HR chiefs back plan to lend short-time workers to fire service

HR chiefs have backed plans to ‘loan’ staff who are working short-time to train as fire-fighters at local brigades during the recession.

Steve Mason, interim HR director at Befordshire and Luton Fire Service, is in talks with local manufacturing and agricultural employers to ‘borrow’ staff currently working reduced hours because of the economic slowdown to work as retained fire-fighters, Personnel Today learned last week.

Under the scheme up to 10 staff would be bussed from their places of work to a fire station where they would remain while on-call, helping to fill the service’s recruitment gap.

Mike Welby, HR director at manufacturing firm SKF in Bedfordshire – which had to put half of its 450 staff on reduced working hours from April – told Personnel Today the organisation was keen to consider the scheme.

“[SKF] feels a strong responsibility to be a good citizen in the local community. Such a scheme not only helps meet this objective but could be good for employee development and morale generally,” he said.

But he added that his staff work their reduced hours flexibly and he would be concerned if their fire-fighting commitments meant there was a risk that employees would not be available when needed.

Margaret Simkins, personnel manager at handling services company Ark-H, said the initiative was an “excellent” idea, but she feared staff would want to continue working for the fire service when the economy recovers.

She said: “The benefits to the individuals would be to keep a full week’s wage. The only negative for companies who do participate, is the possible loss of valuable staff when the economic climate (and hopefully their business) picks up.”

Yet Mason said there was little chance employers would lose key staff as the fire station would run a release scheme, where staff would go back to their original employer when the upturn comes.

Meanwhile Anthony Morgan, vice-president of the Retained Fire Fighters Union, said the initiative would help to increase diversity among fire fighters, making the service more representative of the local community.

He said: “This scheme would provide an opportunity for under-represented groups to join the fire service. It offers flexibility which would allow more people to fit the work into their lifestyles.”

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