This week’s letters

You don’t speak for me, Kilroy

Thirty years ago, terms such as ‘nigger in the wood pile’ were considered
‘normal’. Equal opportunities ambassadors were accused of ‘taking the fun out
of work’ for outlawing them. Fun for whom?

Nowadays, we use much more subtle ways of keeping people in their place,
therein maintaining the status quo. We play on words and use language to
transmit subtle messages to preserve privileged status and demonise anyone who
is different.

This is effectively what Robert Kilroy-Silk did when he reverted to over
simplistic, monofaceted, stereotypes of Arabs in a recent newspaper article.
His subsequent attempts to redirect his comments towards ‘states’ rather than
people do little to negate the impact of his original message.

Under the Race Relations Act, the BBC had little option but to suspend
Kilroy’s TV show until matters have been investigated, as requested by the
Commission for Racial Equality.

What surprises me is that the learned Kilroy has not been held to account
before now – his-ill fated article first appeared back in April 2003, but
failed to attract attention. His claim of "not intending to cause
offence" is no defence. What matters is the impact of his actions and, in
this case, the spokesperson for The Muslim Council made it clear that offence
was taken.

My work as a diversity specialist involves challenging ways of thinking and
doing business that is taken for granted, as well as pushing comfort zones. The
people who push back with the cry of ‘political correctness gone mad’ are
invariably people with a vested interest in the status quo.

For inclusion to work, undoubtedly a much broader distribution of power is
needed and this is possibly the single biggest threat to those who historically
have enjoyed positions of privilege. The main criteria for such positions are
often the ‘right’ colour, the ‘right’ sex, and the ‘right’ education, along
with the ‘right’ accent.

Kilroy’s comments will no doubt speak for some, as was the case with Enoch
Powell’s infamous ‘Rivers of blood’ speech. But not for those of us who value
the contribution of Arabs and other marginalised groups in our society. Your
‘truth’ is not mine, and you don’t speak for me, Kilroy.

Tess Finch-Lees
Diversity specialist, Pearn Kandola

Do you support age discrimination?

It would appear that Personnel Today believes in age discrimination in the

Not only do you have Stephen Burgess from Virgin Atlantic – a company
notorious for its ageist beliefs – on the judging panel for the Recruitment Advertising
Awards (RADS), you also award the airline for one of its discriminatory
adverts. This specifically states a ridiculous upper age limit, which has no
bearing on the job, except for pandering to Mr Branson’s sexist and ageist

Martin Simpson
Details supplied

John Langford, RADS chairman of judges, replies: As you would expect
from a judging panel containing a number of senior HR professionals, neither
the age requirement nor the potentially sexist tone of some of the Virgin ads
escaped comment.

Indeed, on the point of age in particular, a discussion ensued as to whether
the work should be excluded. Opinions were divided, but unless someone can
advise differently, nothing in the ads constituted a breach of employment law
as it stands, and Virgin have supportable reasons for the policy. As such, it
would have been a controversial piece of censorship to exclude Virgin on the
grounds it raised political hackles. Where would that end?

It is a feature of a great deal of very good advertising that it stands a
little closer to the line than some find comfortable. The RADS judge quality of
communications, originality and effectiveness, not the underlying HR policy or
corporate culture.

Stephen Burgess from Virgin Atlantic did not judge or in any way act as an
advocate in any categories where Virgin had an entry in the final shortlists –
a rule applied to all judges.

The judging criteria do allow a significant proportion of the marks awarded
to be based on how well the individual judge feels the employer has complied
with current best practice, and compliance with such issues as diversity and
equality. The judges each scored this section according to their opinion.

Recruitment agents need to back off

I read with some amusement and interest HR Hartley’s column on recruitment
consultants (HR Viewpoint, 27 January).

I work in a town where there are close to 20 recruitment agencies. The
competition is fierce and the phone calls I receive as an HR recruiter are

They seem to stem from one particular breed – 20 to 25 years of age, blonde,
plenty of ‘slap’ (that will infuriate one of your recent correspondents), and
all desperately eager to get sole rights for my recruitment needs.

Initially, I would agree to meet the agencies. I would explain about the
company and our recruitment strategy. So it is incredibly annoying when some
companies phone me every Friday afternoon or Monday morning asking me if I need
a temp.

One well-known agency has a very eager new recruit, who called to tell me she
had the perfect candidate and when would I like to interview her? My response
that I wasn’t recruiting at the moment caused a brief intake of breath,
followed by a very assertive: "Well, when will you be recruiting, I can
keep her for you?"

I responded: "When I need someone". Clearly, that was not the
correct answer. She said she would call me back the following week to reassess
my recruitment needs. She also said she would visit me in the next week to
discuss, in person, my recruiting requirements.

Is it any wonder that people like me try to avoid calls from agencies? They
should spend less time and money on endless silly freebies – pens, mousemats,
baskets of sweets on Valentine’s Day, etc. Then maybe they could take a good
look at how they pay their staff, rather than have them on some kind of
commission basis, which puts pressure on them to make a sale.

I tell the agencies that if I am looking to recruit, I will contact them.
How hard is that to understand?

My only consolation is that the agency employees usually get so frustrated
that they move on pretty quickly. The downside is that some other eager hopeful
comes on board to begin the harassment afresh.

Details supplied

Skills pool must be of a high standard

I read with interest HR Hartley’s column (HR Viewpoint, 3 February) in which
he chastises the Government about the poor state of the nation’s basic literacy
and numeracy skills.

The Learning and Skills Council (LSC) is the catalyst between business and
education – working to reduce the differences between the skill needs of
employers and the skills of staff.

Hartley highlights two specific points. First, the very real problems the UK
must overcome with regard to basic literacy and numeracy. Second, the role
training professionals play in overcoming skills shortages in the workplace.

In that, he had described the two key points behind Modern Apprenticeships –
the need to address the country’s skill standards, and the critical role of the
employer in delivering workplace training.

Modern Apprenticeships allow businesses to train new or existing employees,
aged 16 to 24, in the specific skill needs of their organisation. The LSC
provides funding towards training, and businesses benefit by having more
productive staff.

The Modern Apprenticeship includes essential key skills, from communication
to the application of numbers, and industry-developed vocational qualifications
– resulting in a National Vocational Qualification. Modern Apprenticeships are
created by business, for business.

The LSC will spend £815m on Modern Apprenticeships over the next academic
year, and more than £900m in 2005/06.

But our funding is not enough. We need employers to join us, making a
commitment to introduce the Modern Apprenticeship as workplace training. This is
workplace training that has been strategically developed to address every
aspect of the skills shortage – from key skills to vocational skills – not just
for the individual business, but to ensure that the skills pool we all drink
from is filled to the highest standard.

Gaynor Field
Programme manager – work-based learning, Learning and Skills Council

Mr Overell needs to check his dates

Steven Overell (Off Message, 20 January) suggests Max Weber’s seminal The Protestant
Work Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism was first published in 1958.

I think not. A little research soon reveals it was published in 1920, the
year of Weber’s death. But then I am old enough to remember the bad old days
when the IPM (as was) examination syllabus included a course of study in

Mark Alcroft
Chartered FCIPD, Burtons Foods


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