The UK government has committed £1m of a £4m fund to help IT employers offer flexible working arrangements to staff and address recruitment and retention issues.
The Work-Life Balance Challenge Fund was established in March 2000 to provide £10.5m worth of free consultancy over three years to companies looking to implement work-life balance policies and practices.
Round four of the fund is now open to all employers in England and Scotland. But for the first time, the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) will channel funding to specific sectors - notably IT and engineering - where the need for flexible working practices and ways to address staff recruitment and retention issues is most pressing.
The DTI also said that it is particularly interested in receiving applications from small and medium sized companies. The deadline for applications is 8 March 2002. Already a total of 181 employers from a variety of sectors have gained from the scheme, each receiving average funding of £37,000.
But the large proportion of funding set aside to the technology sector highlights the need for IT bosses to take flexible working arrangements more seriously.
Speaking at a recent event to promote careers in IT to women, Secretary of State for Trade and Industry Patricia Hewitt highlighted the need for IT recruiters to use work-life balance policies to attract women back into the industry.
"There are many of the existing generation of women who would like to go back to work but can't find IT jobs that offer flexible arrangements," she explained.
John Eary, head of NCC Skills Source Consultancy, warned that a lack of people skills among predominantly male IT managers was to blame for widespread inflexibility across IT jobs.
"Most IT managers are promoted on the basis of their technical ability and possibly their business ability, but the quality of their people skills is generally a poor third," he said.
"They don't understand the issues of flexibility and so they expect everyone else to have the same view. But work-life balance is about choice, and employees who are offered flexibility are happy, productive and will stay," he added.
Vicki Woods, managing director of IT testing and technical support specialist Absolute Quality (Europe), said: "Flexibility is the name of the game. We offer flexible contracts and every week staff who want to work either earlier or later can.
"If we didn't have that, we'd spend a lot in recruitment fees to replace people who left."
The NCC Group is a DTI-accredited supplier of consultancy on work-life balance issues and has set up a hotline to advise applicants to the Work-Life Balance Challenge Fund on how to apply. Call 0161 242 2312 or email [email protected].
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