How Employees With Mismatched Skills Are Damaging Your Company’s Productivity

Many companies are employing people with mismatched skills and this is damaging productivity and profitability within their business.

I wrote an article in February this year about the dangers of recruiting employees with the wrong skills for the vacant position. Many employers look for skills that aren’t needed to get the job done.   Almost half of employees in the UK are in jobs with mismatched skills.  They are either over-or-under skilled for the job.  Or they might have the wrong qualification, or are not qualified at all.

A report by the Chartered Institute for Personnel and Development (CIPD) last year found that over a third (37%) of workers have the skills to cope with more demanding jobs.  Additionally, many people with degrees are in jobs which do not require such a high level of qualification. Conversely, one in ten people reported lacking the skills needed to carry out their job effectively.  The report concluded that as many as half of UK workers could be in the wrong job, based on their skill level.

Why does it matter if your employees have mismatched skills?

Mismatched skills bring negative impacts for our employees.  This has a knock-on negative effect on our business.

For employees, the CIPD survey found that over-skilled workers earn less than those whose skills are well-matched to their jobs.  This can result in a long term inability to increase their salary to a level they feel equals their skills. This can lead to resentment.

On the other hand, if someone has not got the relevant skills for their job, then they can become stressed and may work longer hours than is healthy.

Other issues for employees who have mismatched skills may include:

  • reduced chances of promotion;
  • difficulty in getting a new job;
  • poor job satisfaction;
  • lack of trust in the workplace;
  • lower confidence.

Why does an employer need to worry about this?

For employers, these implications for our workers are a key factor in the productivity levels for our business.

If our employees have mismatched skills, they are less likely to do a good job for us.   Their motivation and job satisfaction will suffer.  As a result, they may become resentful and even disruptive.   Their sickness absence levels are likely to increase.  All of these things are difficult to manage in the workplace and result in cost (in time and money) for the employer.

You may start to wonder why you have been unable to recruit a more satisfactory and happy employee.  Employers often think that it is difficult to recruit the right people.  But it may be more accurate that they are not even looking for the right people.

You may also find that employees are leaving only a short time after they started working for you.  Over-skilled employees will want to leave and find a job which is better matched to their skills.  And under-skilled employees may just be very unhappy because they struggle to do the job.

All of these things affect the overall productivity of your workforce.  And that increases your costs and reduces your profits.

How can I address the problem of mismatched skills?

If you ensure your employees have the right skills for their jobs, either through recruitment or training (or both), then they will be happier in the workplace and you will benefit from higher productivity and increased profitability.

To avoid mismatching skills to jobs in your company, there are some key areas where you might want to take some action.

  • Recruitment . A good place to start is to review your recruitment process.  Have you got a recruitment strategy?  If so, does it need to be adjusted?  How accurate are your job descriptions? Have you reviewed your job descriptions lately?
  • Skills Development And Training. Is it time for you to invest in some training? You could arrange some skills development for the current job holders, where they are under-skilled.  Clearly this will address specific problem areas.  But it can also send a powerful message about valuing your employees .
  • Conducting a skills audit. This can give a clear picture of the skills you already have in your workplace. You may be unaware of some of them.  It is certainly likely that you will find a number of areas where some adjustments can be made in terms of job design or training plans.   It could even lead to some restructuring if you can move people around to address some of the key skills gaps.
  • Job design. Once you understand the skills you have in your workplace, you can prioritise better use of those skills.  Then you can adapt how well  and where those skills are used.  You can then ensure you have the right jobs with the right people in them.  And you can recruit and train others, as necessary.
  • Management training. Your managers are key in this whole process and it will pay you to ensure they have the skills to support employee development. You may want to review your management practices as well and ensure your managers are confident in those practices.

What benefit will it bring?

If you can address these key areas, your employees may start to use their skills fully and appropriately in the workplace.  This will bring them increased levels of job satisfaction.  They are likely to earn more throughout their career and have more confidence and less stress.

This can lead to increased loyalty, trust and motivation.  Your retention rates will go up and the money you need to spend on recruitment will reduce.  All of this leads to higher productivity, more rapid growth and – ultimately – better profitability for your business.

If you think this article is useful and you would like any strategic HR support with a skills audit, recruitment strategy or anything else we have covered, then please contact us for a free half-hour discovery call.

Jill Aburrow runs a strategic HR consultancy business – JMA HR .  She provides strategic HR advice and support to Professional Services businesses who want to improve loyalty, growth and profit. Why not join the JMA HR mailing list?  Jill has been a professional strategic HR advisor for over two decades, supporting Information Technology companies. She is a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (FCIPD) and has a Post Graduate Certificate in Employment Law.

 

WARNING: What you must know about your contractors before April 2020

Earlier this year, I wrote an article about the UK Government’s consultation on the introduction of IR35 tax rules.  This is in relation to contractors in the private sector. If you use contractors in your workplace and you are a medium or large sized company, then you need to prepare for these changes.

Many employers remain unaware of these changes. If you do know about the changes, have you discussed them with your contractors? Have you agreed on their taxable status?

The Government announced in July that the consultation had finished and changes would be effective from April 2020.  Tax and National Insurance payments for contractors will become your responsibility.

It is best to avoid the blanket payment approach

These rules were brought in for the public sector back in 2017. Most public sector employers decided to tax their contractors as employees.  But they did not give those contractors the other benefits of employment. As a result of this approach, many contractors stopped working in the public sector. Public sector employers now find it much harder to attract contractors. Where they do still use contractors, they often have to pay a huge amount more than before.

What are the tests which prove whether or not a contract worker is genuinely self-employed?

Unfortunately for employers (and contractors), the only real test is in employment tribunal. There have been several high profile cases about employment status and there are likely to be more.

There is no hard-and-fast rule which shows that one person is genuinely self-employed. But there are some indicators which the Courts will consider in these cases. So it would be wise for employers to consult with their contractors about these issues.  This will help to determine how their tax should be calculated. Not all of these indicators apply to every contractor.  But they can give a guide to the true status of employment.

Some of the factors

  • Can the individual work at times and from a location to suit themselves? Or do you require them to be at a specific location, at specific times.  Do you require a set number of hours? If so, then that would indicate that you are their employer, not their client.
  •  Does the individual use their own equipment and tools? Or do you expect them to use tools and equipment which belong to your company? Again, this would indicate they are employed by you. If you are happy for them to use their own tools, this is another indication that they are not your employee.
  •  If you provide skills training, this might indicate they are considered an employee. Especially if you require them to undertake such training. A true contractor (supplier) should already be trained and skilled in what you need.  So it should not be necessary to provide any skills training for them.
  • Is there an expectation that you will continue to provide work once the specific job has been completed? Alternatively, are they expected to do work for you, other than what is specified in the contract? Or do you expect them to continue to be available for work for you once the project is done? Any of these things would suggest “mutual obligation” between you. This indicates that they are an employee.
  • What happens if they are unavailable (off sick or on holiday)? Do you allow them to provide a substitute to do the work while they are off?
  • Are your contractors free to do work for other companies at the same time as they work for you?
  • Do you provide transport, uniforms or other “employee benefits” for your contractors?  For example,  can they use a company subsidised gym or restaurant?

This is not an absolute or exact science

The answers to these questions can help you and your contractors decide on the fair way to deduct tax and National Insurance. Should it become clear that they are an employee, then you may need to offer employment terms and conditions and benefits. If you do not do so, then it is unlikely that the individual will be prepared to continue to work for you.

Your discussions  – and their answers – might indicate that they are a true contractor or “supplier of services”.   This will not guarantee that HMRC does not investigate further, of course. But your records of these discussions and their answers will help to show that you have investigated their employee status and have valid reasons for your decision.

Discussions sooner rather than later

If you want to avoid last minute decisions about the status of your contractors, then you need to start these consultations now. Otherwise you might face significant disruption and loss of talent at the last minute. Many public sector organisations are still facing skills shortages. Some are finding it hard to attract and retain contract workers.

The Government has developed a tool to help businesses to decide on the tax status of their employees. There has been some criticism of this Check Employment Status For Tax tool, but it may help employers and their contractors to make an informed decision.

 

If you think this article is useful and you would like any strategic HR support or information on dealing with this – or any other people-related issue in your business – please join our mailing list, or contact us for further guidance.

Jill Aburrow runs an HR strategic consultancy business – JMA HR . She provides strategic HR advice and support to businesses who want to improve loyalty, growth and profit. Jill has been a professional strategic HR advisor for over two decades. She is a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (FCIPD) and has a Post Graduate Certificate in Employment Law.

Why Succession Planning Is Necessary As Part Of Your Recruitment Toolbox

Succession Planning has been around for years.  It has traditionally been something which is only done in larger organisations and if you are in a smaller business you may not think it is appropriate for you.

If this is the case, you might want to think again.  If you want your business to grow and develop in line with potential future opportunities and challenges, then you need to have succession planning in your recruitment toolbox.  Otherwise, you may miss out on a pool of talented, skilled and enthusiastic candidates for your current or future critical rules.

In my two decades as a Human Resources partner, I have seen succession planning in many different businesses.  Where it is done well, it can really ensure that a business is well-placed to take advantage of new opportunities.  It can also remove some of the worry about losing critical skills and experience.

By the end of this article, you will know why you need to include succession planning as part of your recruitment strategy.

What is succession planning?

You need to identify the roles which are critical to your business .  Then you need to plan how you would fill those roles effectively if the current job-holder were to leave the organisation.  This is not just about your managers but any role which requires specialist skills, where speedy recruitment may be difficult.

In the past succession planning was only done by larger companies.  Now, however,  it is recognised as a crucial business tool for any size of business.  Your succession planning should be part of your recruitment planning and strategy.  It is a mix of recruiting externally and developing suitable internal replacements.

For internal candidates, it is an opportunity to gain experience and training in suitable areas to enable them to fill future roles.

Part of your Recruitment or Total Talent Management Strategy

Total Talent Management helps you to consider alternatives to recruiting a direct replacement when someone leaves your employment.  It includes temporary cover, contractors, apprenticeships, work-placement, even automation.  It should also cover succession planning and looking at internal talent.

Every organisation needs a healthy mix of internal and external recruits.  Your current employees have critical business knowledge, are engaged and enthusiastic about your business.  They have skills and experience gained in your workplace.  Knowing that they feature in your succession planning  will make your staff feel valued and is a great way to retain and encourage your current employees.

On the other hand, you also need to bring in new talent, with different ideas and a different approach.  Otherwise your business will stagnate.

Identifying your key roles

The first step is for you to identify the business-critical roles for which you need potential successors.  This may mean one specific role (normally a senior manager), or it might mean a group of highly skilled specialist roles.

Some of the roles may require similar skills to other roles in the business.  If so, then you could consider developing one or more individuals who could fill more than one of those roles.  For instance, there may be a specific technical skill which is part of several different roles.  That skill may be hard to find in the recruitment market.  You could develop someone internally, including giving them some experience in using that skill.  Then you have a candidate all ready to take on any one of those roles should someone decide to leave.

What should be included in a succession planning programme?

There are a wide range of things which could be included in succession planning, depending on your individual business needs.

You may need to arrange some formal training for the identified individuals.  Alternatively,  some informal training from the current job-holder might be enough.  You need to ensure that you include some work experience so that the individual becomes adept at using their new skill in the workplace.

You may need to move people around, so that they get experience in different areas of the business.  Or you might be able to move them sideways into a new role where they can use their new skills.  Where applicable, you might even consider promotion.

It might be worth thinking about secondment.  This could be internal, if your business is large enough.  Alternatively, a smaller company might look at collaboration with another business in the same or similar industry to provide secondment opportunities for employees from both companies.

Who should be a successor?

There is no given way to decide on who is suitable for a succession planning programme.  It should be part of your discussions with your employees – whether formal review sessions, or more informal regular “chats”.

You need to identify whether people are interested in being considered as a successor for one or more roles.  The system must be transparent and all employees need to understand it fully.  This includes the effect it might have on their work life and, potentially, their home life.  For instance, they may need to work different hours.

What are the benefits of succession planning?

Succession planning is a way to include your current workforce as part of your recruitment strategy.  You may already be employing the perfect candidate for that highly skilled role.  It would be a shame to overlook them because you had not planned properly.

Your first action needs to be a review of your business-critical roles.  If the current job-holder left and it would give you a major problem, then succession planning may well need to be your next step.

Of course, succession planning can help you to fill a potentially difficult role.  But the other benefits of a bit of planning are more intangible.

You can give yourself the comfort of knowing that you have a contingency plan in place.  That should save a few sleepless nights. At the same time, your employees will feel valued and engaged.  They will go the extra mile for you, and your productivity is likely to increase.   Your business can grow at the pace you want with plans in place to cover potential future skills gaps.

If you think this article is useful and you would like more advice on dealing with this  – or any other people-related issue in your business – please join our mailing list, or contact us for further guidance.

 

The Truth About Zero-Hours Contracts

In recent years there has been a great deal of discussion in the UK press about zero-hours contracts and how they are used to exploit workers.  It is rare to find a positive word and there have been calls for such contracts to be banned.

Yet the majority of people do not even know what a zero-hours contract is.  And many of those who actually work on such a basis are quite happy to continue.  So what is the truth and should you consider offering zero-hours contracts to your employees?

In my many years of working in Human Resources, I have seen examples of zero-hours contracts which work extremely well for all parties. I have also seen evidence of exploitation.  The devil, as they say, is in the detail.  As with all things that involve people, the key is common sense, flexibility and  good intentions.  Where those factors are brought into play, this type of employment contract can work really well.

By the end of this article you will understand what is involved in  zero-hours contracts.  You will know the advantages and disadvantages of using them and what the changing legal picture around them looks like.

What is a zero hours contract?

There is no legal definition of  a zero-hours contract.  It is just a contract between a business and a worker which outlines how the work is done. So for employees it is an employment contract, but unlike other contracts of employment it does not specify a number of hours to be worked.

Typically, such a contract is offered where work fluctuates and an employer cannot anticipate how many hours per week might be needed. So in some weeks there is a need for, say, 37 hours (a full-time week) and other weeks might only require a few hours – or even none at all.

The benefit (and sometimes disadvantage) of such an arrangement is that there is no guarantee of any paid work at all in any given week.  For the employer, the benefit is that they only have to pay for work when it is needed.  For the worker, the advantage is that they can fit work around other commitments.  This type of contract is popular with students who can work and still find time for their studies.  Some parents of young children or people with caring responsibilities like these contracts.  It means they can manage work to fit around family or other commitments.

The agreement between the two parties is that the business may ask an individual to work for them, but there is no minimum number of set contracted hours.  The contract states what the individual will be paid if they do any work.  It also covers what will happen when they turn down any work that is offered.  There is a statement about what will happen if there is a change or cancellation of the work.

What are the advantages of a zero-hours contract?

If care is taken with introducing a zero-hours contract, it can be a working arrangement which works successfully for everyone.

For those who have read any of my previous articles, you will know that my first advice is always to consult with your employees .  If you have the kind of fluctuating work which would lend itself to this type of contract, then talk to the individual(s) concerned.  You can agree what might work for them as well as for your business. Beware, though, that this type of contract is not suitable for everyone.

Some people value the flexibility which allows them to balance work with studying or with caring responsibilities or other commitments.  But there are other ways of providing such flexibility.  In addition, there are other considerations with regard to things such as mortgages and other personal financial commitments.  Where possible, you  should accommodate the hours which individuals tell you they need to be able to work.   This will lead to a happier workforce.

For some workers, this might not be the only job they have.  They use it as a way to top up their income without having to commit to a specific number of hours per week.   For others, it may be a way to gain experience in a specific type of job or industry.

Why are zero-hours contracts not suitable in some cases?

If you want to use zero-hours contracts, then you must ensure that you provide a contract which details what the payment will be for any hours that are worked.  You must also  agree and specify what will happen when work is cancelled at short notice.

Someone may have to make specific arrangements in order to be able to do the work on offer (childcare, for example).  It can be costly and difficult if the work is cancelled with little notice.  It is sensible to agree between you what is workable notice and what is not.  Where the notice you can give is shorter than the notice period agreed in the contract, then you may want to agree to pay compensation.   Whatever you do agree with an individual, this must then be spelled out in a written contract.  That will avoid any conflict at a later date and will  help to give the worker some confidence in the arrangement.

For some people, the variability of the work and thus the earnings can cause financial hardship and contribute to stress and anxiety.  Where people have financial commitments, mortgages, loans, etc, they need to have a regular income and zero-hours contracts cannot supply that.  They may also need to show regular hours in order to be able to access such financial arrangements.  You should discuss these things with individuals prior to agreeing a zero-hours contract.  That will help to ensure that they have taken these factors into consideration.  A failure to do this can contribute to mental health issues, such as stress, depression or anxiety.

Things to consider when implementing a zero-hours contract arrangement

There are some things which any good employer will consider before implementing such a contract:

  • Think about the nature of the work you have on offer and how it fluctuates. Will this be a short-term issue, or do you need a longer solution?  Does the type of work lend itself to being carried out on this type of contract? Does the work have to be done by a specific deadline?  Are there other types of flexible working arrangements or employment practices which might suit this type of work?
  • Consult with the individual(s) who will be impacted. Does this type of arrangement work for them?  Have they thought about financial implications?  Do they need to have a guaranteed minimum number of hours?  How much notice do they need for some work to be offered? How much notice should you give if you need to cancel the requirement to work, or change the number of hours?
  • Consider the employment status of the individual. Will they be an employee of your business?  Or will they be self-employed and providing work and invoicing direct or through a third-party?  Can they refuse work offered?   What happens if they want to do some work for other people?  Can they provide a substitute if they are not available?  Will they provide their own equipment and tools?

Other things to think about

  • Make sure the contract  is clear about the agreed terms, particularly the employment status, the payment due and any cancellation agreements. If you agree a minimum number of hours, then you must specify that. You must also include provision about the obligation or otherwise to accept work offered.
  • If you intend that the worker will be an employee of the Company, then you are required to provide an employment contract which includes terms and conditions of employment in line with other employees.
  • It is helpful for you to regularly review the situation with the employee.  This is a chance to decide whether the employment relationship has changed and whether the arrangements still work for both parties. Such review should be on an annual basis, at least.
  • You may need to provide training to line managers to ensure they understand the implications of zero-hours contracts.  They need to know how to manage the work and the individuals who are contracted to do the work.
  • You should ensure that people doing the same job, whatever their employment status, are paid comparable rates of pay.

The changing legal picture

Since 2015, if someone is employed under a zero-hours contract, then it is against the law for their employer to prevent them from working elsewhere.   So an employer cannot include a clause in a zero-hours contract which excludes the person from working somewhere else.

In July 2017, the Taylor review on modern working practices was published and the UK Government has issued its response.  Many of the recommendations have been accepted by the government and some are currently under consultation.

The two major proposed changes with regard to zero-hours contracts are:

  • To give workers, including those on zero-hours contracts, the right to request a more predictable contract;
  • The possibility of paying a higher National Minimum Wage and National Living Wage for hours which are not guaranteed as part of the contract.

Beneficial for business

The Trades Union Congress (TUC) in UK has called for zero-hours contracts to be banned.  One of the reasons cited is that their research shows that most workers on zero-hours contracts feel exploited and want to be able to work more hours on more stable contracts.

Since 2017, the fast food chain McDonald’s has offered its  UK workers the option to move from zero-hours contracts.  Workers can move to fixed contracts with a minimum number of guaranteed hours per week.   McDonald’s has offered this change because some of their staff complained that they had difficulty in some financial arrangements  because they lacked guaranteed employment.

McDonald’s ran a trial across some of their sites, but 80 per cent of workers in the trial chose to remain on their current contracts.  This is in contrast to the TUC findings above. McDonald’s now offer employees the choice.

The benefit to McDonald’s has been an increase in employee satisfaction.  They believe this is because they consulted with staff about their hours.

If you think this article is useful and you would like more advice on dealing with this  – or any other people-related issue in your business – please join our mailing list, or contact us for further guidance.

The Facts You Should Know About IR35 Tax Rules and Your Contract Workers

If you have had difficulty in recruiting skilled staff to undertake specific projects, then you may  have turned to the contract world.  In some industries the way to ease recruitment has been to use contract workers.  This is particularly the case in the IT world.  Technology changes fast and it is difficult and costly to keep trained employees.

I have worked in Human Resources in both the public sector and private sector for some years. So I know the difficulties employers face when it comes to recruiting technologically adept staff.

IR35 Tax Rules are coming to your contractor workers soon

The UK government is currently consulting on the intention to introduce IR35 tax rules to the private sector from April 2020.   These rules have applied in the public sector from 2017.  But many private sector employers are unaware of the rules or the implications for their business.

In a nutshell, the proposal is that private sector employers who use contract workers will become responsible for deciding whether to deduct tax and national insurance from those contractors, via payroll.  They would be classified as falling within IR35 tax rules. This would effectively give the contractors employment status.  They would be able to claim benefits enjoyed by other employees, such as holiday entitlement, sick pay, redundancy pay, etc.  They would be taxed as an employee and it would be your responsibility as an employer to deduct that tax.

What have we learnt from the public sector?

This legislation has been in effect in the public sector since 2017.  It was brought in to combat tax avoidance by contract workers.  If they  were providing their services via an intermediary (often a limited company) then they would be subject to different tax rules.  They might otherwise be taxed as an employee.   There have been some high-profile and costly cases to determine whether or not an individual is considered an employee and  what the costs of that decision are for the employer.

Contractors have been widely used in recent years as a way to circumnavigate recruitment difficulties.  This has been particularly prevalent in the IT industry, where there is an ever-changing skills requirement for projects.  There is a need for existing employees  to learn new skills regularly, in technology which may only turn out to be short-lived.  This has been prohibitive for business in terms of cost and capacity.   In such a fast-changing environment,  it has proved beneficial and cost-effective to use contractors.

What do I need to do about IR35 for my staff?

But from April 2020 in the UK, the onus is likely to fall on private sector employers to make tax decisions regarding these contract workers.   If your business relies on contractors, then you should start to consult with them now about these proposed changes.

There are various ways to determine employment status.  You will need to consider what applies to your contractors and what does not.

Some of the considerations are:

  • Do  you require your contractors to be in a set workplace at a set time.  Do you expect a set number of hours of work per week? Or can they work the hours they choose, in the place they choose to do it.  Do they have to complete a time sheet, or just raise an invoice for the work they have done?
  • Do you provide equipment (eg. computers) and do you expect the contractors to use that  equipment? Or do you allow – or even expect –  them to provide their own equipment?
  • Do you expect contractors to undertake training provided by your company for its employees?
  • Are your contract workers free to take time off whenever they want to?
  • Do you insist that they take a specific amount of time as holiday?
  • If they are not available for work (for example if they are sick), do you expect –  or allow  – your contractors to provide a substitute to do the work?
  • Do you expect contractors to work exclusively for you, or are they free to provide services for other companies as well?
  • Do you provide transport or uniforms or accommodation for contractors?
  • Can they make use of subsidised canteens or gym facilities, etc (ie. employee benefits)?

Some of your answers to these questions may be rather vague, or dependant on such things as security considerations.  The answers  will not absolutely guarantee whether or not someone is considered to be an employee.  But they are all things which can help to determine the true nature of the relationship.

 Why do I need to think about IR35?

The government consultation goes on until the end of May 2019.  Expectations on employers will be more clear once the consultation is finished.  However,  it is very likely that you will be asked to decide on whether your workers are truly self-employed or should be taxed as employees.

It is worth beginning these discussions now.  You will then be able to make an informed decision about whether or not to deduct tax from payroll and offer employee benefits from April 2020.

Start discussions with your contractors so that they know that you are aware of the implications. You can be sure they are nervous about it themselves.   A frank discussion will help you both to prepare for any tax changes and decide how best to deal with any impact on either the individuals or the business.    It won’t do your reputation as a caring employer any harm either.

If you think this article is useful and you would like more advice on dealing with this  – or any other people-related issue in your business – please join our mailing list, or contact us for further guidance.

Apprenticeships, Interns, Work Placements – What Is The Difference?

There are so many different ways of employing graduates, school leavers, or people who are still studying.  So what is the difference between all of these different work placements? In some industries, these students or ex-students are the mainstay of the business.

You have some work which you think might be suitable to offer on this basis, but it is confusing to know whether to offer an apprenticeship, an internship or a work placement.  Or maybe you just need to advertise the role as normal. Then  anyone can apply,  whether or not they have recently been through the education system.

By the end of this article, you will understand the different options. And you will know which one is the most relevant route for you to explore in your business.

Apprenticeships are for manual work, aren’t they?

You may think that apprenticeships are only for manual work.  The short answer  is “No, they are not”.  An apprenticeship can lend itself to any type of work which requires training in order to do it properly.

Traditionally, apprenticeship was the route for working in manufacturing or construction.  In recent years, though, apprenticeships are offered in a wide range of industries, from IT to marketing, to accountancy.

How long is an apprenticeship?

An apprenticeship is for the longer term.  Generally at least one year.  More often two or three years – depending on the level of the qualification achieved by successful completion.

An apprentice is your employee.  They must be in a real job which offers the opportunity to gain the knowledge and skills they need to pass their assessment.  As an employee, they must be paid in accordance with National Minimum Wage regulations.   Additionally, you must offer apprentices the same terms and conditions which you offer to other employees in similar roles or grades.    But an apprentice must spend 20% of their time in formal training.  You must pay them as normal whilst they are training and you must also fund the training, with some help from the UK government.

The advantage is that you grow your own skilled talent, with the skills your business needs.  You improve your staff retention and productivity and you can reduce your recruitment costs. If the apprenticeship works well, it is common for employers to offer a permanent role, even promotion, to an apprentice once they have finished their apprenticeship.

What is an Internship?

You may want to offer an internship to an undergraduate or student. They can be offered to other people as well,  but are normally offered to students.  An intern would normally work for you for a fixed period of time – normally between one and three months.  This is a way to employ students during term time (usually part-time), or during their holidays.  It is a chance for them to learn about your industry and to gain some experience of life at work.  It is also a chance for them to learn about interacting with others in the workplace.

How does an internship benefit the employer?

As an employer, the advantage is that you benefit from the intern’s labour.  It is up to you what level of work you give to them.   The emphasis is on the training they gain, rather than the type of work they do. You may start off with fairly basic photocopying, filing, etc.  Then you can move them  onto more in-depth work as they prove their capability. Many companies employ interns for a fixed number of weeks or months to support a specific major project or event.

It can also help with recruitment costs further down the line as surveys show that graduates often return for permanent employment once they have completed their education.   The advantages are obvious – you already know the person and they understand your industry and company, not to mention the job they will be doing.  They will require less training than other candidates.

Even if the internship is only for a short period, it can really benefit the individual by providing a range of transferable skills and helping them to network and build valuable connections.  It can even provide employment references.

Do I have to pay an intern?

There is no obligation to pay an intern. You may have seen some discussion in the press about whether it is exploitation to offer only voluntary internships.   As a result, it is more and more the norm for employers to offer payment for internships. In industries where there is competition for student labour, it is beneficial for employers to pay well for internships.

How is a work placement different?

A work placement is often arranged through a school or university and is a short term placement of a student in the workplace.  The placement may only be as short as a week or a couple of weeks, especially if the student is still in school, rather than further education.

A placement is really only a chance for the individual to get a taste of the world of work.  It may be their first exposure to arriving at a set workplace at a set time.  They may have only had limited interaction with adults other than parents and so it is a chance for them to test out life skills such as personal interaction.

As an employer, you may get some fairly basic work achieved, although you need to try and give an overview of the whole company or industry.  This is part of introducing young people to the type of work they may consider in the future, so a broad view is helpful at this stage.  If you can make their time with you interesting and they learn something, then that is even better!  You need to consider this as part of your overall recruitment strategy.  If you engage their hearts and minds while they are young, they will come back to you for permanent work once their education is finished. Alternatively, they might be future customers.  So you would be wise to make this a positive experience.

What about University work placements?

In a similar fashion, you may be asked to offer work placements to students as part of their University studies.  If it is a requirement of their study, then the University will have set ideas about what they need you to provide as an employer.

The placement might be needed for a few weeks, either during term-time or the holidays.  Alternatively, depending on the course the student is following, there may be a request to offer work placement for a day per week over a set period.

There is no obligation – or even expectation –  to pay for work placements, particularly where you have been approached by a school or university for a short-term placement.  The exception to this would be where a “sandwich placement” of a whole year in industry is a requirement of the course.  If you are providing work for a student for a year, then you would be expected to pay a reasonable wage in exchange for their work.

Can a small business offer any or all of these opportunities?

As a small business, you are in a great position to be able to offer students some fantastic practical experience.  The very nature of a smaller business is that you are more likely to offer the chance for people to work on their own initiative and to develop their own ways of working.

If you get the right person, who has a good aptitude for learning and for the type of work you do, then you may find they are a real asset to your business.  It is common for smaller businesses to offer permanent employment to people who they have supported through an apprenticehip.  Or to employ someone who has been an intern or had a work placement with them.

At the very least, you may find the same person comes back year after year, holiday after holiday for the chance to work in your business .

If you think this article is useful and you would like more advice on dealing with this  – or any other people-related issue in your business – please join our mailing list, or contact us for further guidance.

Pre-Employment Checks Made Easy

Many organisations in the UK carry out pre-employment checks on prospective employees.  Most recruiting managers ask for references from previous employers and may ask to see a passport or some other form of identity.

But there are a whole range of checks you could carry out – and some are a legal requirement.  This article will help to explain what you should be checking (as a UK employer).  It also looks at what you should avoid!

Why do you need to carry out pre-employment checks?

You have found your ideal candidate and made a conditional offer of employment.  But you need to check out a couple of things before you can confirm the offer.  Employing someone is a big investment and you will want to safeguard your business.  Otherwise,  recruiting that individual could have a negative impact.  It could even prove to be a costly mistake.

But background screening can be complex.  It is easy to cross the boundary and breach data protection laws. This article will give you a brief overview of what you should and should not be checking.

As with any contractual negotiation, you need to carry out due diligence.  You want to ensure the candidate is not likely to bring the company into disrepute.  You want to avoid them having a negative impact on colleagues or customers.

Additionally, employers need to comply with  some legal requirements.  This iwll  depend on the type of business and work the individual will be doing.  For instance, you may need to check whether an individual has a criminal record or a poor credit reference.

Legal checks you must do

If you are in the UK, you have the legal obligation as an employer to carry out checks to ensure that a potential employee has a right to work in the UK.

You must apply this to every potential employees, regardless of their race, nationality or ethnic origin.  It is important that you don’t assume someone has the right to work.  If you neglect to do this, you could face a discrimination claim.

It is also important to keep records of these checks, with copies of the documents provided by individuals (such as passports).  If asked, you must be able to prove you did the check.  The fine for non-compliance is up to £20,000.

Pre-Employment Checks which depend on the specific job or industry

There are a number of other checks which you may need to do for the specific type of work or industry. This includes things such as criminal record checks, health checks, credit checks.

For example, the job might involve working with vulnerable adults, or children.  Or it might be in security or policing.  In those cases, specific checks may include criminal record checks.   Or if the job is in finance,  then  you may need to do a credit check.  You need to ensure that the type of checks you require are in line with the responsibilities of the job or industry in which the person will be employed. You should not be doing checks unless there is a specific need for them.  Otherwise you may break data protection laws.

If the role involves driving, then you may want to check their driving licence and whether they have any driving restrictions.  You might also do a health check.

Health checks should only be carried out if there is a legal requirement for them (for example doing eye tests for commercial vehicle drivers).  There may be a job related requirement for a health check (for example, if there is an insurance requirement for some aspect of the role).

Pre-Employment Checks for any employer

There are some checks which you may want to carry out to ensure you are hiring the best person for the role.   Things such as reference checks come under this heading.  But remember there are still pitfalls you need to avoid when carrying out these checks.   You may need to withdraw an offer based on the outcome of pre-employment checks.  If so, you want to be able to avoid potential liability for things such as loss of earnings, or injury to feelings.

As an example, most employers carry out reference checks as an effective way of checking the suitability of a candidate, but you must avoid asking discriminatory questions.

Likewise, you might carry out social media screening and decide not to employ based on something in their social media history.  But you must beware of any kind of bias based on such things as religion or sexual orientation evidenced through their social media.  If an applicant can successfully argue that your decision not to employ them was based on some discrimination, then compensation (potentially unlimited) may be payable.   This is the case even if the individual has never been employed by you.

Educational Qualifications

It is sensible to check up on the educational and other qualifications which an applicant says they have.  If your vacancy requires someone to have a specific qualification to be able to do the job, then you would be wise to check that the preferred candidate does actually have that qualification.  You need to beware of a check on the web, as there are some websites now which provide fake certification, for a fee.  There are even realistic university websites, which are fake. So don’t rely on the documentation provided by candidates, or on a website to verify the qualification. It is worth doing a check direct with the University or issuing body.

Potential pitfalls for recruiters

When you are carrying out pre-employment checks, you must be sure they are in line with data protection legislation. In general terms, this means that you must only carry out checks which are necessary.  You must carry them out fairly, lawfully and with transparency.   Any data which you record and keep on employment records must be kept up to date and must be accurate.   It must not be kept any longer than is necessary and it must be kept secure.

You must beware of discrimination in your recruitment process as a whole.  With regard to pre-employment checks, you must be sure not to only target specific people or types of people.  For example, don’t do health checks only for older people.  Don’t do right to work checks only for people you think may not have the right.  You must also be careful not to discriminate against a candidate who has a disability if that disability would not stop them from being able to do the job.

To minimise your risks, you should make sure anyone involved in the recruitment process has been properly trained.  It is also a good idea to keep records of the recruitment process and all steps taken.   There may be some cost involved in this, but it will minimise the danger of legal action and will be a saving in the long run.

In conclusion …

It is tempting for an employer to carry out a wide variety of pre-employment checks to make sure they are recruiting the right candidate for the job.  But there are pitfalls in this area and it is sensible to only carry out checks which are necessary.

This area is something to consider as part of your recruitment strategy and it is certainly worth ensuring that any staff involved in the recruitment process (including doing the checks) have been trained properly.

If you spend a little time on making sure you do the right pre-employment checks, then you will minimise the chances of legal challenge.   Additionally, you are being fair to all your employees and maximising the likelihood of taking on the right employee for the role.

If you think this article is useful and you would like more advice on dealing with this  – or any other people-related issue in your business – please join our mailing list, or contact us for further guidance.

How To Plan Recruitment To Cover Gaps In Availability

One of the questions which several different employers (particularly in hospitality or retail environments) have raised with me is around students who are only available to work at certain times of the year (summer holidays, and sometimes shorter holiday seasons such as Christmas). 

The problems raised are threefold:

  1. These students are only available at certain times;
  2. There is a gap between the end of the College or University Year and people arriving in their home town, available for work. So the people who study locally are no longer available and the people who are going home for the summer have not yet arrived.
  3. The students don’t want to stay and come back every holiday period, so there is no continuity.

I have supported businesses with their recruitment for many years and I think there are several actions which employers could take which might help solve these problems.

Set Up a Recruitment Strategy

You know you are going to have this problem every holiday period and so you need to plan a strategy for dealing with it. 

If you include Total Talent Management in your Recruitment Strategy, then part of that will be to consider other ways of getting the job done.  This might include thinking about whether some of it be automated. Or there may be another pool of available people who could cover it.

We cover some of the options you could include in your strategy below, but the key point here is to have a strategy in place.  That way you won’t need to panic each year about how you are going to fill the gaps.

What Strategies Can You Put in Place?

  • Consider different ways of doing the work.  For instance, can some of it be automated?
  • Give some thought to different groups of people who might fulfil the same tasks as your current student workforce.  Maybe you could focus on recruiting some older people (over 60s), or young Mums who don’t want to work full time?
  • If the work has to be done by younger people, then can you recruit school leavers who are not continuing in education? Or maybe you could focus on the long-term unemployed?
  • Do you just need to recruit more students so you have a larger pool available than you actually need at any one time?

How can you encourage your current workforce to return regularly (or stay longer)?

If you collaborate with your current staff and current student workers, then they might be able to come up with alternatives or suggestions about how you can retain their services.  For example, some things which you may not have thought of yourself , such as:

  • You could agree to buy their study books for them, if they commit to return and work for you for each holiday period.
  • Offer training in some transferable skills, so they get some skills they can use, either for you or elsewhere.
  • Linked to the above, think about career planning with them, to map out a permanent career path with you, rather than just a holiday job.  It won’t keep all of them, but it might keep a few.
  • Make yourself such a good local employer that they are all queuing up to work for you.
  • Appeal to the things which make them tick ( for example, show that as a business you care for environment or get involved in the local community, or support a charity, etc).
  • Don’t insist on blanket rules which don’t work for them and which you have difficulty enforcing (like no mobile phones….), instead train them in alternatives (like not using mobile phones when dealing with a customer).

I am sure that a discussion with your staff will produce a whole variety of different ideas.

What next?

So you can see there are options to try which might either retain the staff you have or replace them with different workers.

The key to it all is planning and giving some focussed thought to the problem – and collaborate with your staff.  They will have the best ideas of all.

If you take the time to plan a Recruitment Strategy, then you will have the comfort of knowing you will be able to fill your employment gaps.  Additionally, you are making a contribution to society by employing people who otherwise might find it difficult to get work. 

Additionally, a knock-on effect will be an improved reputation with both employees and clients. 

If you think this article is useful and you would like more advice on dealing with this  – or any other people-related issue in your business – please join our mailing list, or contact us for further guidance.

Total Talent Management – The Ultimate Recruitment Solution

As part of my series of articles about recruitment, I want to talk to you today about Total Talent Management, what it is and why it is important to you, even if you only employ a handful of people.

I have been helping companies to successfully recruit the right people for many years now.  Recruitment, like nearly everything else in the HR industry, has changed enormously over the years and “talent management” is about the whole process from attracting and recruiting people to retaining them within the organisation.

So what is “Total Talent Management”?

This is about how you get the job done, whether it is by permanent employees – recruited through traditional methods – or whether the goal is achieved some other way.  So it covers a wide range of things –  from temporary workers or contractors, through to robots or technological solutions.

Whatever way you want to get your job done, you need to think about how to achieve that and include it in your Recruitment Strategy (sometimes renamed Total Talent Strategy).

Total Talent Management – the short explanation

A total talent solution moves away from the traditional recruitment of staff to get the job done and looks instead at the desired outcome and how this can best be achieved.  This could comprise one, some, or all, of the following list. And this is not comprehensive, other things could occur to you when you start to think about this in depth.

  • part-time workers
  • temporary agency staff
  • temporary staff on a fixed term, fixed task or even zero hours contract (contact us if you need a fuller explanation of these terms)
  • work shadowing
  • voluntary workers (where appropriate)
  • undertaking work experience, either as a student or as part of a back to work scheme for (women) returners (not just women -although they may be the majority – but this encompasses anybody who has been out of the workplace for a while)
  • seasonal workers
  • students on a gap year
  • internships
  • apprentices
  • self-employed contractors
  • internal deployments or promotions;
  • job sharing
  • remote workers
  • virtual workers
  • robots
  • drones
  • some other technological solution
  • outsourcing the work
  • a joint venture collaboration with a competitor

This means that when you are thinking about “recruitment” you no longer need to think only about traditional permanent workers who work a standard 9 – 5 day.  If your particular business is very traditional and only supports the standard recruitment model, then you may find that it becomes ever more difficult to recruit enough people to get the job done.

As with everything in the world of work, this requires adaptability and flexibility by you as the manager and by your staff.

What are the barriers to implementing Total Talent Management?

There may be a resistance from some managers to moving away from the more traditional ways of recruiting permanent staff and buying in temporary help.

Another issue is that you need to understand who you already have working for you and how the job is done.  This may sound simple (and it probably is for a smaller organisation), but many organisations keep separate records of who they employ on a full time basis and those for whom they have a temporary arrangement. It is also important to understand the skills you need to get a specific piece of work done and how that skill is best achieved.   Your Total Management Strategy and strategic decisions can only be completed when you think about the whole picture.

Other things to think about

You may need to look at producing a business case for all stakeholders so they can clearly see – and embrace – the benefits of implementing this kind of strategy.

If you have more than a few employees and you are considering more than one or two of the solutions outlined in the list above, then you may need to consider your record keeping and look at a technological solution to data recording.

If this seems complex and you feel you have more pressing business priorities, then the danger is that you will put off doing anything about this.  Recruitment is often only done as a reaction to a specific problem and is not always top of your agenda. The danger of that is that you will find it ever more difficult and expensive to recruit the right people at the right time to get the work done.  Some time spent up front on producing a Recruitment Strategy would be time very well spent and will be a saving in the longer term.

What are the benefits of a Total Talent Management Strategy?

In this time of increasing difficulty in recruiting people, clearly the biggest benefit of this new way of looking at the whole talent package is that you will find it easier to find the right solution to getting your job done.

You will find there is a cost benefit as well.  You will get the best solution for the particular work problem you have and you will find your skills gap disappears and you will not have a surplus of unwanted skills.  If you only have an occasional need for a niche skill, then you only need to procure it on occasion, rather than “hanging on” to that permanent employee who has one specific skill but is difficult to employ purposefully for the rest of the time.

Enhance your reputation

Your reputation with your clients will improve as they find you are able to produce what they need when they need it.  And not just your clients – your reputation as a good employer will also be enhanced as people understand that you only employ the people you need when you need them.

As your organisation grows and you find there is a change in the type of skills you need, then you can spot those gaps and fill them, either through traditional recruitment or temporary talent.  Alternatively you might reskill or upskill your existing employees, or even explore any tasks which might become automated. Likewise, if you find you have an excess of a particular skill, you will be better placed to re-arrange your talent so that productivity is not flattened by surplus skills.

You will find greater productivity in your workforce as the permanent employees are used properly to complete jobs they are skilled, competent and willing to do. Additionally,  those “one-off” or occasional jobs will also get done at the right time and cost.

And finally…

If you have read this far, I hope that you will already be thinking of the advantages of a Total Talent Management Strategy for your business. If you embrace Total Talent Management, you will find you become more competitive and find it easier to solve your recruitment dilemmas.

If you think this article is useful and you would like more advice on dealing with this  – or any other people-related issue in your business – please join our mailing list, or contact us for further guidance.

Fishing In A Stagnant Pool? Or Recruiting Across the Sector/Industry Divide?

In my own working life, I have lost count of the number of times I have been told by recruiters that I am not being put forward for a role because I don’t have the right industry or sector experience and would need to cross the sector/industry divide.

I have also changed industry and sector successfully several times and have had great feedback.  I have even been congratulated on being able to quickly pick up work in one sector when my recent experience has been in a different  sector. My answer is – and always has been –  that I am trained and experienced as an HR professional and those skills are applicable in any industry or sector, or even country. 

“But I need people who know the ropes”

There may be a need to learn different processes and procedures (or even legalities) but I have never found that to be a difficulty. There is always something to learn in any new job (and actually in any current job as well). If your candidate is unwilling or unable  to learn, then that may be a barrier to employing them.  But their current industry and sector experience is not such a barrier.

Employers are reluctant to take on staff who have not worked in the right sector or industry.  Public sector employees can’t get private sector jobs; non-academic staff can’t move into the academic sector; retail sector only want people who have retail experience; etc. 

I raised this issue last year in a previous article but it bears repeating.

Barriers to recruiting across the divide

It appears that  one of the most common obstacles to recruiting across the sector/industry divide is knowledge of legal processes and obligations, together with  a lack of contacts in the industry.  These things can be learnt.  There will always be a learning curve of some kind for a new employee, even within an industry or sector.  The sector or industry-specific technicalities are more easily taught than things like aptitude and attitude.

The HR department is meant to be a partner to business, not a barrier

Sadly, it appears that the most common reason given for not recruiting outside sector or industry is “internal HR processes”.  I find this difficult to accept as any “HR processes” have been put in place to serve the business or organisation and are easily changed if they are no longer a fit with the changing world.  The point of HR is to partner and facilitate business, not to put up barriers or be a regulating force.  

So if your HR processes are blocking your ability to recruit across all industries and sectors, then I would suggest you need to change your HR processes.

If you think this article is useful and you would like more advice on dealing with this  – or any other people-related issue in your business – please join our mailing list, or contact us for further guidance.