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Putting HR to the ultimate test

first_imgBrought in during a period of radical reform for the RUC,senior director of HR Joe Stewart is charged with restructuring the forcewithin a framework of high political expectation. Mike Broad reportsJoe Stewart is taking on a big job. The new senior director of HR of theRoyal Ulster Constabulary is charged with driving forward massive change withinthe police force. The RUC is being extensively re-branded, restructured and re-trained tobetter represent and police Northern Ireland. While a lot of the mediaattention has focused on the disarming of the terrorists and thedecommissioning of their weapons, the reform of the RUC is also a cornerstoneof the Good Friday Agreement, negotiated in 1998, and vital to the success ofthe peace process. HR overhaul Two weeks into the job, Stewart has initiated a comprehensive review of theHR function in the force. Recruitment, outplacement, training and work cultureall have to be tackled to meet the demands of the influential Patten Report. “We need to have a close look at where HR is adding value and ensurethat we are providing support in important areas,” he said. “We are suffering absenteeism rates of 10 per cent, for example. Thatis a lost resource and it isn’t helping operational commanders deliver policingon the ground.” The RUC has an HR team of 500 and spends £24m of the overall £654m budget.”We have to make sure that every pound is adding value,” explainedStewart. The Patten Report proposes over 180 reforms to the RUC. Chief among theseare the re-branding of the force as the Police Service of Northern Ireland; aneed to employ an equal number of Catholics and Protestants – the organisationis currently viewed as largely Protestant – and the appointment of the firstcivilian head of HR. Stewart said, “We are in a strange situation where changes are beingprescribed from outside the organisation. Our challenge is to ensure that weget real implementation rather than just acceptance.” In the past, the head of personnel was always an assistant chief constable.But the demands of the role in the new RUC need considerable HR expertise,which Stewart has. He is the former chief executive of the Police Authority forNorthern Ireland, and between 1989 and 1994 was the personnel director ofshipbuilder Harland & Wolff, during a time of dramatic change for the firm,as it moved from the public to the private sector. Recruitment is one of the key issues for Stewart, with Catholics currentlyrepresenting only 8.5 per cent of the RUC’s policing staff. The RUC outsourced job advertising and the initial recruitment process to aconsortium of private sector companies last November. Called Consensia, itbrings together management consultancy Deloitte & Touche, advertisingagency AV Brown, occupational psychologists Pearn Kandola and health assessorsBMI Medical Services, in a ground-breaking move for police services. A TV advertising campaign, promoting the idea that individuals could performa meaningful and fulfilling role with the RUC and still lead a normal life,generated 10,000 applicants. Consensia has whittled down the applicants to 540 candidates from which theRUC’s HR team will recruit 264 to become officers by the end of the financialyear, with an equal split between the two religions. Stewart said, “When the pool is finalised it will cause politicalcontroversy because while the nationalists believe it is essential, theunionists think it is positive discrimination.” These recruits are set to go into training on 4 November. Police officertraining at the RUC has already been overhauled. The 20-week foundation coursehas become more academically oriented, with the training involving theUniversity of Ulster and the recruits receiving recognised qualifications. Furthermore, new officers no longer swear an oath to the Queen but statethat they will protect the public’s human rights. They will only now becomeofficers after passing the foundation course. The passing out parade has alsobeen changed since it was deemed too militaristic. It will now be more alignedto a university graduation. The HR team has had to bring about this change without the leadership of aPolicing Board, which is still the subject of dispute. It is also supposed tobe more representative of the people of Northern Ireland, and its imminentoperation is much more likely following the unionist party SDLP’s recentdecision to sit on the board. The end of September is the anticipated startdate. Political tension Stewart also faces the challenge of high political expectation. Staffinglevels have been a contentious issue with the Patten Report suggesting thereshould be 7,500 full-time officers supported by 2,500 part-timers. There hasbeen disagreement over the role of the part-timers, but when resolved Stewartaccepts that his HR team will be expected to respond rapidly. “We don’t have political agreement over staffing levels yet. But when weget it, we will have to recruit the part-timers on a timescale not based on therealities that personnel professionals experience throughout the UK,” hesaid. The number of regulars has fallen from over 8,000 to 7,271. In April 2002, afinal decision will be taken as to the future of the 2,339 full-time reservistsand 1,044 part-time reservists that currently support the regular officers. Itis likely that they will be phased out, so as part of his HR review Stewart isdeveloping the RUC’s redundancy policy. He is committed to offering reservistsa “pro-rata” financial package comparable to the full-time officerswho have taken voluntary redundancy. He said, “We could end up losing up to 90 officers a month so we needto ensure we have excellent support and guidance services in place. It isimportant not to demotivate those who remain.” The outplacement support the RUC is developing will include re-training,financial and pensions advice, and careers guidance, including advice onself-employment and other job opportunities. Stewart is concerned that therecould be reservists who have worked for the RUC for 20 years and are notequipped to perform other jobs. Balancing act The importance of the HR team’s role in the radical reform of the RUC andthe continuance of the peace process cannot be overstated. But against thisbackdrop of change there is a long and proud history in a force that hasexperienced the death of 302 officers during the troubles, with a further 8,000or so injured. Stewart explained, “I have advised and implemented significant changein a number of organisations during my career, however, I have neverexperienced the scale of change that is happening within this organisation.There is political necessity for change and it is really challenging the heartsand minds of many employees.” Comments are closed. Related posts:No related photos. Previous Article Next Article Putting HR to the ultimate testOn 18 Sep 2001 in Personnel Todaylast_img read more