Serco is an international service company that combines a public sector ethos with commercial acumen. The company improves services by managing people, processes, technology and assets more effectively.
Serco employs over 46,000 people across the world, including 30,000 in the UK who provide operational, management and consulting expertise in the aerospace, defence, education, health, home affairs, local government, science, technology and transport sectors. Serco provides a broad range of services, from running science establishments, prisons and train services to supporting military bases, managing air traffic control and providing education services.
Serco’s vision is to be the leading service company in its chosen markets and the company has major growth plans.
The company operates in a very competitive environment and has distinct public service values, not least in demonstrating its approach to corporate social responsibility (CSR). Serco’s CSR programme is based around people, community, the environment and safety. The CSR model Serco uses is flexible, allowing each of its devolved businesses to develop appropriate strategies. However, there is the requirement that their work must link into Serco’s Governing Principles that regulate the company’s approach to business.
The four principles are:
- “Fostering an entrepreneurial culture;
- Enabling our people to excel;
- Delivering our promises; and
- Building trust and respect.”
This case study focuses on Serco’s ‘Skills4U’ programme that helps employees learning needs around language, reading, writing and maths.
Employability is key across all businesses. The company acknowledges that people are its most important resource and realises the attainment of its goals relies on the quality of all its employees. Its Governing Principle, ‘Enabling People to Excel’, supports the company’s recognition that it must enhance the skills of all employees, whatever their role in the company, in order to:
- Improve recruitment and retention;
- Improve business performance;
- Create a larger pool of staff for succession planning;
- Engender loyalty and commitment; and
- Motivate and encourage its people to improve morale and confidence.
The five ‘employability’ points were all drivers for Serco’s development of the Skills4U (S4U) programme. This also linked to the UK Government initiative to improve the poor reading, writing and arithmetic skills of four million workers.
Serco’s research identified that a number of its employees, as with those in many other companies, have learning needs around language, reading, writing and maths. These same employees may be hard to reach and difficult to engage because of: age, previous poor learning experiences, negative attitudes about revealing their learning abilities, or disabilities such as dyslexia. As some of these employees will have direct contact with Serco clients through servicing their daily requirements, potentially the lack of the right skills could impact on the delivery of the business, as well as impacting on their personal lives. This formed the basis for Serco’s Skills4U (S4U) project, which was developed after researching who would be most receptive and what the key perceived benefits would be, and establishing how best to attract learners and implement the project.
By participating in a combination of writing and arithmetic programmes, the confidence of individuals increased which also improved their chances of promotion. Employees with children and grandchildren reported that the programme helped them provide better support for homework and bedtime reading.
The company Chairman leads the vision for the project. A senior management team monitors implementation and a project leader initiates the participation of individual contracts/businesses, of which there are 600+ that make up Serco’s organisation.
The project was launched in 2004 and a number of pilots were trialled. Direct contact with contract managers was the most effective approach to engaging management and employees on the programme.
Engaging employees and delivering learning in such a multifaceted company is challenging, with each contract needing a different approach and design. Understanding the potential needs and fears of employees requires sensitive management. Therefore, a flexible learning model, which can be delivered in weekly sessions; intensive workshops and drop-in centres, has been developed.
S4U is a voluntary programme. A Further Education college provides the training. The contract manager determines the type of training required and an individual work plan is drawn up. There are two levels of training: entry level (equivalent to primary school) and a higher level equivalent to GCSE A-C grade level.
The project is innovative, using a variety of methods to engage employees (learners): Provider Open Days (one provider used a tug-boat to visit seaborne employees); fun days where employees can test their skills; a DVD illustrating the experiences of learners; and working alongside trade union representatives to encourage participation.
S4U is work-based – learners have company time to study, so Serco effectively pays employees (i.e. learners) to learn. It is designed to meet the needs of the individual. It is cost effective – the majority of the funding is accessed via Learning and Skills Councils.
The project has been instrumental in highlighting other skills shortages and apprenticeships in key trades, such as plumbing and fitting, which are now under consideration.
At its launch, a target was set to assess +10% of the UK workforce by the end of 2006. This would have been reached, but the process from initial contract engagement through to implementation has taken longer than originally envisaged – on average more than five months. This has mainly been due to the process of scheduling meetings between the trainers and the contracts. However, 20% of employees have already volunteered to take part.
The project is considered a success:
- 2,881 employees assessed;
- 537 identified with a learning need and involved in programmes of learning;
- 234 employees achieved their first qualification;
- 27 ‘contracts’ participating, plus a further 20 engaged.
The business benefits
S4U contributes to Serco’s Governing Principle of ‘Enabling People to Excel’. Already there have been tangible benefits. An early pilot in the dockyards of Greenock, Portsmouth and Plymouth where Serco have a marine services contract, contributed to the successful re-bid for that contract. The client recognised Serco’s commitment and responsibility to its staff. The S4U had also helped build positive relationships, as well as strengthen staff commitment.
Why is it CSR?
An important component of CSR is looking after a company’s workforce and encouraging them to excel (a Governing Principle). Rather than deliver activities outside work hours, Serco’s programme goes beyond employment legislation and provides learners with opportunities to access training within work hours.
Serco is now developing S4U by embedding it within HR procedures, so that it can be offered to new employees and so including people for job opportunities that otherwise might have been excluded. The programme is also being embedded into personal development plans.
For more information on the Serco S4U programme, please contact Christina Mitchell on Christina.Mitchell@serco.com or visit www.serco.com.
© Article 13 and CBI – CSR Case Study Series, June 2007
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