leadership and management training are over!

Well, what does that mean for businesses and maybe most importantly for HR Managers?

According to new research and the experiences of economic turmoil over the last few years, there is a desperate need for a new breed of leadership, which requires development programmes aligned with corporate culture, values and priorities.

I have to say rather unsurprisingly, a new type of leadership is needed in modern organisations in order to build positive workplace cultures that get the best out of people and support innovation, empowerment and ethical behaviour. 

There are some important implications for HR and top brass. Embracing leadership culture theory is possibly now one of the key roles of HR seniors to build in leadership capability to the company framework.

There are various factors that are influencing leadership theory, including falling levels of trust in political and business leadership as a result of the financial crisis, the MPs expenses scandal and public concern over excessive boardroom pay, bonuses and rewards for failure.
Of particular interest are three emerging strands of leadership theory;

  1. relational leadership,
  2. values-based leadership and
  3. contextual leadership.

The first two highlight the quality of the relationship between leaders and their direct reports, and emphasise the importance of leaders who are self-aware and can display honesty, integrity and strongly held ethical and moral principles. Contextual leadership focuses on how leadership is influenced by the culture and systems of the organisation as a whole, for example, by its values and the extent to which managers are empowered to lead at all levels of an organisation.

We can also highlight key insights for leadership development, for example, evidence suggesting that if a manager regards themselves as a leader they are more likely to behave like one. Managers must also want to learn if development activities are to have any impact so a focus on understanding why people might be motivated to become leaders is also crucial.

The critical role of HR in developing leadership capability should focus on

  • Defining what good leadership is
  • Developing leadership and follower skills
  • Creating systems, processes and policies that support good leadership
  • Creating conditions in which the value of leadership is recognised
  • Ensuring that leadership development frameworks are aligned with organisations’ core purpose and values
  • Deploying a range of ongoing learning interventions to support sustained behaviour change.

Leadership is no longer just about the boardroom; managers at all levels need leadership skills – the power to win people’s hearts and minds and build relationships based on mutual trust and respect. In an increasingly knowledge-based economy, the key to performance is through engaging employees in ways that produce discretionary effort and creating an environment which encourages greater employee empowerment and voice to facilitate the exchange of ideas and know-how.

Today’s leaders need to be self aware, have a strong moral compass, and understand that their behaviour is key to whether an organisation’s values are worth more than a passing reference in the annual report or on the company intranet.

In order to build this type of leadership capability, the role of HR is fundamental. HR needs to ensure that how managers are recruited, managed, trained and promoted supports the development of required leadership skills and behaviours. HR must ensure that leadership development frameworks are aligned with organisations’ core purpose and values and understand how to deploy a range of ongoing learning interventions that actually lead to sustained behaviour change. The days of sheep-dip manager training are over.

Remote working thwarts promotion

Firstly a quick thank you to readers for the kind comments on previous threads and I’m delighted some of you are gleaning some useful insight/guidance to initiate further exploration and research. May I reiterate though that any views are purely my own and I encourage you to delve deeper into the subject matter.

Now a quick one to highlight a modern working practice that is growing in popularity and frequency but that may have detrimental effects – unless properly managed – remote working.

It’s fairly obvious when you think about it but if you work remotely (ie away from your main workplace) and therefore are out of sight of your line management and senior bosses, you may be going unnoticed and therefore any promotions or beneficial reviews could be passing you by.

Many people are accepting flexible hours and ‘work from home’ opportunities to alleviate problems such as commuting or childcare responsibilities. For such people I encourage you to interact as much as possible with your superiors to ensure they know what a good job you’re doing. It’s all too easy to feel comfortable and keep the jimjams on and only respond to calls from bosses, but it may be a good idea (particularly if you’re ambitious) to make that extra call, make an effort and go to the office on a regular basis (when your boss is actually there) and even use such mediums as Skype to actually ‘engage’ with your boss.

There are many jobroles that have historically been remote eg area sales people. Many times I have heard of people complaining that the promotion has gone to the colleague that lives nearer the office (and thus ‘pops in’ regularly) or the one whose sales figures may not be as good as their’s but is known as a ‘brown-noser’ – ie always sucking up to the boss!

The problem is that there’s a very fine balance between working efficiently (therefore not driving to the office all the time, wasting fuel and time), and making sure that the job you’re doing is being appreciated and recognised.

I’ve had personal experience of the problem through employing a number of people who worked from remote offices to mine and also who were working in the field. I can support the notion therefore that the people I recognised and rewarded most were indeed those that I was aware of most. Some employees seemed to only come to my attention when they did things wrong (not good for them!).

Therefore, as I always encourage you to do, think about this one if it applies to you and ensure that you create a manageable relationship building structure into your working week….do you want that promotion or those few extra shekels in your pay packet!!

Engineering through University & beyond

My last post about the need to attract and support young people into engineering seems to have hit an important artery for many readers. This I am very glad about of course because it is an area I am most passionate about and indeed concerned due to the nature of my business.

My business (for those who don’t know) is primarily business support services to engineering clients in the compressed air industry. I have been a Headhunter and development director for more than 15 years and had the fortune of working for a wonderful list of manufacturers and distributors of high quality engineered product. Predominantly I service them on the personnel development elements of their business, not only talent acquisition but also working with their current incumbents, processes and systems to glean efficiencies and growth. Education has therefore been an intrinsic ingredient to my understanding. In addition I created a large academy for 16-24 year old students (The Co-operative British Youth Film Academy) to gain hands on experience and career development structures within the movie industry through producing feature length films (this has always been my hobby / 2nd passion so I twinned my day job with my hobby to facilitate its creation).

Engineering is however closer to my core as I recognise the importance to the economy of ‘making things’. Manufacturing is the major part of economic growth as we have seen over the centuries. Britain was one of, if not the, pre-eminent societies in design and manufacture throughout the industrial revolution. Sadly (in my opinion) we have moved our focus onto tertiary sector (service) industry and finance. British Government recognises the need for high-tech and education to drive us out of recession and also recognises the private sector is central to this.

The complexities of any economic infrastructure are far too deep to even touch on within a blog such as this but I believe that if people are thinking about certain pointers, the deeper investigation will be undertaken by the individual and change will occur. I encourage people to think hard about their personal skills and knowledge, their mathematical capabilities and particularly the encouragement of youngsters to keep studying maths and sciences beyond GCSE.

The following statistics give an idea as to why young people don’t look properly at engineering and instead wish to chase the dragon in media or other sectors (one of my main focuses for the BYFA was to educate people that the movie business is exclusive, hard to enter and actually not that glamorous on a day to day basis – wonderful as it can be, you have to have drive, commitment and purpose to stand a chance – the BYFA learning curve hopefully takes away peoples rose-tinted spectacles and makes them think about the career they should follow - one where there was true job and earning potential).

  1. 55.4% of graduates say poor pay is the reason for not following a career in engineering
  2. 14.5% said there were too few career prospects
  3. 13.5% said it was boring compared to other careers
  4. 16.6% said engineering degrees (often 4yrs as opposed to 3yrs) are longer and more costly

I think they are rather startling statistics and rather concerning. Students are not recognising the importance of science and technology and are probably speaking from an ill-advised and uneducated stance. If they explored further and actually experienced the variety of careers and earning potential, most would be surprised.

A recent report by the Lords Science & Technology Committee states:

“In reality the quality of the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering & Maths) graduates coming out of Universities does not meet the requirements of industry and in fact is ultimately not even likely to meet the requirements of academia.”

The report says that, without action, the government risks failing to meet its objective of driving economic growth through education and hi-tech industries.

It is vital that parents and education really address the importance of study in engineering (and to be frank it starts with higher level maths and sciences), or the British economy will be unable to create sustainable growth.

Again, I urge parents to sit down round the dinner table and discuss such career options and then use your time to explore the Internet and go and see some of the industrial and technological wonders of the world.

Enjoy and explore!…. even more on this shortly….

Education, Engineering & Apprenticeships

Close to my heart is the subject of engineering education. Engineering of course covers rather a large spectrum of skills and sectors but for the purposes of this blog I wish to be fairly generalist.

The last 16 years of my life I have been persistently entwined with rotating equipment manufacture and distribution (as a headhunter), particularly in the compressed air industry. Many readers from outside this world may not be aware of the utility of air in manufacturing and general engineering but it’s uses are evidenced in almost every engineering site around the world.

Because I have been in and out of so many such establishments as well as been working closely with education (particularly for students of 16-24 years of age), I have recognised some huge failings which can be addressed in a fairly simple manner.

Companies are now struggling to recruit engineers with the requisite skills for their enterprises. This is not a new situation, in truth it has been a gradual reality over the last 25 years or so. My brother was one of the last people to do a full indentured apprenticeship in the late 80′s in electrical engineering. He moved out of engineering into commercial sales. So have many people.

We’re now faced with a limited stream of young engineers coming into the market and therefore old hands are propping up industry with insufficient new talent to replace them.

It’s a difficult one to fix overnight, in the past companies were blamed for not putting in the training schemes to develop new talent (because they feared they’d put their resources into a new recruit and once they were trained a competitor would poach them). This is still the case though now the additional pressure of tighter margins and increased competition has ensured that companies just don’t have the resources to spend on training new entrants.

As a headhunter, I could be selfish and say that’s a good thing as my services are needed to try to coax passive, well looked after staff from competitors to my clients. This will of course always be the case as companies always require the best and the best are always fought over (and you need to employ a mediator to stand a chance of attracting them).

My altruistic side therefore says we need to fix the problem a lot deeper into our socio-economic system.

We need to encourage youngsters and make them see how exciting, creative and diverse engineering is as a career. Not only that, if youngsters followed engineering in their education, they would have far more opportunities for their careers than in many subject areas (there are only so many Jonny Depp’s! – and I can talk authoritatively on this subject…).

Engineering is available in many forms and ingredients are available for students from a very young age. I believe it is up to parents and teachers to give youngsters experiences of making things, working with tools and starting places can be as simple as visiting the number of great museums and enterprise centres in every town, region and country.

Beyond this, there is another side to the situation and one that can be actioned immediately rather than waiting for youngsters to grow up. That is how employers look to modern apprenticeships to engage, train and develop potential talent.

Modern apprenticeships are different to how the 40+ age group remember them to be, but they are accessible, provide reasonable grant aid to support them and can be tailored with academic providers to the needs and requirements of individual businesses (within reason of course!). I would encourage business owners and managers to seriously look into this area. It will benefit your business in so many ways if you do it right and ultimately it will help to generate growth at little cost. Statistically, though 99% of the British economy is run by SME’s (small to medium enterprises), only 10% of these are engaged in running apprenticeships.

If time is precious and you as a business owner or manager cannot find the time to research, engage and establish apprenticeships, talk to someone who knows and can put the building blocks together for you – if you choose the right people it won’t break the bank, it’ll save you from the bank!

Due to this being such a topic of passion to me, I’ll bang on further about it and so please expect some more views for consideration in a short while….

Remember, these topics are meant to initiate conversation at home and in the office so have a break, talk with those integral to the topic and let’s all work to create more engineering jobs and thus regenerate the economy by making things.


Health & Safety – Fee for Intervention

Slightly heavier topic than usual but rather important given the consequences and immediacy….

I’m sure most business owners are already aware that the Health & Safety cost recovery scheme is due to start in October – it is called Fee For Intervention (FFI) – link for guidance –

The proposed FFI hourly rate for 2012/13 is £124 and will be charged to businesses who break health and safety laws and where investigation and enforcement action is required.

This is of course fair and just as H&S is vital in the modern workplace (though the argument for the levels and bureaucracy therein can be tabled).

Though business is struggling to survive and the pressure on individuals to perform is at an all time high, it is vital for business owners and departmental heads to ensure they have ticked all the necessary boxes with regards H&S policy and implementation.

My advice would be for business leaders to outsource and bring in specialists from the field to monitor their H&S policies – even if it’s just to be on the safe side. Planning and preparation are king on such matters as the costs associated with FFI can and probably will be extremely high if oversights occur (and in many businesses it is far too easy to miss the less than obvious).

As with everything in life – follow the 7 P’s – prior preparation and planning prevent piss poor performance – excuse my language folks (but I didn’t invent the saying!!!)

Too many staff !!

It may be suprising to hear but in spite of the current economic conditions, 1 in 3 companies are maintaining staff levels higher than they need to avoid losing skills, but will make redundancies if economic growth does not return soon. And this statistic is referring to private sector firms!

Skills are of course important to ensure customer satisfaction but firms don’t seem to realise that there are other options available to them. Too many business owners are holding on with their teeth and finger nails where a much more balanced and structured approach can be implemented.

The global economy has changed and there are further seismic changes yet to come. Old styles of thinking need to be refreshed…..

Nutrition in the workplace!

Suprise Suprise !! but another very useful academic paper has come out to state how effective a healthy workforce is!

Employees with unhealthy diets (I have to say this is undefined!) are two-thirds more likely to suffer loss of productivity…..

Regular exercisers are 50% more likely to suffer loss of productivity….

The stats go on and on but to be frank they don’t really define the differences between healthy and unhealthy etc. However, the point is that nutritious balanced diets and regular exercise improve productivity.

In tune with previous posts, why then don’t employers put a small amount of time into training and taking care of their employees? It’s a no brainer and with just a small amount of consideration, quite significant improvements can be made to productivity, efficiency, employee satisfaction and thus increases in profitability ….. time again for business owners to think!

Interim Managers to be taxed at source

On 16th August the government is to deliver approaches for consultation on proposals for taxing ‘controlling’ interim managers working for an organisation to be taxed at source for PAYE and NI Cont.

This will potentially be damaging and disruptive to the sector.

The reality is of course down to the wording of the legislation and efforts will be made to ‘circumvent’ the legislative burdens.

Is this another example of the nanny state and additional clauses to an already overly complicated tax system?

For consideration……

Financial struggles for employees

It’s good to see people enjoying the site – thanks for your attention and comments!

Though it’s something I’ve been banging on about for years (more specifically in terms of financial education early in academia) there is a new report out this morning that puts facts to the lack of financial knowledge and support British people are getting. Because people don’t know how to financial plan and structure their fiscal lives, they are putting themselves under unnecessary stress and strain. This stress is therefore having a major impact on their employers company’s performance.

The facts:

Three quarters (73%) of employees report that their organisation offers them no form of financial support or advice to help them better understand and manage their finances. The data highlights that, despite the rising pressure on employee living standards, with 59% of employees reporting some financial struggles, employers are missing a trick by failing to offer even basic financial education.
Among those workers who said that they were offered advice or support, the most common offerings were employee assistance programmes (13%); access to an independent financial adviser (7%); workshops on financial self-management (4%); online financial guidance (3%); access to a credit union (3%); and access to hardship loans (2%).

• 53% of employees reported that they are concerned about their financial plans for retirement, with one in five (20%) of private sector workers admitting to having no financial plans for retirement.
• 39% of workers report concerns about just about making ends meet (rising to 43% for women) and 38% are concerned about having enough money for day-to-day spending, with a further 27% concerned that they are not saving enough.
• 59% of employees report that they would be able to survive for less than six months if they were to lose their main source of income, with a quarter (23%) able to survive for less than a month before running into serious difficulties.
• 39% of those in employment report that concerns about how they are going to be able to pay for their summer holiday reduces their enjoyment of it and a further 24% reporting that, when they return to work, worries about how they are going to be able to pay for their summer vacation causes them stress.

I feel this is like a tradesman going to work without the right tools and those he has are all blunt! Companies and business leaders need to put some attention on this – productivity is a complex beast and a company won’t achieve efficiency if it doesn’t look after its most important assets – it’s employees.

PPE – personal protective equipment

Shocking new report by the TUC

By law, firms must provide staff with personal protective equipment (PPE) such as protective clothing, helmets and goggles, free of charge. However, 11.6 per cent of workers in the survey said their employers were failing outright to do this, while another 8.9 per cent said they were charged if the equipment was damaged and needed replacing. This is despite the fact that the law requires the employer to take responsibility for ensuring equipment is cleaned and maintained.

The most common forms of protection used by those who responded to the survey were footwear (84 per cent), gloves (72 per cent) and overalls or aprons (50 per cent). Two-thirds (60 per cent) of workers said that they had to clean their equipment themselves or pay for it to be cleaned.

Employers must take action to support and protect their staff. It shouldn’t be up to good employers to set a good example. Every employer MUST fulfil their obligations.

CIPD survey

Latest quarterly report from the CIPD (Chartered Institute for Personnel & Development) states that only 36% of employees trust their senior leaders and more than half (58%) of workers display signs of being ‘not bothered’.

Such facts (though more attributable to the monoliths of the corporate world) are worrying. Are workers so disenchanted by their bosses and the company they work for? Sadly I believe it is true and is something that we, as business leaders, need to investigate. A positive and trusting workforce is vital to the health and success of our businesses. We’re all pulled hither and thither in the modern economic marketplace due to lower margins, supposed efficiencies through technology, enhanced competition via the web (often just affecting price not service).

Another set of eyes and a considered approach to business process and personnel management can assist in the elimination of the above statistics.