Keep on Running
Continuity and transition are important elements of managing skill resources at all times, regardless of economic circumstances
Unless an organisation is going to go out of the market entirely, as in the case of Spike, it is important that the organisation continues to operate in a manner pertinent to future activities, no matter how many staff are laid off. This is particularly important with core skills, such as management of legacy systems or intrinsic software development.
Normally there will be some warning of large-scale retrenchments, so it is important that during the process of selecting which staff will stay and which will go, due consideration is given to the skills that will be required by the organisation post-staff departure. In many ways, ensuring essential skills are retained after retrenchments is merely normal skills transition but on a shorter time-scale.
In the case of a known staff member who is, say, retiring or generally leaving of their own accord, Hagemeyer's Ratcliffe says: "We manage transition by prioritising the workload of those taking on the new role so they can spend as much time as possible on it. Others take on their previous tasks. One month, the notice given, is normally enough to get someone else trained up. In any case, we try to always cross-train so that we have backups for all skills."
Cheryl Hannah, CIO of the Department of Immigration, and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs (DIMIA), agrees. She has instituted a system of mentoring where graduates in their second year are teamed up with highly skilled people - such as those about to retire - both to pick up their skills and also to absorb something of the departmental culture. This affects about 10 per cent of her staff. "There's a bit of upward mentoring, too," she says. "Some experienced employees may need refreshing or new skills, so the graduates help them to develop these areas."
Of course, it is not always possible to institute a formal transition process. Available time may be too short (or simply non-existent) and management wary of raising suspicions before the retrenchment announcement.
While not strictly a retrenchment, Hannah's department has experienced tight budget constraints. After working a plan through with her managers, she offered contractors, who make up about half of her approximately 400 staff, standard hours of work of say 35 or 36 hours a week. Before this, contractors would often have worked 60 hours or more a week, and unlike full-time employees they would have been paid for all of them.
"We needed to maintain our capability and retain their skills. The alternative was lopping off heads and breaking up teams, or cutting the hourly rates. We didn't want to do either," she says. "They've reacted very well, They said it was fair, and while the market is not great they would rather have guaranteed hours than uncertainty. We instituted the change in October , and so far we have had 100 per cent retention."
Hannah has the additional benefit of now being able to put hard figures into her salary spreadsheets. "You have to be serious about maintaining your capability at all times."
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