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Employers urged to embrace the benefits of flexibility

It has taken a long time for colleges to catch up with employment practices in the wider economy, including flexible working.

When they left local authority control in 1993, few employed a personnel or human resources professional, and even today it is far from common to find such a person at director level.

Work-life balance has been an issue for employers at large for at least five years and regulations introduced last April only scratched the surface. Parents with young children can now request - but not demand - more flexible hours. There is also paternity and adoption leave on top of enhanced maternity rights.

According to the Association for College Management, colleges should see what more they can do to be "family friendly" employers and reject the long-hours culture prevalent in much of education.

A survey being carried out by the ACM over the next two months will assess how many colleges offer flexible working, along with the hours worked by managers, and levels of absenteeism and work-related stress.

The association is concerned that not all human resources staff are fully qualified, thus reducing the likelihood of colleges appreciating the value of being family-friendly employers.

"We already know that the UK workforce works long hours," says Nadine Cartner, the ACM's head of policy. "As a sector we need to reflect on this and think about it in a modern and ethical way."

Barry Lovejoy, head of colleges at the lecturers' union Natfhe, says teaching hours have increased considerably since 1993, with fewer holidays and more weekend classes.

Although some colleges permit time off for staff with young children or dependent relatives, it is far from the norm.

"There is still a long way to go before all colleges adopt that sort of culture," says Mr Lovejoy.

But Evan Williams, employment relations adviser at the Association of Colleges, believes personnel practices have improved considerably in FE, with many colleges using flexible working to tackle skills shortages. One problem is that colleges recruiting staff do not always advertise the benefits on offer, including on-site creches.

"Colleges tend to under-sell themselves - they should shout about what is available," he says. "I'm amazed at some of the benefits for employees in FE."

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