Magazine article Management Today

BCE: The Alternative to Coal

Magazine article Management Today

BCE: The Alternative to Coal

Article excerpt

Creating opportunities for coal-miners should assure BCE long-term employment

No one will be watching the deliberations of the cross-party Trade and Industry Select Committee proceed with its review of the pit closures with greater interest than British Coal Enterprise (BCE), whose headquarters is in pit-scented Edwinstowe. It was set up in 1984 as a wholly-owned subsidiary of British Coal 'to help create alternative job opportunities in areas associated with coal-mining'.

It had to gain expertise quickly. The mining workforce was already shrinking and the miners' strike of 1985 accelerated the process. By the time of British Coal's announcement last month that another 30 pits were to close, the workforce had shrunk from 130,000 to 41,000.

BCE has been on a steep learning curve from the beginning. By 1989 it felt confident enough to be able to market itself and offer its outplacement service to private corporate clients. Its current client list ranges from the Ministry of Defence to engineering and computer companies.

Since it began, BCE has spent 74[pounds] million on some 3,600 investment projects supporting 81,000 new jobs and it claims an 86% success rate in resettling clients either in jobs, self-employment or training. Its reputation has spread abroad and, in the last two years, it has been offering outplacement services to the mining industries in Hungary and Czechoslovakia, where the chill wind from changing markets is blowing hard. Polish personnel managers, too, with an eye on the perils of a market economy, have been coming to Britain to train and observe BCE's schemes in action.

BCE prides itself on its speedy reaction. Steve Clemerson, its national outplacement manager, explains that collieries close in different ways - some shut down because of exhausted seams, a predictable circumstance. Closure, in this instance, can be estimated to the nearest week as production winds down over a year. But it can also happen suddenly. Sometimes, says Clemerson, BCE has been asked to provide 'job shop' plus career services on the site of a pit with only three days' notice, for anything from 50 to 1,000 miners. Often it has been running 20-30 operations simultaneously.

Obviously the closure of 31 pits with the loss, at a stroke, of 30,000 jobs would have provided BCE with a sad but unique opportunity to demonstrate its prowess in the worst possible conditions. The stay of execution means that its workload when the inquiry is complete is uncertain but BCE is quietly confident without being in the least complacent. …

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