Career focus: South East

A region by region look at working in HR in the UK. This month we investigate the
South East.

Great opportunities on offer in the South
East

The
South East of England is rightly lauded as one of the UK’s
most important economic regions. In fact, its economy is the 22nd largest in
the world, bigger than that of several European countries, according to the
South East Economic Development Agency (Seeda).

The
region is home to around eight million people and comprises the counties of Berkshire,
Buckinghamshire, Hampshire, the Isle of White, Kent,
Oxfordshire, Surrey and Sussex.

According
to Seeda, the South East is
the driving force of the English economy with the average gross income per
person higher than anywhere else in the country.

The
HSBC Regional Focus Report 2004 places the South East near the top of the
regional growth league, but warns that its economy is vulnerable to consumer
retrenchment.

In
the long-term, it cites shortages of land, housing and manpower, and an
overloaded transport infrastructure as the key hurdles to continued success.
However, it reports that ambitious government plans for development in the
Thames Gateway and Kent will partially alleviate some of these issues.

The
region also has a regional assembly that represents the area and has
responsibilities around advocacy, accountability and regional planning.

The
latest government figures show the employment rate is 78.6 per cent or around
4.07 million, up by 22,000 on the same period last year. The
seasonally-adjusted rate in the South East was 3.7 per cent (156,000) between
April and June, down by 0.3 per cent on the previous year.

The seasonally-adjusted number of claimants
dropped by 1,500 in the last 12 months to 68,900 in July 2004.

Although
the South East offers some great career opportunities for HR staff one of the
key challenges for the profession is recruitment and retention in such a tight
labour market.

Tom
Hadley, director of external relations at the Recruitment and Employment
Confederation (REC) believes skills shortages and the tight labour market will
prove difficult for the region’s HR departments.

"It’s
been the tightest labour market in the UK,"
he says. "The need to recruit has increased again during the last nine
months. One of the major challenges is finding and retaining the best people.

"IT
has been picking up again recently with companies looking to recruit new staff.
However, EU enlargement could have a positive effect. A lot of new people are
coming from the Continent and alleviating some of the skills shortages,
particularly in the service sector," he explains.

Hadley
also pointed to a worrying trend that is seeing people move away to escape the
high living costs.

"There
is some anecdotal evidence that workers are moving away from the South East
because of the high living and housing costs, particularly staff in the public
sector," he says.

According
to the Manpower Economic Outlook Survey,
employers in the region are not as confident as they have been in the past.
South East businesses reported a net employment outlook of +11, below the
national average of +16 and the lowest quarter two results for the last seven
years.

Living in the region

Education

The
rush for school places and the availability at the best schools is a major
worry for many parents. The average pupil
to teacher ratios are
22.4 and 17.3 for primary and secondary
schools respectively. This compares with national averages of 22 and 16.4. The
average class sizes in the South East are 26.4 and 21.8, broadly in line with
the UK
average.

Transport

The
South East has some of the most acute transport problems in the country, with
huge congestion at peak times on the road and rail systems. It has the busiest
road network outside of the capital, taking about 4,800 vehicles every day. A
lack of investment coupled with difficult employee relations has led to a
railway system that runs below capacity and, if you ask commuters, rarely on
time.

Culture/Lifestyle

Within
easy reach of many London
hot spots, the South East also has plenty to offer in cities such as Brighton
and Southampton. There is also a
pleasant coastline and areas of natural and historical significance. Shopaholics should be happy with
the gigantic Bluewater and Lakeside
shopping centres.

Housing

Various
sources say the rapid growth of property prices has abated slightly recently,
but the region is still second only to London
in terms of prices. The overall average cost of a home in the region is
£213,828. According to official figures from the Land Registry an average
detached house will cost around £339,824, with a semi-detached priced at
£201,541. A terraced house will cost an average of £166,583, while a flat or
maisonette is estimated at £140,987.

HR contacts and local information

South
East Development Agency www.seeda.co.uk

South
East regional assembly www.southeast-ra.gov.uk

Chartered
Institute
of Personnel
and Development branches in the South East:

http://branchwebs.cipd.co.uk/kent/

http://branchwebs.cipd.co.uk/sussex/

http://branchwebs.cipd.co.uk/csouthern/

http://branchwebs.cipd.co.uk/chiltern/

http://branchwebs.cipd.co.uk/thames/

Company profile

Skandia

Staff:
1,600

Based:
Southampton

Financial
services firm Skandia has
been based in Southampton since
its formation 25 years ago, and was set up as part of a deliberate move away
from the City of London.
The decision led to a range of HR benefits, such as lower costs, and a more
attractive lifestyle for staff.

HR
director Mark O’Connell says the location has given him the edge over
competitors.

"The
vast majority of staff joining us are
making a shift away from London,
and the long commutes associated with working there," he explains.

"There’s
a large catchment area for
new staff, and our employees have an average commute of just 20 minutes. This
has really helped us with recruitment and retention and I think there’s a trend
now for people, especially those with families, to move away from London."

He
admits there is something of a trade-off being located on the South
Coast
as staff often have to travel
further for business meetings and trips into London,
but for many, this is a small price to pay. It has also enabled the company to
be proactive in the business community as it is one of the main operators in
the sector outside the capital.

"Being
based in a regional city has helped us build a larger profile than if we had
just been one of the crowd in
London,"
he adds. "We play a bigger and more active role in the business community
as a regional head office."

Move here for…

Salaries

The
rates of pay are higher than almost anywhere else

The challenge

With
such a tight labour market you will get to experience HR at its sharpest and
most innovative

Careers

With
so many large, international organisations based in the South East, careers can
progress faster

But beware of…

Health service

The
region has the worst performing health service in England

Staff shortages

Skilled
staff in almost every industry are
in short supply

Cost of living

The
extra salary will not make the huge house prices easier to take

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