Thursday, 12 November 2009

Employer’s struggling to hire staff

An article in the Telegraph this week was discussing the ineffective work that A4E (the private firm that the Government pay to get people back into work) and the Jobcentre Plus are doing in helping the companies that actually are recruiting find suitable candidates.

It was reported, Richard Cook, director of London-based Champion Communications, said he had two vacancies and had approached A4E for help but had been left disillusioned by the experience.

His digital media and technology PR business had junior work experience roles and also a position for a senior consultant available. He decided to try A4E in London's West End.

"I went in and they were surprised to see me. They were not geared up for that sort of inquiry," he said.

An A4E manager did offer to help but was "completely unprepared", said Mr. Cook. He said he was asked whether he was open to employing non-graduates, whether he was offering any on-the-job training and the salary range. But he was never asked what his business did.

"He does not know to this day that we are a PR company or that we focus on technology and media branding, which are fundamental questions to ask," Mr. Cook said. "It did not stand up to the commitment that this organisation has in getting people back into work."

Mr. Cook said that two days later he received a call from the manager, who asked whether a former member of the BBC's production staff would be suitable for the senior consultant's role.

"I said no," said Mr. Cook," and then he asked whether the person would be suitable for the work experience."
Mr. Cook's experience echoes a recent survey of 2,500 firms by the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB), which found that 34% saw Jobcentre Plus, the publicly-owned work agency, as "ineffective" or "very ineffective".

The FSB said that too many members had felt let down by the Jobcentre, with slow response times putting businesses off. "We also find staff are not trained in looking after the self-employed and the small business," said the FSB's Stephen Alambritis.

Not a very positive article considering we are in a recession at the moment and there are considerably less employers looking for staff. I was never really a fan of A4E before anyway as I have written about before in one of my blogs after the Channel Four shows aired about the company but I am surprised that even the Jobcentre has faced such criticism (maybe not too surprised).

If the Jobcentre isn’t even helping people get back into work or helping companies find suitable candidates then what chances have we as a nation got of reducing unemployment rates or meeting these so-called targets Mr. Brown has talked about?

I also read that A4E have been organising ‘Jobseeker Information Roadshows’ and ‘3D pavement drawings of local industry icons’ to promote their services (check one out here, it looks good: to promote their services which all sounds very impressive but I love one, of only two comments below the article that appears on the Drum online talking about this circus, it simply says: “how many people got jobs?” Hmm... I’m sure we’ll never know but they do like to boast about the number of people that turned up!

Anyway, without dwelling too much on the negative, it looks like relying on A4E or Jobcentre Plus to help find a suitable job is not a great idea. Instead, in times like these, be creative, network, contact companies that aren’t advertising and show you’re interest – you never know they may remember you when a position does come up.

Thursday, 29 October 2009

Problematic Postal Picket

Below are the details from LONDON (Reuters) website about the postal strike action:

More than 40,000 postal workers began a second wave of one-day strikes after Royal Mail managers and union leaders failed to reach a deal to end the long-running dispute over pay, jobs and modernisation.

The Communication Workers Union (CWU) said 43,700 drivers and mail centre staff across Britain walked out from 4:00 a.m.

They will be followed on Friday by a small group of 400 workers in the towns of Plymouth, Stockport and Stoke and then on Saturday by 77,000 delivery and collection staff nationwide.

The strike went ahead after negotiations between CWU officials and Royal Mail managers in London collapsed for reasons that both sides agreed not to disclose.

"We remain available for discussions at any time," CWU Deputy General Secretary Dave Ward said in a statement. "We remain committed to reaching an agreed resolution."

The backlog of undelivered mail from two strikes last week still stands at 2 million items, the Royal Mail said.

Business Secretary Peter Mandelson has described the strikes as suicidal for a company that is losing 10 percent of its mail volume each year to private firms, the Internet, email and mobile phones.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown, whose Labour Party has received about 5 million pounds from the postal union since 2001, has called the strikes "counter-productive."

I am spilt on this dispute as I can see both sides. As a customer of Royal Mail it’s an inconvenience even for my personal mail – I can’t imagine how it would be for people trying to run a business while this is still unresolved.

From speaking to many people and reading opinions online I can see that it’s not only me. I agree that postal workers are affecting businesses and people are suffering as a result; in times like this recession they are lucky to have a job with a good pension and if they can afford not to work (by striking) then things cannot be too bad financially for them, they are however affecting other people's income and that is not very fair.

On the other hand I read one postal worker’s response to the negative press the workers had received and was sympathetic, he said:
“They have moved my hours by 3 hours with no thought of my family and home life, one guy came back from holiday to find he'd be working Saturdays, he's never done a Saturday in 20 years! Every single office and mail centre has had this happen through executive action - No managers have changed their hours or days. I look around my office and see more managers than actual workers, get rid of them not us.”

I understand that postal workers need to adapt to change (many industries are going through similar experiences) if they want the company to survive the competition that technology has brought but I know I wouldn’t be happy if there wasn’t a sense of fairness and equality in these changes.

Research has shown that the authoritative approach the Royal mail seem to have adopted is ineffective in a changing work place – a company needs to bring the workers with them through openness, consultation and collaboration, not necessitate change without an explanation.

It also seems to me that Royal mail execs and the union are battling egos whilst the public and the workers are losing out – that is just my take on it but either way there needs to be a speedy solution. What are your thoughts?

FYI: For those who want to avoid the effects of the postal strike on parcels and maybe even save some money, here is a forum link with some useful information from the bargain hunter Martin Lewis’ website:

Thursday, 22 October 2009

Are Loyalty Cards a Win-Win Situation?

Image courtesy of
I was reading in the Financial Times that Tesco reported an improvement in its performance relative to its main UK rivals after revamping its loyalty card scheme, Tesco Clubcard.

“After years of powerful growth, Tesco had been under an unusual amount of pressure in its home market, from which it still draws the lion’s share of its sales.

Its share of the UK grocery market fell from 31.1 per cent to 30.9 per cent over the 12 weeks to September 6, according to quarterly figures from TNS Worldpanel; Asda, J Sainsbury and Wm Morrison – its closest rivals – have all been gaining share.” FT

Tesco fought back against this pressure by doubling the Clubcard points in store and has reported a positive effect, so clearly their loyalty card scheme works well for them.

I wonder then if it is a win-win situation and if consumers benefit just as much as the companies through these types of loyalty card schemes?

I have a Clubcard and although I don’t shop regularly in Tesco, I do collect points when I do happen to buy from there. I am also able to collect points through my gas and electricity provider (E-on). I get approx £5-£10 quarterly, which doesn’t seem much - but if you cash these in for other partner deals – days out, etc this can quadruple and make it much better value.

I have had a ‘free’ trip to The Science Centre amongst other places, purely from trading in my Clubcard points at the end of each quarter. I know that Tesco and other companies obviously benefit from the vast amount of information they get about their customers from these types of schemes but I’m not concerned about the privacy of what I put in my shopping trolley or about how many units of gas and electricity I use each month, so I don’t see it as a downside.

The only bad press I have heard about Tesco’s scheme, strangely arose from The Society of Radiographers who criticised Tesco for offering CT scans through its Clubcard reward scheme.

Society Chief Executive Richard Evans said in a letter to Tesco he was concerned that self-referral for diagnostic imaging outside a nationally regulated screening programme is "inappropriate and unnecessary."

Apart from this, the only negatives that consumers reported when reviewing were that “spending money on things you don’t need intentionally to receive points is crazy and you end up out of pocket”, this may be true for some but I know that I don’t go out my way to spend at Tesco so I’m satisfied that I’m getting ‘money for nothing’ - nothing being no extra cost or inconvenience to me.

Anyway, to round it up, I think it’s a great scheme for earning ‘rewards’ for spending money on everyday buys (groceries, petrol, energy) and I’m not too bothered about the privacy aspect and the fact that Tesco can track my spending for market researcher purposes – as long as they are offering great deals in return.

I view it as a win-win situation, what are your views?

Thursday, 15 October 2009

Kellogg's plan to laser flakes to fight fakes

A press release dated 14th October on Kellogg’s website states:

Kellogg's has developed a hi-tech method to stamp out imitation cereals - by branding Corn Flakes with the company logo.

The new technology enables the firm - which makes 67 million boxes of Corn Flakes every year - to burn the famous signature onto individual flakes using lasers.

Kellogg's plan to produce a number of one-off trial batches of the branded flakes to test the system.

Bosses will then consider inserting a proportion of branded flakes into each box to guarantee the cereal's origins and protect against imitation products.

If the system is successful it could be used on Kellogg's other best-loved brands including Frosties, Special K, Crunchy Nut and Bran Flakes.

The laser uses a concentrated beam of light which focuses the energy within the beam, down to a very small spot on the Corn Flake.

The energy density within the laser spot diameter is sufficient enough to give the surface of the flake a darker, toasted appearance without changing the taste.

Kellogg's embarked on the project to reinforce that they don't make cereals for any other companies and to fire a shot across the bows of makers of 'fake flakes'.

Yesterday Helen Lyons, lead food technologist at the company, said: ''In recent years there has been an increase in the number of own brands trying to capitalise on the popularity of Kellogg's corn flakes.

''We want shoppers to be under absolutely no illusion that Kellogg's does not make cereal for anyone else.

''We're constantly looking at new ways to reaffirm this and giving our golden flakes of corn an official stamp of approval could be the answer.

''We've established that it is possible to apply a logo or image onto food, now we need to see if there is a way of repeating it on large quantities of our cereal. We're looking into it.''

The company also released figures which show sales of Kellogg's Corn Flakes have risen in 2009 as shoppers with limited budgets opt for recognised, reliable brands.

A staggering 128 billion bowls of Kellogg's Corn Flakes are eaten worldwide every year in countries as far afield as Guatemala, Japan, Argentina and India.

And an incredible 2.8 million bowls of Kellogg's Corn Flakes are eaten in the UK everyday - that's one billion a year.

The firm's Manchester factory is also the biggest Corn Flake production line in the world and churns out cereals 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

This is interesting to me as a marketing student as I was recently discussing the effects and ethics surrounding supermarkets ‘copying’ known brands packaging and whether this was an intentional act to ‘con consumers’.

Earlier this year it was reported that one in three shoppers admitted accidently buying the wrong product (a supermarket’s own brand) because it’s packaging was similar to that of a well-known brand, a study by the British Brands Group found.

The survey found that some 65% of shoppers said similar packaging can be confusing or misleading and some of the named offender’s where Asda’s, ‘You’d Butter Believe It’ which was alarmingly similar to Unilever’s ‘I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter’ and Lidl’s ‘Jammy Rings’ resembling the more well known Jammy Dodgers.

I can understand then why Kellogg’s are worried and see this as a huge threat to their products but that aside – is this scheme really going to come to fruition?

I doubt it; in my opinion it seems to be a news grabbing PR stunt. Firstly, I am a little cynical about the stage this new food technology is at (the photo released is digitally manipulated, not using the new technology) and a few online news sites have expressed their difficulty in getting a clear answer from Kellogg’s about the likelihood they will adopt this scheme. The above mentioned Helen Lyons, the food technologist is conveniently on holiday so not available for comment.

Even if this was imminent, is it really a good use of money? I would assume it is very costly and time-consuming so would these resources maybe be put to better use elsewhere in the business?

After all, Kellogg’s said one of the main reasons for considering this technology was “to reinforce that they don't make cereals for any other companies”, great – so surely the Kellogg’s logo on the box is enough for me to know I am eating their cornflakes?

What are your thoughts?

Wednesday, 14 October 2009

Most Ridiculous Claim of the Year - Chat with Michael Jackson on Twitter!

According to several newspapers online;

“Fans of Michael Jackson can hope to get in touch with their idol over Halloween with the world’s first Twitter séance.

Top psychic Jayne Wallace will run the ‘Twéance’, on the day before Halloween, i.e. October 30 from Angels Fancy Dress in London.

She will attempt to make contact with the King of Pop and other celebrities including Jade Goody, Patrick Swayze and Farah Fawcett, who also died this year, and then Tweet their answers to fans’ questions”.

“We were amazed to see no-one had used Twitter for a séance before,”
the Daily Star quoted Benjamin Webb, 30, who works at Angels shop, as saying.

The Telegraph has reported, “The move is a paranormal publicity stunt by the fancy dress shop in central London ahead of Halloween”.

Whether you are a believer or not - I would sway more towards the latter, exploiting celebrities beyond the grave for some publicity is very low. It’s disturbing to think that this ‘top psychic’ who on her website states that even talking to one of her handpicked psychics will cost you £1.50+ a minute through her dedicated 24 hour hotline and apparently the fancy dress shop are going to be aggravating the families of these celebs who’s memory should be left to rest in peace.

The telegraph also reported, “This is not Mrs. Wallace’s first beyond-the-veil star-spotting. She claims that she “spoke” to Jade Goody, the Big Brother star who died of cervical cancer in March.

Apparently the late mother of two said she wanted to apologise to her mother, Jackiey Budden, for not listening to her about marrying Jack Tweed, saying it was “the biggest mistake she ever made”.

Again, who is she to claim that Jade communicated this to her? Although some may say that it’s obviously a load of nonsense and anyone who believes it only has themselves to blame but on the other hand, anyone who has lost someone close will understand that it’s a time when you are very desperate and vulnerable and so exploiting this is shameful.

I have in the past had my ‘tea leaves read’ and always find it interesting what psychics have had to say to friends and families about what the future has in store but more in a light-hearted, take with a pinch of salt kind of way. These types of ‘visions’ or predictions of the future can be harmless and not so damaging – claiming to contact the dead however is a different matter, especially when they are claiming to have been given important messages like the one above.

This woman, Jayne Wallace however is disgraceful in my eyes and anyone who is also involved in this ‘publicity stunt’ is just as bad. Leave the celebs memories’ and all those who have passed away in peace and get a real job that doesn’t feed off people who are at their most vulnerable.

Thursday, 24 September 2009

BBC1’s Wounded

Did anyone watch BBC1’s Wounded documentary last night?
Well it seems to be a huge talking point today online with countless forums already inundated with comments on the bravery and inspiration that the two featured soldiers showed.
It was quite harrowing, but ultimately inspiring and centred on two young men who both suffered some of the worst injuries imaginable.

Tom had been the victim of an improvised explosive device (IED) that had blown off both his legs. Soon afterwards, his left arm was amputated. He was at Birmingham’s Selly Oak Hospital, where British soldiers from Afghanistan have been treated since 2001 and where he was recovering from 15 major operations.

Ranger Andy Allen, 19, of the Royal Irish Regiment was another victim of an IED. When he was flown back to Birmingham, the doctors were hoping to save his remaining leg, but couldn’t. He’d also been blinded in the attack.

What was inspirational was that both were so determined to get on and make the best of their lives. One wanted to walk within 7 months to collect his medal, the other wanted to walk and to see his baby boy. Both did it.

One forum post is from ‘Sue’ who wrote:
“100% AMAZING. I watched this programme through a mass of tears. As a 'Forces' wife and mother I felt very humbled that both my husband and son have returned safe and my heart goes out to all the families of guys like Andy and Tom. WELL DONE BBC for showing this and I hope that whoever watched it will now realise OUR FORCES ARE AMAZING PEOPLE and we should be proud to honour them”

All the reviews and posts I read seem to echo this sentiment and how brave these men are and the only negatives seem to be surrounding the politics of war itself which I won’t go into.

Whatever the circumstances; these two men are brave and undeniably inspirational. It seems that this documentary will be a talking point for a while to come.

Tuesday, 22 September 2009

Not a LOTTO chance of winning?

The Herald reported last week that more than a quarter of British people are pinning all hopes of improving their financial situation on winning the National Lottery.

Only one in 20 plans to seek professional help with their finances, according to a YouGov survey commissioned for Financial Planning Week, which ends today. Four out of 10 respondents, however, said they needed to save more and reduce debt.

Nick Cann, chief executive of the Institute of Financial Planning, which commissioned the survey, said: “There seems to be a myth that financial ¬planning is just for the wealthy or that professional help is expensive. We are aiming to change perceptions of ¬financial planning by providing tips, tools and guidance to help people at all stages of life via our website (, -showing how applying just a few simple steps can make a huge difference.”

He added: “The results of our 2009 survey reflect the fact that many continue to bury their head in the sand by ignoring financial problems in the hope that they go away.”

Only 68% claimed they had identified their financial priorities and goals and were making appropriate plans to achieve them, compared with 85% in the 2008 survey. Almost 90% of the 30 to 44 age group said they had no financial plan which was regularly reviewed.

On top of all the other worrying statistics, I was reading this and wondering if it can really be true that over 25% of people believe they can win the lottery and all their money troubles will be over – it seems a little crazy? I looked up statistics online and the odds of winning the UK Lotto jackpot are approx 1 in 14million – not really great.

Furthermore, in a recent survey, 21% of people thought that if they put the same numbers on to the lottery for the rest of their lives that they would have a chance of winning. The reality is they would have to put the same numbers on for 135000 years before they would have an evens chance of winning – again not a help for paying the mortgage off or retiring rich this lifetime for most.

Maybe then if generation after generation should pass their numbers on there would eventually be reasonable odds? However, at two draws a week, every year for 135000 years you would spend over £14 million (at £1 per draw) so there’s not really much point.

So, why do a huge amount of people play and intently watch for their six numbers to be drawn?

Psychologist, Mark Griffiths investigated why people are attracted to lotteries and I suppose a lot of his findings were common sense; people are drawn in by the low stake and possibility of a huge prize and the ‘someone must win attitude’ coupled with human nature showing that people underestimate the odds of a negative event happening to them and overestimate their chances of something good occurring.

He went on to say:
“If I tell you the chance of your toe operation going wrong is 6%, are you worried? Sounds pretty low doesn't it. If I tell you that the odds of failure are 1 in 16, how does that affect your perception of the risk involved. In actual fact, these figures both mean that you have a 94% chance of success. Maths helps to get everything in perspective, to assess risk logically.”

Makes sense I suppose but if I passed this information on to my mum who has played the same six numbers since the day the lottery started in the UK I don’t think it would stop her – I think the possibility of not putting the numbers on and them coming up would worry her more than anything – I can hear the “It would be just my luck” response already.

So is it a good idea? I would say it’s almost crazy considering the statistics to think of the lottery as a way of getting out of your money worries and it proves there definitely needs to be some changes in the way that people view debt and overspend.

However on a lighter note, as the saying goes, ‘only gamble what you can afford to lose’ – if the £1 per draw isn’t going to bankrupt you then fingers crossed you are that lucky 1 in 14 million. I know myself that when Euro Millions jackpots are up at £85 million like last week, I can’t resist on the off-chance of winning - shelling out a whole £1.50 for a ticket doesn’t seem so crazy.

As the English proverb goes then, “Hope for the best, but prepare for the worst.”