Skills and temp rights are main cause for concern so far in 2008

We may be just four months in to 2008, but already there have been plenty of flashpoints for the HR profession. Whether it be skills, diversity, flexible working, temp rights or the interminable debate over HR’s relevance to profit and loss accounts, the debates rage on.

We thought we would take a step back from the melée and look at what you’ve had to say in our news barometers so far this year. It makes for interesting reading.

Would you give staff time off to reach Level 2 qualifications?

The result: Yes 68% No 32%

THE STORY Skills secretary John Denham used Personnel Today to kick off 2008 with an appeal for employers to make it the year of staff training. Denham insisted a culture change was needed this year to achieve the targets Sandy Leitch set for 2020, calling for employers “to make skills training integral to their business”.

WE SAY Denham’s rallying call may have convinced two-thirds of you to commit to Level 2 training in our online poll, but evidence elsewhere suggests that momentum has not carried forward into the year. The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) last week published research showing that just 13% of employers had signed the skills pledge more than a year after its launch.

Do diversity professionals need their own organisation?

The result: Yes 14% No 86%

THE STORY The Learning and Skills Council (LSC) published a report in January based on 700 diversity practitioners that argued a diversity body should play a similar role to the CIPD, offering different membership levels, benchmarking, accredited qualifications and career pathways for diversity professionals. Lee Probert, director of equality and diversity at the LSC, said: “The equality and diversity practitioners we spoke to believe there is a gap in the support available to them.”

WE SAY You were pretty clear in your verdict that such an association was not needed. And perhaps you knew something that the LSC didn’t, as the idea seems increasingly likely to disappear along with the government-funded body itself. Sixteen weeks after the £230,000 research project was published, diversity professionals Personnel Today spoke to from the agency’s ‘interested parties’ list said they were rapidly losing that interest and that several such organisations, such as the National Centre for Diversity, already existed.

Should agency workers have the same rights as permanent staff?

The result: Yes 29% No 71%

THE STORY A controversial Bill giving agency workers the right to the same pay, pensions, benefits and training as directly employed staff came before Parliament for its crucial second reading in February. Labour MP Andrew Miller, who sponsored the Temporary and Agency Workers (Equal Treatment) Bill, told Personnel Today that HR professionals should seriously consider whether using temps on long-term contracts was really in the best interests of their organisation.

WE SAY In the biggest poll response of the year, seven in 10 of you were adamant that agency workers should not have the same rights as permanent staff. This reflects what many employer groups have long been saying – that such laws would diminish labour market flexibility, and put hundreds of thousands of temp jobs at risk. Despite this, on 22 February,

the Bill passed its second reading. It will now go to the committee stage this spring.

Does your HR team have a positive impact on the bottom line?

The result: Yes 55% No 45%

THE STORY Personnel Today’s 20-year anniversary issue in February led with the story that an in-depth study had finally proved the link between good HR and higher profits. The Work Foundation and the Institute for Employment Studies found that if an organisation increased its investment in HR by 10% it could boost gross annual profits by £1,500 per employee.

WE SAY Despite this weighty evidence, almost half of you remained unconvinced that you added to the profits of the business at all. If we had phrased the question slightly differently, perhaps we would have discovered that many in HR feel they cost the business in wages more than they give back in useful policies.

Has flexible working improved performance in your organisation?

The result: Yes 46% No 54%

THE STORY A Working Families report last month said that flexible working legislation had not worked for many employees since its introduction five years ago. The study of more than 5,000 calls to the charity’s helpline claimed that large numbers of employers had either ignored staff requests to work flexibly or had given unacceptable reasons for turning them down.

WE SAY Almost half of you said that flexible working had improved staff performance in your organisation, but roughly the same number said it had not. This suggests that while a good deal of employers are embracing modern working practices, many remain unconvinced of their merits. However, flexible working only looks set to increase in the near future, so it is up to HR professionals to make it work in their favour.

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