Select Committee on Education and Employment Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum from Manpower plc


  In the introduction we set out our leading role in the field of employment services and the contribution we make to achieving improved employability for our workforce and greater flexibility for our clients. Effective labour market policies are essential for the economic and social welfare of the UK, and are central to our own interests and those of our customers and employees.

  In subsequent sections we develop our view that there is a mismatch between what employers intend and what business actually does, and that discrimination is still apparent in the workplace.

  We highlight the benefits of a diverse workforce with particular emphasis on flexibility and the advantages this can bring to all age ranges.

  We express our view that in our business there is no justification to use age as a criteria for recruitment and retention. Also, that as a founder member of the Employers Forum on Age, we fully endorse the Code of Practice and recognise that employers need to be more flexible in recruiting from a wider range of backgrounds.

  We place great emphasis on the issue of pensions and fully support the Employers Forum on Age report on flexible retirement. In addition we stress the additional barriers to employers that are the result of the myriad of programmes and groups focusing on other disadvantaged groups as well as older workers rather than a more united approach.

  The end of the report summarises our view on the need to continually promote minimum standards to all employers as legislation could prove burdensome and possibly encourage methods of avoidance rather than reducing discrimination. Positive emphasis ought to be placed on the benefits of older workers and tailoring employment practices and training and development programmes to the individual where possible.

  Manpower welcomes the opportunity to set our views and enthusiasm at being involved in partnerships and employer bodies that enhance access to work opportunities for all and aim to ensure that workers are selected purely on merit.


  1.1  Manpower, the UK's leading employment services company, is part of the international Manpower group operating in 54 countries and the market leader world-wide. In the UK, we employ more than 100,000 people yearly to meet client requirements for temporary, permanent, contract or managed services.

  1.2  Our success is based on our longstanding commitment to the benefits of flexible working for both businesses and individual employees. This dual relationship with customers and workforce is reflected in equally strong links with employer organisations like the CBI and employee bodies in the form of the trade unions. Similarly our founder membership of the Employers Forum on Age and participation in their Leadership Group has meant we are active in developing strategic and practical solutions to address issues of age.

  1.3  Manpower is committed to maintaining and improving labour market effectiveness. An efficient labour market—giving all individuals access to regular paid work and employers access to a skilled, flexible workforce—generates significant economic and social advantages.

  1.4  As a successful global corporation, we recognise our responsibility to provide leadership in issues relevant to our core expertise—employment. We believe that employment agencies, like Manpower, have a key role to play in breaking down barriers to accessing paid work by selecting workers purely on merit, as well as recognising the urgency of addressing issues around growing labour market shortages.

2.  In what ways and to what extent are older workers treated less favourably than younger workers regarding age?

  2.1  We are now at a stage in the general business environment where few companies would consciously discriminate on the basis of age, and most recognise the benefits of recruiting older workers. However statistical evidence demonstrates that this is not the case in reality—it is very difficult for older workers who have been dismissed, made redundant or had a long period of absence from the labour market to get back into the workplace. Older workers alongside younger candidates are at a disadvantage, suggesting a mismatch between what business intends and what it actually does.

  2.2  There is a double-edged sword regarding this mismatch. Older people do not apply for positions assuming that a younger worker would be preferred, and if they do and get to interview stage they often do not perform well, demonstrating a lack of confidence in their own suitability and not putting forward their strengths with sufficient vigour. Discrimination can also occur through an employer's choice of selection and assessment methods which may not fairly balance the merit of practical experience against more theoretically based knowledge, or younger candidates greater familiarity with psychometric tests.

  2.3  Discrimination is also apparent in the form of denying older workers training, development opportunities and internal job transfers, as the perception can be that the investment is not worthwhile or would not be welcomed. In practice the average 50-55 year old is likely to stay with an organisation for at least 5 years while a graduate or younger worker is likely to move on within 2-3 years.

  2.4  Finally too many companies still offer only a "standard" benefit package across all employees that is often inappropriate for both young, single and older employees.

3.  What benefits does promoting age diversity offer to employers and employees?

  3.1  A diverse workforce has a better balance of skills and priorities that, with good management can be used to reinforce the best features of every category of employee. A team with a wide age range in a business with a demand for flexibility will be more likely to be able to balance, for example, the needs of a young mother to get away on time with that of an older worker who wants time off for other interests but is happy to work late at short notice when necessary.

  3.2  Employees, in our experience, enjoy being part of a team with a wide age range. The young draw on the advice and experience of their older colleagues who, in turn, are motivated by the enthusiasm and new ideas generated by their younger colleagues. With true family groups often geographically dispersed in modern society, an age diverse workplace can contribute some of the valuable cross-generational influence that is otherwise lacking.

4.  In what circumstances, if any, is use of age as a criteria for the recruitment and retention of employees justified?

  4.1  In general terms there can be little justification for age as a criteria for the recruitment and retention of employees. Where it exists it is generally based on erroneous stereotyping and irrational prejudice—for example the assertion that older workers will suffer greater absence through ill health. However, in specific sectors there may be circumstances where the need to match employees with a specific customer group provides some justification. In our business, which is extremely broadly based and employs over 100,000 people a year, we have found no need to do so.

5.  How effective is the Government's Code of Practice in promoting age diversity in the workplace?

  5.1  To date Manpower, as an active member of the Employers Forum on Age, has not been supportive of calls for legislation. The Government issued a Code of Practice yet when research was done on awareness only a quarter of employers were aware of the existence of the Code and 63 per cent admitted the Code was unlikely to change their working practices. There is a need for something much more sustained than just a one-off campaign. A long-term strategy is required between Government, employer groups (such as Socpo and the CBI) and the unions to support a business-led campaign.

  5.2  Further to that, it is unhelpful in working to shift employer attitudes to focus on specific issues like age. Other lobby groups focus on the disabled, ethnic minorities, parents and those with criminal records. All however are barriers and we strongly recommend a more united approach to bring home the business case, in a tightening labour market, for actively seeking greater diversity in every company's workforce.

  5.3  Employers need to recognise that current HR practices often assume a "standard" employee and need to be more flexible in order to be competitive in attracting and developing applicants from a wider range of backgrounds and with differing capabilities. The Government should actively support research and promulgation of good practice in this area.

6.  In what ways do other Government policies, for example the New Deal, help or hinder older workers, especially unemployed jobseekers?

  6.1  Although well worn, the pensions issue is a crucial point to make. Solutions include phased retirement, as detailed in the Employers Forum on Age report on "flexible retirement" which we fully support.

  6.2  In the context of New Deal the separate conditions attached to the "50 plus" programme illustrate the point made earlier, that the Government, like employers, is reinforcing distinctions unnecessarily. Like other groups of long-term unemployed the best solution is to look at each case individually, because that is what they are, individuals. The success of Employment Zones, in which Manpower is involved through Working Links, is an excellent demonstration of the advantages of a more flexible approach.

7.  Is there a case for anti-discrimination legislation and if so what provisions should be made?

  7.1  Business will become subject to European legislation currently going through, not to discriminate on the grounds of age, race, gender etc. In the interim the UK would do well to get its house in order, as Ministers have suggested, so that practice already exceeds the minimum standards likely to be required by the legislation.

  7.2  Earlier UK legislation will serve no useful purpose, will be resented by businesses already complaining about the burden of new employment legislation introduced over recent years and would be so difficult to enforce. The result could well be to place the emphasis on avoidance rather than taking positive steps towards compliance.

  7.3  Business has created a culture of early retirement during the 1990s through structural change and early access to pension benefits (eg 50 year olds in local authorities have grown to expect to be offered a package well ahead of the typical retirement ages of 60 and 65). The high incidence of early redundancies means that older workers do not anticipate re-entry to the labour market.

  7.4  Young people entering business are enticed at the very outset of their careers by attractive flexible financial benefits. Given current problems of an ageing population, early retirement and disengaged older workers, this emphasis is wrong. There ought to be an emphasis on development and training opportunities, benefits of lifelong learning and embracing change.

  7.5  Too much of company training that is provided is job specific—training tailored to that job for the short-term rather than the progression of the position and the worker. The whole approach to learning and change is at the heart of the issue and the Government's development of this agenda, building on the idea of Individual Learning Accounts and utilising the new employer-led Learning and Skills Councils, will, in our view, play a vital part in addressing age discrimination.

Manpower plc

January 2001

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