On-line childcare scheme grows after pilot success

An Internet childcare service is to be rolled out nationwide after a local
service in Cambridgeshire proved successful.

Opportunity Links puts working parents in touch with a childminder, and
offers advice on childcare and maternity benefits.

The voluntary organisation is now arranging 19 pilot schemes with local
councils in other regions to expand its service, which includes advice on jobs,
training and relocation. Only childminders vetted by the local authority are
included on the list.

Jon Sparkes, HR director of Cambridge-based technology firm Scientific
Generics, offers the service as an employee benefit. He said it helps to
recruit hard-to-find people with high-tech skills who have children.

"It will provide us with information on childcare provision within an
hour of calling," he said. "For a business like ours, where staff may
have to jump on a plane to see a client in Sweden, it is invaluable. It is far
more flexible than having a crêche."

Companies are only able to use the service if they can demonstrate they are
committed to family-friendly policies.

Opportunity Links is also helping set up the national information service
ChildcareLink, on behalf of the Department of Education and Employment. This is
in place in Scotland and about three-quarters complete in England and Wales.

Internet childcare as a staff benefit is the latest HR services to go
on-line, following the appearance of psychometric testing and job applications
on the Net.



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