Feedback from the fringe - REC @ the Lib Dems conference
This week’s Lib Dem conference in Brighton was a great platform for showcasing the findings of our Flexible Work Commission. One of the core aims of the Commission was to drive the debate on what flexible working patterns mean for government policy as well as for businesses and recruiters. Yesterday’s fringe session in the Ashdown Suite of the Holiday Inn certainly achieved that goal.
The event - which we co-hosted with the PCG (the voice of freelancers) - enabled us to engage with organisations such as the Federation of Small Business (FSB), Unite, City & Guilds and the Institute of Engineering & Technology as well as with Lib Dem councillors. There was broad consensus on the Commission’s recommendations and discussions drew the link with earlier conference debates on jobs and growth.
In summary, there was agreement among panellists and delegates on a number of key messages to government and business leaders:
• The world of work is constantly evolving – flexible working patterns are a good example of this. The challenge for policy makers is to understand and reflect these changes.
• Workplace flexibility is driven by workers as well as by business need.Employer bodies in the room recognised the importance of flexible working arrangements as a candidate attraction and retention tool.
• The trend is towards increasingly high skilled contractors and interims. These are now often referred to as 'Independent Professionals' (IPros!). This trend was also flagged in the REC's 'Talent Acquisition in Turbulent Times' report earlier in the year.
• Businesses often need support in terms of how to reconfigure working arrangements and job design - This is an area where recruitment agencies can provide an additional service and demonstrate the added value they provide.
• Individual workers (contractors, interims, IPros) also need support. This is where organisations such as PCG will have an increasingly important role to play.
• More needs to be done to raise awareness of flexible options to future generations of workers. We need effective careers guidance in schools and colleagues that would cover this. We also need to nurture the right skills through the education system.
One of the other conclusions from yesterday's session was that there is a fundamental disconnect in some of the political rhetoric. On the one hand we saw the Business Secretary Vince Cable on the main conference podium highlighting the role of the UK’s flexible labour market in creating over a million new private sector jobs over the last two years. On the other hand we had Chief Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander re-emphasising his commitment to pushing ahead with plans that would essentially limit the use of contractors and interims. An immediate post-conference priority for both the PCG and the REC will be to launch the next phase of our campaigning work on this issue.
The other priority over the coming weeks is of course to take the REC/PCG ‘flexible working roadshow’ to the two other major party conferences. Rev up the tour bus, next stop is Manchester.
You can get live updates of the REC’s activities at party conference on Twitter by following @RECPress and @HadleysComment