Job evaluation will mean better deal for all

The rallying cry recently reported in The TES (July 12) called for resistance to job evaluation, and wanted to stuff its demons back into Pandora's box. The case was based on a limited understanding of job evaluation, the FE scheme and the trades union position.

Job evaluation is not about looking at each worker and assessing the worth of their contribution, it is not a panacea for all FE pay issues. It is a tool for analysing jobs, not the people in jobs.

There are other ways of doing that, such as appraisal. Job evaluation increases objectivity in managing pay systems to achieve greater equity, consistency and transparency. The FE scheme will categorise job roles in colleges, based on key factors, which can be applied to all posts.

The scheme has been developed over two years, tested in more than 20 colleges and trialled in six. Led by reward and equality experts Michael Armstrong and Sue Hastings, the scheme has been developed with all the sector-recognised unions.

The lecturers' union NATFHE, though reserving judgment, has been involved in developing the scheme and made a positive contribution throughout every stage of the process, as have the other unions.

Evaluating the role of lecturer was a major issue. Some areas of responsibility were not fully covered, creating a negative impact on posts charged with delivering and supporting learning. In particular, pastoral support, guidance for learners and the impact of e-learning were not properly catered for. Trials also identified the need to tell staff about the scheme and how it may affect them.

Rigorous training for those involved was also recommended, and this has been built into the rollout strategy for the sector. The result is a scheme covering lecturers as well as support staff and managers.

Implementing a job evaluation scheme may be demanding, time-consuming and costly. Typically, it can add 2 to 4 per cent to the pay bill as salaries may increase if posts are upgraded. Colleges that take up the scheme will tread carefully. This is not a quick fix or a cheap option.

Computer-based and paperless, the FE scheme provides the opportunity for individuals to discuss roles in a structured setting. Staff get a job summary to take away to ensure accuracy and fairness. The scheme should lead to greater equity in pay and grading.

The Equal Opportunities Commission has just launched its Equal Pay Review Model, which emphasises the need for employers to avoid discrimination in pay. The EOC says that an 18 per cent pay gap still exists between men and women, and that the most reliable way of assessing whether jobs are of equal value is to use a specifically-designed job evaluation scheme. Anything less will lead to vulnerability on equal pay grounds. FE currently faces this vulnerability.

FE colleges which adopt the job evaluation scheme will be well placed, not only within the sector, but also across sectors. Sue Berryman, former head of NATFHE's colleges department, said in The Lecturer (April 2002): "Job evaluation provides probably the best opportunity to deal with the burning issue of pay grading.... as well as the equally vital issue of the gender pay gap."

Significant resources are needed to support pay modernisation, and members of the National Joint Forum are pushing the Government hard for the pound;500 million to make this happen.

Critics argue that job evaluation cannot be applied to lecturers, does not support equality, and needlessly disrupts the status quo. All the evidence is to the contrary. With a launch conference in September and rising interest from colleges, job evaluation in FE is well and truly under orders.

Des O'Hare is employee relations manager at the Association of Colleges

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