Memorandum submitted by the Institute
for Employment Studies (IES)
1. THE LABOUR
The Roberts Review, the team of which included
an IES secondee, highlighted many of the issues relating to the
supply of science and engineering (S&E) skills. An earlier
IES Report for the European Commission Assessing the supply
and demand for scientists and technologists (Pearson, 2001)
highlighted the selective nature of skills shortages in the UK
and Europe. These do not affect all disciplines and locations,
higher education is the sector most under pressure. In the last
two years, while skills shortages have worsened, the available
evidence suggest that they are still selective with major differences
between disciplines eg with biologists being "over supply"
contrasting with a shortage in IT (Pearson, 2001, IES 2001). Higher
education is still suffering the greater problems although these
Research S&Es are employed in HE, the public
and private sectors with a significant number in "not for
profit" organisations eg Imperial Cancer Research. However,
only HE works with a preponderance of its research staff on short-term
contracts. It is one of one of three major constraints it has
been facing in recruiting S&Es, the others being poor facilities
and equipment, which is now being improved following recent funding
increases for equipment, and low relative salaries. Despite these
constraints a multitude of short term posts are filled each year
and recruitment difficulties are not endemic.
In the public sector they also experience recruitment
difficulties and here pay has been the major constraint. In general
and in contrast, the private sector suffers far fewer constraints.
Despite these problems the UK attracts many foreign S&Es to
work in all sectors (Pearson, 2002).
One of the main challenges affecting recruiters
in all sectors relates to the difficulty in attracting experienced
S&Es who have good project management skills. This reflects
both a rapid growth in the demand for such skills, and the lack
of relevant training in these skills by earlier generations.
In as far as one can look ahead, the demand
for S&Es will continue to develop in different ways in relation
to individual disciplines and locations. On the supply side we
have already seen how the supply of engineering graduates has
shown little growth while the supply of biologists continues to
grow rapidly (Pearson, 2001). An organisation's ability to recruit
and retain good staff will depend not only on the overall national
balance between the supply and demand for S&Es, but also in
terms of its own competitive position which embraces factors such
as pay, career prospects, the availability of state of the art
equipment, working conditions and location.
The position in HE is made more difficult by
the widespread use of short term contracts which constrains both
their ability to attract and retain staff, as does low relative
pay. Having many staff on short-term contracts also limits the
extent to which they invest in the development of such staff,
thus constraining the supply of more experienced staff for the
2. OPEN ENDED
This section considers why this prevalence of
short-term contracts is unnecessary and suggest that HE could
move to a position offering permanent contracts which would lead
to easier recruitment, greater stability, and greater investment
in longer term skills. This could be done without unduly constraining
management's ability to adjust their staffing to changing demands.
We cite by way of example, the case of the IES.
As noted above all the IES income comes from short-term, competitive
Despite this reliance on "short money"
we have confidence in our long-term success. We invest heavily
in staff development to ensure we win sufficient future business
to sustain our competitive position in the market for independent
research. In this way we are able to make long-term commitments
to our staff. In return staff are flexible as to the assignments
on which they work.
IES offers permanent contracts to all its staff,
bar one or two in occasional posts. We do this:
To attract and retain staff in a
highly competitive market. For example, we normally retain 8590
per cent of our staff each year and our able to build their skills
for their future. We also recognise that staff will also wish
to develop their careers in other directions and will from time
to time leave.
To motivate existing staff, who would
otherwise spend disproportionate time in job search
To minimise the time and resources
spent in recruitment, induction and staff contract administration.
To maximise the returns from our
investment in staff development to enhance our research outputs,
to maintain rigorous standards, to develop the next generation
of senior researchers and research managers, and to meet the ever
more challenging demands of funders.
In the event that a member of staff's
skills were not able to be utilised in existing programmes, and
they could not be redeployed to another programme, then their
contracts would have to be terminated in the normal manner. This
is not a normal occurrence.
3. THE WAY
In the case of HE we believe that the preponderance
of short-term contracts is unnecessary and counter productive.
It is a product of history, a fragmentation of research capacity,
and a failure of management to understand that they can manage
in a different way. It causes problems in recruitment, retention
and the development of experienced researchers, disrupts research
programmes, and involves unnecessary transactions costs for both
staff and higher education.
We believe that the prevalence of short-term
contracts could be reduced if:
Research and associated staffing
is concentrated in centres which have sufficient critical mass
to support scientific endeavour, and which can invest in appropriate
facilities and staff development.
Such research centres have the capability
to manage and develop their staff. This would require investment
in the skills of the management, the management processes by which
such centres are run, and their approaches to funding.
Research funders, when allocating
long-term funding, should consider incorporating a requirement
into their contracts to ensure that those receiving their funds
are managed effectively, thus building capability for the future.
Managements and staff should recognise
that their activities are not dissimilar to those in other parts
of the economy and society, and recognise that if the demand for
skills changes dramatically eg funding ceases and staff cannot
be redeployed, then redundancy will be an inevitable consequence.