New year, new danger

The challenges of implementing age discrimination legislation, tackling pensions problems and competing in the war for talent will dominate the minds of HR professionals in 2006.

Personnel Today questioned the great and the good of the HR sector for their views on the big challenges in the year ahead.

Number one issue

Preparing for the age discrimination legislation, due to come into force in October, is seen as the most significant issue.
Richard Walden, HR director at law firm Bircham Dyson Bell, said getting his company ready for the “practical realities” of the legislation was vital. “Do we really need to ban workplace birthday cards as one employment law expert suggested at a recent seminar?” he asked.

Jonathan Porter, HR director at the Royal Berkshire Ambulance Trust, called the new laws a “seismic shift” that will have a huge impact on every sector in the UK.

The long view

The thorny issue of pensions will continue to stand out for private sector HR this year. How the government responds to the recommendations made in the Turner report will dictate the future role HR has to play.

“Pensions will continue to dominate the HR agenda in terms of costs, legislation-tightening and more onerous trustee duties and responsibilities,” said Nigel Godbolt, HR director at logistics firm Ryder.

Pensions are also likely to occupy a great deal of time in the working lives of public sector HR practitioners. There will be a review of the local government pension scheme this year that will affect about 2.25 million workers. Stephen Moir, HR director at Cambridgeshire County Council, said the review would be a “significant challenge” for local government HR professionals.

Negotiations between unions and employers about a sustainable NHS pension scheme are due to restart in the near future.

The Fire Brigades Union has also threatened industrial action over proposed changes to the firefighters’ pension scheme.

Professional challenges

Most HR professionals cited recruiting, managing, developing and retaining the organisations’ best talent as their biggest professional challenge of 2006.

Beth Aarons, group HR manager at hotel chain City Inn, said continuing to provide “new and exciting ways” of attracting and retaining good employees in a crowded UK marketplace was crucial.

As a result, more organisations will be focusing on the business case for developing their own talent, according to Helen Sweeney, HR director at Co-operative Financial Services.

Recruiting into the HR function will also be challenging this year, according to Mandy Clarke, group HR director at construction firm Halcrow Group. “Finding good quality HR people will become even harder and salaries will soar,” she predicted.

If the HR function starts to punch its weight by tackling these challenges expertly, then the dream headlines on this page might start to become a reality.

View from business

Companies are starting 2006 with real uncertainty about key business issues, CBI president John Sunderland warned. He said businesses were feeling uneasy as major policy decisions, particularly about pensions, loomed.

“Businesses like clarity when planning future investment decisions, but as we enter 2006 there are a great many policy balls up in the air,” he said. “If the government drops any of these, UK jobs and competitiveness will suffer.”

Sunderland said the government’s decision on future pensions provision will be one of the defining decisions of 2006.

“Unlike its deplorable choice on public sector pensions, [the government] must make the decision that is right for the UK, not the one that is most politically expedient. [The government] must ensure that the settlement is fair. If employees are to get an opt-out from the proposals, then so must hard-pressed small firms,” he said.

HR’s New Year’s Resolutions

Angela O’Connor
HR director, CPS

“I’ll be buying lots more shoes in 2006 – a serious job is no excuse for not wearing foxy footwear.”

Gill Hibberd
corporate director (HR & organisational development), Bucks County Council

“To achieve a better work-life balance. I pretend at the moment – by working reasonable hours in the office, but then burning the midnight oil at home.”

Alf Turner
HR director, British Gas

“Getting out more in the business and spending more time with our people. Also, better external net-working and guitar playing.”

Lucy Lofting
HR director, Royal Caribbean Cruise Line

“To remember that work-life balance applies to HR directors too.”

Guru

“Guru’s top professional challenge is to stop being called an amateur. Guru also resolves to take less of hangover cure, Resolve.”

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