Bring on the brilliance: Agencies improve Covid-19 schemes

Leading staffing companies are improving the government schemes for their staff and temps

When Chancellor Rishi Sunak announced the government’s furlough scheme on 20 March, it is likely that few people in recruitment had heard the term, never mind understood what it meant. But less than two months later, two of the UK’s leading staffing companies have shown not only that they can implement the basic idea to support those unable to work because of Covid-19, but also that they have the capability to develop and finesse the idea.

While many recruitment agencies have struggled with the government-designed Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS) and the Contingent Workers Scheme for the public sector, employment agency Reed designed and launched its own schemes to support and enhance the government’s, allowing it to pay its temps who qualified. Developed in less than three weeks, and launched on 16 April, Richard Smith, director, business transformation, says Reed is already paying millions of pounds a week to between 20-30% of its 30,000 or so strong temp workforce.

“The main problem was, you get the guidance from government and then you have to put it in place, and to enact the rules you have to have quite complicated systems in place. So, we had to develop all of our IT and payment systems to make sure we obey the rules of the CJRS, and those of the public sector scheme,” says Smith. “We were really keen to try and support the workers as quickly as possible.”

But at the same time, he says, it was vital there was full compliance with the rules, “so there was no chance in the future there would be any questions about why we had furloughed people”.

Smith says a big issue with the government’s public sector scheme, which works on the basis of clients completing time sheets, was applying the cap of 80% of average gross salary up to £2.5k a month: “We put a system in place that allows us to apply the status to the worker and then apply the cap.”

We had to develop all of our IT and payment systems to make sure we obey the rules of the CJRS”

And to comply with the rule that no worker can work for an employer while furloughed, the system ensures that no Reed consultant can place a furloughed worker into a role without the central team changing the worker’s furlough status. Reed’s public sector scheme also provides the end client with detailed management information, such as who is in the scheme and just how much it is costing them.

Harvey Nash is another recruiter that has taken the original furlough scheme and enhanced it – this time for the benefit of its own staff by launching a new site on Microsoft Teams. “It was really important to us that our furloughed staff, whilst not working, were still able to feel part of the Harvey Nash Group family. We wanted them to keep up to date with the latest news, as well as have opportunities to learn and grow throughout their time away from work,” says Bev White, CEO Harvey Nash Group.

Developed with the help of the company’s IT Solutions division NashTech in Vietnam, the platform is unique because of “the content that is published on it, and the partners we have worked with to deliver this”, White explains. “Alongside all the usual HR and Harvey Nash company information you’d expect, we have also partnered with Wagestream, a product that allows employees to draw down their accrued earnings; Uhubs, providing personal development training; and a variety of other training providers. Every week there are things to do, things to learn and ways of staying engaged with our business.

“The platform acts as an entry point to all of this, and provides a calendar of events where people can sign up. Over time we will also be adding further content,” White says. “So far, the platform has been extremely well received, and we are really pleased with the way it has allowed us to engage with our furloughed employees.”

Image credit | iStock

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