Management Today comments:
Walk into any JobCentre and what strikes one is the human talent on display. Many of those seeking vacancies are highly qualified graduates, with years of practical management experience.
This pool of unemployed talent is growing fast courtesy of the information revolution as much as the recession. More powerful computer networks allow senior managers to dispense with the services of whole layers of middle management. Thousands have already gone at such august firms as British Telecom and BP. The same story is being repeated up and down the ranks of the FT-SE 100 share index. Worse still for the victims, the jobs will not simply reappear in an economic upturn.
The real tragedy is the huge waste of this talent and experience, not to mention the loss of tax revenues and the extra cost of social security.
But tapping this talent through the 1990s will require a whole new approach by industry, government and the redundant middle managers themselves. For the managers it will require a new flexibility in thinking about their future.
Traditional career patterns will have to be ditched in favour of part-time working and freelance activity, and for those with the necessary entrepreneurial ability, their calling will be to set up their own business. Some will have to set their sights at a lower level, or as one management guru puts it, they "must think back to their professions and look for jobs as professionals in their functional area".
For large firms IBM's approach must become the norm. In dealing with managers who may no longer be needed, the computer giant has recognised that they have unique skills, experience and energy that can be tapped, albeit on a part-time basis. Its Skillbase programme guarantees middle managers a level of part-time work similar to that at their previous full-time job, for two years after leaving IBM, while they develop new careers as consultants.
Government has a responsibility to help in redirecting the enormous talent and energy of the redundant middle managers. One encouraging move came in the Budget when Norman Lamont conceded tax relief on training courses. Anything which kick-starts a serious training programme to life is welcome, but it is not enough.
A radical overhaul of the tax and benefits system, to encourage people to put their skills into the myriad community schemes or voluntary work, without losing benefits, should be a matter of priority. Higher education, for far too long the preserve of the young, should be opened up to all ages.
A more serious commitment to training requires the Government to reverse recent Treasury attempts to cut training budgets and relieve what many perceive as a national crisis in training. For example, funding for youth training will fall by nearly £250 million from 1989-90 to 1992-93. The notion of any cuts in a Britain on the verge of entering a single European market is absurd.
On the fiscal front, the VAT-free ceiling must be raised way beyond the £35,000 limit. This move, coupled with much lower interest rates, will encourage and nourish those ex-managers who set up their own businesses.