Downsizing, restructuring or redundancy. Call it what you like, these days IT staff losing jobs through no fault of their own is a fact of life. According to a survey of more than 500 UK organisations carried out by human resources management body the Chartered Institute of Personnel & Development (CIPD), it is a fact that many workers are getting used to. Of the HR managers surveyed 49% said the most common reaction from employees who were told they were being made redundant was acceptance. Only about 35% of workers reacted with shock or anger. A small percentage were happy or relieved to be told the news. Whether you are happy about it or not, if the axe has recently fallen - or you can hear it being sharpened - what support and advice is on offer? And what should IT staff do prepare themselves for an enforced career move? CIPD employment relations adviser Mike Emmott says, "The first step should be to find out exactly what the position is." His advice is to stay calm, find out what redundancy package is on offer and clarify what the timescale is for the redundancy process. Also, check whether opportunities for alternative employment in the company are available. Emmott reminds staff that they are entitled to apply for jobs and attend interviews while still employed by a soon to be ex-employer. "Update your CV and make job applications," he says. "Your employer may be willing to pay for you to go to an agency that will look at your CV and offer outplacement counselling. There may also be opportunities to get training." Any organisation that has a department responsible for personnel issues should be able to offer guidance and government leaflets on redundancy. If an in-house HR manager is not available, take a look at the Web. A quick search shows there are a number of sites that offer information and advice. Redundancyhelp.co.uk, for example, outlines an employee's rights in a redundancy situation, provides advice on what to do next and has useful links to other sources of information. If there is a specific problem relating to redundancy or unfair dismissal try your local Citizen's Advice Bureau or get in touch with the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (Acas). Of course, it is at time like this that employees tend to turn to a union for support. The IT Professionals Association (ITPA) is an autonomous section of trade union Amicus. Ian Allinson, a systems engineer and an ITPA representative at Fujitsu in Manchester, says, "We had 1,500 redundancies across the company earlier this year. Two hundred of them were in my workplace." As a member of the union and the staff council Allinson was involved in the consultation process with the company on redundancy plans. "On my site we ended up greatly reducing the number of compulsory redundancies. We helped to get the voluntary redundancy option publicised and ensured that volunteers got at least as good a deal as those made redundant compulsorily," he says. Once the details are sorted out the main emphasis for anyone made redundant should be on planning the next step of their career. Bridgette Cameron, director at IT recruitment agency Drax Generation, says it is best to view redundancy as an opportunity rather than a complete disaster. She accepts that her words might not be very reassuring for someone who is still reeling from the shock but, in her experience, people find themselves thinking positively about the future before too long. "It is not often that I sit opposite someone and have to work hard to lift their spirits. Most people realise redundancy is an ideal opportunity to sit back, take stock and think about what you want to do next," says Cameron. "Re-evaluate your skills and your future and be honest and critical about your abilities. Ask yourself whether you should improve your skills by taking a course or reading up, or by taking a short-term contract to extend your skills." Be flexible too. The next job might not be the ideal position but it could help you play for time. "I know of people doing six- or nine-month contracts maybe at a slightly lower level in order to get by while they plan the next step," says Cameron. Cameron believes things are similar to how they were in the last major economic downturn 10 years ago. "Now, like then, really good candidates do not tend to be unemployed for long," she says. IT manager Mark Hillary has been there and survived. He was made redundant by French investment bank Societe General (SG) in May 2002 but got a new IT job in the City of London within months. Hillary originally escaped redundancy at an earlier stage in his career when there were job cuts at Siemens Nixdorf in Bracknell in the early 1990s. "My reaction was one of relief that I was not on the list, but it prompted me to revise my CV," he says. When Hillary heard that redundancies were likely at SG he drew up a new CV, created a personal Web site to showcase his skills and started networking his socks off. Not only was he prepared but he was well supported when the fatal day came. "SG was helpful. The company paid for a lawyer to check the agreement and paid for career counselling. Being made redundant was not a nice experience but it is becoming a rite of passage for all those in the IT business," he says. In short, the advice is don't panic, find out what your position is and prepare for the next step. If the axe falls, it is not necessarily a fatal career blow.
Redundancy is an experience most of us would rather avoid, but if it happens to you, don't despair. David Mascord offers some advice
Where to go for help
- Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (Acas).Visit www.acas.gov.uk for a list of regional helplines
- National Association of Citizens' Advice Bureaux.See www.nacab.org.uk for info on your local centre and Citizens' Advice services
- IT Professionals Association (part of Amicus)www.msf-itpa.org.uk; 020-7939 7000