Career focus

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

Economic engine of the UK keeps ahead of pack

South-East England has traditionally been the heartbeat of UK business and
employment, with high wages – second only to London – coupled with low levels
of unemployment.

It’s proximity to both London and mainland Europe has made its towns and
cities a haven for corporate head offices.

Described by some as the economic ‘locomotive’ of the UK, the area has a
£140bn economy with an annual contribution of around £17bn to the exchequer.

Unemployment is currently only 3.9 per cent which, in a diverse economy, has
led to skills shortages across the board.

Mike Emmott, employment relations adviser at the Chartered Institute of
Personnel and Development (CIPD) says the region’s strength is that it’s full
of organisations that compete internationally and that are on the cutting edge.

"People tend to earn more money than elsewhere and the opportunities
are more readily available. The latest HR thought also tends to hit the
South-East first," he explains.

However, Emmott believes this traditional business hot spot could be the
first place to suffer from the need for work-life balance, home-working and
improved communications.

"Staff don’t necessarily have to be in the head office anymore because
of improved technology, so many may be tempted to leave," he says.
"Colleagues of mine often suffer two-hour commutes to work and people are
increasingly moving to areas that are less hassle."

Cynthia Hemming, Southern regional chair of the Recruitment and Employment
Confederation and head of Tunbridge Wells-based AFB recruitment, believes HR
staff can move forward more quickly by gaining work in the South East.

She says that the strength and diversity of the economy, coupled with the
number of major companies in the area provide some of the best opportunities in
the HR market.

"The South East does have a very diverse mix of employers which offers
more opportunities for HR staff looking to move forward in their career. I
think HR people across the board can often find work more easily here,"
she explains. However, according to Hemming the HR jobs market in the South
East has been unusually static recently because of the economic downturn,
although this has started to recover in the last month or so.

The major challenge for HR managers once in a post is finding the staff, both
specialist and unskilled, and then keeping them in the business.

"Unemployment is almost nil in some parts of the region so this creates
the staff shortage problems for HR people looking to recruit," she says.

Living in the region


Although it may help your career and increase earnings, the
South East is not a cheap place to live, with higher house prices than almost
anywhere else in the country. According to Nationwide building society, the
average price currently stands at £160,609. More specific average prices
include £103,144 for a flat, £161,890 for a semi-detached house and £233,889
for a detached one.


Figures from the National Office of Statistics’ Regions in
Figures report show a pupil-to-teacher ratio of 22.3 at primary schools and
17.2 at secondary schools. Class sizes are at 26.4 and 21.8 respectively
compared with national averages of 26.3 and 21.9. In terms of qualifications,
at GCSE level, 50.3 per cent of boys and 61.0 per cent of girls gain five or
more A-C grades.


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.


Within easy reach of many London hot spots, the South East also
has plenty to offer itself in cities such as Brighton and Southampton. There is
a long, pleasant coastline as well as areas of natural and historical
significance across Sussex, Surrey and Hampshire. Shopaholics should also be
satisfied by the gigantic Bluewater and Lakeside shopping centres, as well as
many town centre venues.

Company profile

Staff: 18,000
Based: Reading

US software giant Microsoft is based at the Thames Valley Park
in Reading and employs around 18,000 staff across the UK. Steve Harvey director
of people, profit and culture sees it as an ideal location.

"One of the main advantages is the access to such a good
labour force, which is essential in our business," he says.

"It also has a good infrastructure for travel with links
to the airport, motorway and rail network. This is really useful for an
international company because we often have visitors from overseas."

Harvey believes business is well supported in the area with the
whole system from education to local council policy designed to help employers.

"HR is also really switched on here because if you don’t
treat people in the right way they can wander off somewhere else," he adds.

Move here for the…


The rates of pay are higher than almost anywhere else


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


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

But beware of…


It has created some of the worst ‘journey-to-work horror
stories’ in the country

Staff shortages

Skilled staff in almost every industry are in short supply with
blue collar staff even harder to find

Cost of living

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

contacts and local information

Kent branch [email protected]

Sussex branch [email protected]

Essex, Ipswich and East London branch  [email protected]

directors club

South East regional secretary [email protected]

East England Development Agency

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