Developing your people in a downturn

by 24 Feb 2009

Although many firms are downsizing, the Australian arm of investment bank UBS has been able to redeploy skilled workers, thanks to well-planned career development and transition programs. Teresa Russell reports

Chris Richardson from Access Economics pulls no punches. “This will be an ugly year,” he predicts. “Growth will slow, income growth will slow a lot, unemployment will rise, profits will fall quite sharply.”

In Hewitt’s Survey of Economic Impact 2008-2009 conducted last October among 1100 companies in the US and Asia Pacific, there were marked differences between countries in terms of the effect the financial crisis is having on company planning and HR programs.

Gary Clayton, head of human resources for UBS Australia and New Zealand, works in the industry hardest hit (so far) by the global recession, but he remains positive about his company’s prospects. “Our Australian business is a jewel in the UBS crown and is being emu lated at the global level. Client needs have changed significantly in the last 12 to 18 months. That’s predominantly what drives our structure, rather than just the economy,” he says.

Although UBS cut 5000 people from its worldwide workforce in 2008, its Aus tralian headcount, currently around 1400, has remained relatively stable dur ing the economic downturn. “We’ve done some strategic and selective hiring from our competitors recently,” he says, refer ring to some well-publicised high-profile defections.

First things first

Clayton says that UBS realised in 2007 that there were going to be significant challenges ahead. As with any early diagnosis, this helped get them on the front foot in terms of transitioning some employees into other roles. For example, people working in some areas of investment banking, where market activity had slowed, were up-skilled to move into restructuring, another part of the business where clients’ needs were increasing.

“We had already recognised the importance of workforce planning and had programs and processes in place. We see employee development as a critical business requirement, not a ‘nice-to- have,’” explains Clayton, adding that UBS thought about this response before many of its competitors.

“You shouldn’t wait till someone wants to move or has to move. At any point in time, your people should be well skilled and prepared to take up an oppor tunity in another part of the organisa tion,” says Clayton.

Employee development

UBS has a number of formal career development programs, which span the organisation from entry level to senior management, as well as a broad L&D offering which includes coaching, mentoring and industry training.

The company’s Career Comeback pro gram – run in partnership with the Aus tralian Graduate School of Management – targets people who have taken a career break of more than 18 months and are looking to re-enter the workforce. Orig inally developed with Harvard Univer sity, the program is free to 30 participants each year, giving them a refresher course in business knowledge and skills.

Clayton says that UBS’s two-year grad uate program, EXPLORE, was awarded the best graduate recruitment program in 2008 by Here Is The City News in Lon don. Ascent, its two-year program tar geted at mid-career employees, focuses on leadership development, team building and client relationship skills building. The company’s Global Leadership program develops senior leadership skills and addresses UBS group strategy issues.

Career transition

When a person is occupying a role that is no longer required, UBS uses its internal recruiters to help with redeployment, as well as HR and the person’s manager. “We explore all opportunities in other parts of the business, as well as opportunities for secondment or permanent placement with our clients in both government and industry,” says Clayton.

He says there is always a lot of inter est among senior managers when people need to move internally. Individuals who are part of the company’s succession plan attract particular attention.

Unions on the downturn

The Finance Sector Union of Australia (FSU) believes that in 2009 organisations should focus on retaining staff and skills, and not resort to short-term job shedding. It is calling on industry to

Avoid forced redundancies through greater emphasis on redeployment and use of voluntary redundancy

Invest in a skills fund, giving employees access to training, education and retraining

End the practice of offshoring Australian jobs

Increase redundancy payments for those who lose their jobs

It wants government to attach conditions to stimulus/support packages for the finance industry that require profitable employers to:

Guarantee current employment levels

Cease offshoring Australian jobs

Participate in genuine industry planning that will boost Australian skills and meet the goal of making Australia a global financial services hub

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