Wanted: self-starters on low pay

5th May 2000 at 01:00
Sutton Coldfield College has set up a review of its human resources involving all staff. The principal, Graham Jones, knows that colleges, which could once compete for labour in the open market, have fallen behind in what they can offer.

"Holidays, working week, pay levels all need to be looked at," he says. There are no easy ways of evaluating new jobs. His college has opened learning centres around Birmingham to promote lifelong learning.

There is a maximum of three staff in any centre. "They have to be self-starters with an independent cast of mind to help them survive in a small unit." They need technical skills to help the public use information technology, but also guidance skills and knowledge of the curriculum. Many are used to commercial and recruitment targets.

Jones has tried to put them at a point on the pay scale that he thinks reflects their responsibility and independence, but he acknowledges that there is no accepted way of doing this.

"Professionalisation must be rewarded and there must be a proper pay and promotion structure which is clear, open and equitable" He sees this as the way forward but is concerned whether the sector is mature enough.

There are two major difficulties, he says. Given the history of "efficiency drives" and lack of pay awards, the unions have concentrated on protecting existing roles. They need convincing that the flexibility their members must adopt will be sufficiently rewarded. The Government must also be convinced that good quality work has to be paid for at the right rate. Pay settlements must be funded.

Jones believes that the Government has shrunk from some important leadership decisions on funding and professionalisation. He cites "super-lecturers" as an example. The advanced skills teachers scheme is a national policy in schools, but in FE a few colleges are allowed to try it out and the Government may follow on afterwards. Nor does he see a real lead coming from the Learning and Skills Council. The documents setting out its purpose make few links between driving up standards and staff quality.

"I may have missed something but this doesn't seem to be a significant part of its remit," he says.

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