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According to research by the Pensions Management Institute (PMI), one third of pension professionals believe in employers having more power to renegotiate defined benefit (DB) schemes.   During their research the PMI surveyed 235 UK pension consultants, in addition to trustees, administrators, actuarial, legal and investment consultants.

At the PMI’s annual conference the president, Kevin LeGrand, stated that those sponsors wishing to see more flexibility were concerned for the security of members.  He said, "This is a big issue that has been debated a lot over the past year or so, particularly in regard to the impact on deficit reduction.  Not surprisingly, there was a strong majority for not allowing employers to renegotiate DB pensions and accrued benefits. The implications here are to ensure that members' benefits are properly protected."

There is a reluctance to permit DB pensions reviews and this could be explained by the fear - expressed by 94%  surveyed - that unscrupulous employers could set up a state of affairs that would enable them to renegotiate accrued DB benefits and reshape or reduce them.

When asked whether the Government should consider a statutory override to allow schemes to move to a different index - provided that they are still protected against inflation - 55% of pension professionals stated that the Government should be allowed to reassess both the preserved benefits and the indexation of benefits in payment.  However, 31% stated that it should not be allowed.

Views were equally divided in response to the question of whether schemes should be allowed to suspend indexation in some circumstances, with 57% of pension professionals against.  Of the 43% in favour to suspend indexation, 34% would permit it to keep a stressed scheme out of the PPF and 21% would allow it when funding levels fall below a prearranged threshold.

Kevin LeGrand declared,“Defined benefit pensions are often seen as sacrosanct, therefore renegotiating accrued benefits or reducing them is a very controversial issue. They are all too aware of how introducing a degree of flexibility could open Pandora’s box, leading to various unintended consequences or risks, most notably abuse.  However, our survey shows that pension professionals are willing to be pragmatic in extreme situations in order to protect benefits and secure the best outcome possible for members.”

Major General Garrett Harencak, commander of Air Force Recruiting Service says that the US Air Force has had to change the way it recruits the newest generation of airmen, to be able to reach its goal of having about 322,500 active-duty airmen by the end of the year. According to the fiscal 2018 budget request, they also hope to add around 2,600 airmen next year, bringing the active force up to 325,100. 

Although Air Force retention rates in general have much improved - helped in part by the USAF reducing training and extra duties for airmen and so bettering their quality of life, as well as offering raised retention bonuses - the Air Force still has undermanned areas that it needs to fill. These areas are forecast to account for about 70% of the growth in 2017 and include maintenance, nuclear, cyber, intelligence and surveillance. 

However, this recruitment drive has also highlighted the fact that across the military, Air Force recruiters work the hardest. According to an Air Force Manpower Agency study conducted last year, the average Air Force recruiter works about 38 hours more per month to be able to bring in 2.5 new recruits per month. This is compared to 0.8 brought in by Army recruiters, 0.9 by Navy and 1 by Coast Guard recruiters. “We’re asking too much of them. They’re working too hard” Harencak stated, adding that the Air Force needs to “change the focus”.

Firstly, Harencak says Air Force recruiting needs to grow by another 200 to 300 recruiters in the next few years, including the 120 recruiters expected to be added this year. This would get the average per-recruiter monthly production down to a better average than it is now, but still remain higher than any other service. The Air Force also is starting to re-open recruiting offices in major cities that it closed in recent years because they weren’t seen as cost-efficient. 

In regard to recruitment policies, the Air Force is changing some of their rules that they now feel barred people who could have become good airmen. “We have a system where all we do is build barriers and obstacles for great young Americans to join our Air Force,” Harencak said.

For instance, rules barring recruits from having more than 25% of their chest, back, arms or legs tattooed have already been changed, as have those on the past use of marijuana. Policies on medical issues such as eczema, asthma and ADHD are also being reconsidered. 

Additionally, they are looking at dropping out-moded methods such as the reams of paperwork required to be filled in, by using technology to speed up the administration process.

Lastly, Harencak also said the Air Force’s marketing budget has been too low. This meant it was unable to promote itself to potential recruits but is now being upped and recruiting should be getting the additional funds necessary to get its message out.

Further reading: The USAF Look into Pilot Sharing with the Major Airlines

New research findings show that providing financial wellness training and tools was expected to be a key workplace trend for 2017.   Forty nine percent of employers offer some type of financial advice - which included providing resource materials or referrals; online assessment; advice tools; group instruction and one-on-one advice with a financial counselor.

The Society for Human Resource Management's (SHRM's) 2017 Employee Benefits survey report - based on a survey of SHRM members conducted earlier this year - found that more organizations are offering financial advice compared to 2016 and to five years ago.

SHRM researcher Tanya Mulvey, the survey project leader said, “"This benefit can help employees improve their financial management skills, plan how to manage debt, and hopefully alleviate stress and worry as a result."

Carla Dearing, CEO of SUM180, an online financial wellness service in Louisville, Kentucky, stated, "We are seeing a big jump in the number of companies saying they intend to offer financial wellness support to their employees,"  She added, "For those employers that 'get it right,' financial wellness has tremendous potential to drive engagement and retention."

“For one company, financial wellness may be managing day-to-day finances," Carla Dearing said. "For another, it may be providing employees with a comprehensive financial plan that includes tax strategy and estate planning."    She then advised that a three point action plan should be followed to “cut through the confusion”.  This would incorporate defining financial wellness, reviewing current offerings and determining financial wellness goals.                                                                   

A recent survey by financial services firm Charles Schwab shows that fifty-nine percent of U.S. and Canadian corporate executives say the best way to structure financial wellness programs is to integrate the offering with the rest of the employee benefits package. When discussing the fact that 37% of employers expressed concern over the potential cost of implementing a financial wellness program, Nate Bidner - managing director of workplace financial solutions at Schwab - said, “.......many of the features typically overlap with those already used by employers."  He went on to say, “Today's 401(k) and equity compensation plans are already structured to arm participants with knowledge and encourage active engagement, and as such, these plans may be leveraged to build a financial wellness program without adding cost or significant resource demands. Implementing a financial wellness program doesn't need to be disruptive to existing benefits and compensation programs - it should complement them," and added. "Current programs should be evaluated for their effectiveness in meeting the challenges, whether simple or complex, that employees face. Employers can then incorporate additional elements to help educate employees and enable them to make better use of company offerings." 

Other research also shows why these benefits are needed - PricewaterhouseCooper's (PwC's) 2016 Employee Financial Wellness Survey, with responses from 1,600 full-time employees, showed that 52% of workers overall are stressed about their finances - and the younger the worker, the more likely they are to be worried; 46 percent of workers spend three or more hours during the workweek dealing with or thinking about financial issues and 45 percent said their finance-related stress had increased over the last 12 months.

Andrew Brickman - Wayne, Pa. based director of benefits administration at consultancy Corporate Synergies - noted that PwC's survey found that 14% of employers had a budget for financial education and another 25 percent were looking to add budget dollars for these programs.  He said, "But as with health and wellness programs, it can be daunting to encourage upper management to allocate dollars for financial education and support programs and then motivate employees to participate once executives give the nod." He added, "How well your plan is designed can impact employee participation."

Andrew Brickman noted that as with most benefits programs, "an effective financial wellness program won't be one-size-fits-all and will depend heavily on the resources made available to it."

As a way of easing the shortage of pilots that is being faced by Chinese airlines, the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) is planning, in the next few years, to raise the mandatory retirement age for pilots, which currently stands at 60 years old.

It is forecast that China will need about 2,800 to 3,000 pilots annually over the next three years, a number that the flying schools across the country cannot produce. Because of this, local airlines frequently send their cadets to the U.S.A., Europe or Australia, however the process requires that cadets must undertake a minimum 80-hour English course before they start training. Add this to the cost of undertaking  type rating and this becomes an expensive proposition.

Since 2007 when the Chinese Government simplified their laborious approval process, Chinese carriers have tried to overcome the shortage by enticing foreign pilots with good salary packages and large bonuses. However, hiring foreign pilots has become more difficult over the past few years as airlines around the world face a similar shortage situation.

For example, just recently experts from the US aviation industry predicted that major US airlines will need to hire around 18,000 pilots in the next three years to infill for retirements. Indeed the 2016 Boeing Pilot and Technician Outlook forecasts that “between now and 2035, the aviation industry will need to supply more than two million new aviation personnel—617,000 commercial airline pilots....”. It goes on to state that “Over the next 20 years, the Asia Pacific region will lead the worldwide growth in demand for pilots, with a requirement for 248,000 new pilots.”

If the CAAC do raise the mandatory retirement age, they will be following in line with other countries that have adopted this approach –the retirement age in the UK is 65, the Ministry of Transport of Japan raised its mandatory retirement age from 64 to 67 in February 2015 and the USA raised its age from 60 to 65 in 2007.

While operators in China and around the world have so far been able to hire sufficient pilot numbers, experts hope that these proactive measures will help ease the upcoming problem.

According to a recent survey from CareerBuilder, the percentage of US employers that intend to employ college graduates is at a 10 year high. Seventy four percent of employers say they plan to hire recent college graduates this year, which is up from 67 percent last year. Half of those employers plan to offer recent college graduates higher pay than last year and 39 percent of employers hiring recent college graduates will pay a starting salary of $50,000 or more - this compares to 27 percent last year.

Roberto Angelo, CEO and co-founder of AfterCollege, a student and graduate career network based in San Francisco stated, "I'm hearing employers saying that they're not finding the right people so they are turning to new graduates. You can either poach workers-which is hard-or you can go out and recruit them on campus." He added, "Traditionally, large companies have done a really good job of campus recruiting. I'm hearing that small ones are doing better than in the past."

Heidi Soltis-Berner, evolving workforce talent leader and managing director of Deloitte University for consulting firm Deloitte in Westlake, Texas states, "They're bringing new thinking, new ideas and new ways to innovate." She also remarked that, "We're continuing to look at how and when we visit campuses," and added that she has witnessed that the norm for employers is to approach students "earlier and earlier."

Initial indications are that the classes graduating in 2017 comprise the leading edge of Generation Z, who could possibly differ from the Millennials inasmuch as they would be prepared to remain with a new employer for a decade or more and in addition to receiving a sturdy education, many students have demonstrated - by entering internships and co-op programs - that they have work-ready skills.
The Career Builder survey reports that the IT and customer service functions are those that employers most want to staff with new graduates. Top of the list of functions for which employers are looking to recruit recent college graduates are Information technology (33 percent) and customer service jobs (24 percent). Also, there are opportunities in business development (23 percent), finance and accounting (20 percent) and production (18 percent).

According to a previous college graduate employment study by Accenture, four out of five graduates said they considered the availability of jobs in their field of study before deciding on their major and that pragmatism appeared to have paid off.

Officials from the Department of Homeland Security met with European Commission officials recently to discuss extending the U.S. ban on laptops and tablets in the cabins of airliners, to include passengers departing from European airports.

Since March, the U.S. have restricted laptops, tablets and phones which are larger than a typical smartphone, (measuring 16cm by 9.3cm by 1.5cm) from the cabins of flights originating in Cairo, Abu Dhabi, Dubai, Kuwait, Jordan, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Doha and Istanbul.

The UK meanwhile, has a ban on these devices from direct inbound flights from Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt, Tunisia and Saudi Arabia.

The current U.S. ban affects around 350 flights per week but the International Air Transport Association (IATA) estimates that extending this to the whole of Europe would affect more than 2,500 flights and cause lost revenue of over $1bn.

For example, IATA believes costs would increase due to extra handling of cargo hold baggage, departure delays due to increased screening measures and additionally businesses would potentially cancel trips rather than risk losing confidential information in checked laptops. This is borne out by the fact that passengers already appear to be avoiding routes where the ban is in place.

IATA director general Alexandre de Juniac penned a letter to Violeta Bulc, EC Commissioner for Transport and John Kelly, U.S. Homeland Security Secretary, offering the idea of short-term measures rather than extending the ban. These would include using explosive trace detection at primary and secondary checkpoints, as well as enhancing training and using sniffer dogs. This should then lessen the danger of having more lithium battery-powered devices in cargo holds.

De Juniac stated “The current measures are not an acceptable long-term solution to whatever threat they are trying to mitigate.” He added “We call on governments to work with the industry to find a way to keep flying secure without separating passengers from their personal electronics.”

The FAA have issued an airworthiness directive (AD) effective June 28th 2017, that will require many regional airlines to replace their smaller, slimline seats.

Whilst some passengers agree these smaller seats are uncomfortable and offer minimum legroom, the issue, according to the FAA, is with safety not comfort.

The seats in question, made by Zodiac Seats California LLC, were found in collision tests to pose a risk of neck or head injury during a survivable crash – videos showed the passenger may slide down the seat with their chin on the seat in front of them and hit the tray table, injuring their neck.

Paul Bernado, acting manager of FAA’s transport airline directorate said in a 29 page order “The intent of this (airworthiness directive) is to provide a safe outcome for passengers during a survivable crash by preventing serious injuries”.

The seats are installed in Boeing 717-200s, MD-90-30s, Bombardier CRJ700s, CRJ900s and Q400s and Embraer E170s and E190s aircraft and appear to affect an estimated 10,482 seats used by American, Delta, United, Republic and SkyWest airlines.

Although the airlines are being given 5 years to remove these seats, Zodiac along with some of the affected airlines have requested to be allowed to modify the seats, rather than replace them. The FAA however, have refused but have agreed to review any remedies put to them at the time.

The main issue for the airlines is cost. The FAA estimated it would cost $85 to remove each unsafe seat, for a total of around $900,000. However they didn’t include purchasing and installing new seats in their valuation, which has been estimated as bringing the total into the millions.

Additionally, the airlines have complained that it would be uneconomical to fly with fewer seats on their planes.

A copy of the docket can be found here on the FAA website:

The Liberal Democrats have announced their plan to introduce mandatory reporting on the ethnicity pay gap for organisations with 250 employees or more.

Jo Swinson, the former Business Minister, commented:  “....the country is failing to make the most of talent in the workplace. Information is powerful, and while organisations are allowed to get away with keeping patchy records, we'll never know the full extent of the gap.”    She continued: “Transparent data on the Black and Minority Ethnic pay gap will help employers focus on what they need to do to ensure equal opportunities at work for people of all ethnic backgrounds.”

According to a Fawcett Society report, Pakistani and Bangladeshi women see the biggest overall gender pay gap at 26% and Black African women experience the largest full-time gender pay gap at 19.6%.  Black African women have seen virtually no progress since the 1990’s in closing the gender pay gap with White British men, with a full-time pay gap of 21.4% in the 1990’s and 19.6% today. When part-time workers are included, this figure rises to 24%.

The report by the Fawcett Society – the UK’s leading charity for women’s equality and rights at home, at work and in public life - monitors the progress over more than 25 years and the analysis reveals real inequalities.  As the data is not routinely collected by the Office for National Statistics, it was calculated using the Labour Force Survey.

The report shows that:

  • Pakistani and Bangladeshi women experience the largest aggregate (i.e. including full-time and part-time workers) gender pay gap at 26.2%.
  • Indian women experience the biggest pay gap with men in their ethnic group at 16.1%.
  • White British women have a larger pay gap than Black Caribbean women, Indian women or those who identify as ‘White Other’.
  • Women who identify as ‘White Other’ are the only group who have seen their pay gap widen since the 1990’s from 3.5% to 14% today. This is mainly because the composition of this group has changed over time and today it is largely comprised of central and eastern European migrant women - many of whom are in low paid work.

Sam Smethers, Chief Executive of the Fawcett Society commented, “This analysis reveals a complex picture of gender pay gap inequality” and added “For these groups this is a story of low labour market participation and low pay when they are in work together with high levels of unpaid caring work.”

However, the report also reveals some women experiencing real progress.  Black Caribbean women in full-time work have overtaken Black Caribbean men so that they now have a reverse pay gap of -8.8%. They also fare better than White British women when compared with White British men (a 5.5% versus 13.9% pay gap).

Gender Pay Gap by Ethnicity in Britain calls for the gender pay gap ethnicity to be routinely measured and, after calculation, the ONS should release figures on a regular basis.  In addition they say, pay for the lowest paid should be increased - as many of those women experiencing the largest ethic gender pay gaps are working in some of the lowest paid jobs.

As part of their manifesto, the Labour Party is stating that they would introduce a civil enforcement system to ensure compliance with gender pay gap reporting and the Conservative Party have also pledged to introduce ethnicity pay gap reporting if they come to power in June.

Dr. Jill Miller, diversity and inclusion adviser at the CIPD, states that a Tory or Lib Dem government would inevitably consult with the HR community to ensure that race pay gap reporting proposals were “fit for purpose”.   If they were not, Dr. Miller fears that “pay reporting could end up being seen as a burdensome tick box exercise that’s another cost of doing business, rather than a driver of workplace, economic and societal change”.

The US Air Force (USAF) has removed a ban on pilots weighing less than 136lb from flying all variants of the F-35 stealth fighter. The restriction was imposed in 2015 when the manufacturer, Martin Baker, raised concerns after ongoing testing that head and neck injuries could result from an ejection for pilots under this weight.

After nearly two years, three modifications have been developed by the contractors in conjunction with the USAF, to make sure the ejection seat works safely in all scenarios. These modifications mean the Mk16 ejection seats now meet the original USAF specification to accommodate all pilots weighing between 103 and 245lbs.

The ejection seats, which have been modified with a new switch installation, are already being retrofitted into the existing fleet by the Martin Baker Field Teams and the first modified aircraft flew on May 4th. This new switch will slightly delay parachute deployment at high speeds and decrease parachute opening forces for lightweight pilots.

In addition, a head support panel has been mounted on the rear risers of the parachute to prevent the pilot’s head from moving backwards during an ejection.

Thirdly, new lightweight Gen III helmets which decrease injury risk during parachute openings have been developed and are already available in pre-production now, with full production starting later this year.

According to Martin Baker, the modifications mean that all the specified physiological head and neck load requirements are now being met.

Brig. Gen. Scott L. Pleus, the F-35 Integration Office Director stated “I have personally briefed every single F-35 pilot in the United States Air Force about these changes to their ejection seat, and I’m confident our pilots are no longer concerned with the safety of the F-35 ejection system. I've flown in this seat myself and believe, with these modifications, this is the safest ejection seat I've ever flown.” 

Martin-Baker’s website states that their ejection seats have saved 7,541 lives since 1949, of which over 3,500 are American aircrew.

In a statement submitted on March 8th, in conjunction with the subcommittee hearing on air transportation in the United States in the 21st Century, Aeronautical Repair Station Association (ARSA) members stated that they considered the biggest challenge confronting the industry to be talent shortage. Indeed, in a survey, fifty six percent of their respondents, when asked, choose “difficulty finding/retaining technical talent”, as one of the most pressing risks.

With this in mind, ARSA have released statistics showing that the shortage of skilled aviation maintenance technicians could cost the industry nearly $200 million in revenue this year - members reported having over 1,000 unfilled positions, with each position averaging annual revenue per employee of around $170,000.

Indeed, if this figure is indicative of the entire population of FAA-certified repair stations in the U.S., the number of vacant positions is likely to be closer to 11,000, which if left unfilled equals nearly $2 billion in lost revenue in 2017.

ARSA executive vice president Christian Klein stated “These numbers are just a snapshot of how just one industry is being affected by the technical-worker shortage plaguing the U.S. economy.” He went to add “We hope lawmakers working career technical education policy on Capitol Hill, including the recently introduced Perkins reauthorization bill, will keep the aviation industry in mind when crafting solutions.” 

The CIPD - professional body for HR and people development - maintain that the General Election 2017 is an opportunity for them to underline their views on what should be addressed by the next, and future, governments. They state that the HR profession can play a significant role in debating this issue as they are experts on people, work and change.  Championing good work will involve everyone making a commitment to encourage accountability, good principles and behaviour, as well as sustainable practice in the workplace.

Work plays a fundamental role in success and prosperity as individuals; in organisations and collectively as a society and as such, the wider HR profession is being encouraged to challenge their local candidates to encourage better work and working lives.

Workers' rights protections have been promised by the Tories with Theresa May assuring what she says would be the biggest expansion of workers' rights by any Conservative government, if the party retains power.  The manifesto releases 11 pledges of workplace reforms - promising to solidify laws currently guaranteed by the EU, after Brexit is finalised. It is also claimed that pensions will be protected and provision made for employee rights to training.

Proposals announced by the Labour Party are also hailed, but it is thought that more clarity is required on skills policy and plans to modernise employment rights. 

Ben Willmott, Head of Public Policy at the CIPD said:  “The strong focus on skills and lifelong learning is welcome, given the challenges the UK’s ageing workforce faces in terms of skills and investment in training, as well as the impact of technology on jobs and the labour market. Plans to boost investment in further education and improve the quality of skills advice and guidance are also positive”.  He added, “To further boost skills in the UK we would call on the next government to pilot revised Individual Learning Accounts to provide people with more opportunities to invest in their skills development. We would also urge them to reframe the Apprenticeship Levy as a more flexible Training Levy, so the funds can be used for a much wider range of training opportunities that include more people in the workforce.”

The CIPD have produced a manifesto setting out proposals which will improve corporate governance; the quality of people management; investment in and better use of skills and ultimately how a future of work can be created that will enable people to return the best value to themselves, their organisations and society as a whole. 

Katerina Rudiger, CIPD Chief Community Officer, commented:

“We’re encouraging and equipping the HR community to take social action both as good citizens and on behalf of the organisations they work for. Campaigning for better work and working lives during the run up to the Election is a great way for people to share their voice on issues that are important to them and the toolkit we’ve created makes it as easy as possible to do this”.