On The Horizon – July 2024

Author: Jennifer Liston-Smith, Head of Thought Leadership, Bright Horizons

 All Change

Is it possible to achieve both stability and change? Can a government commit both to business growth and to a ‘new deal’ of better protection for the workforce (including removing the distinction between employees and workers)? This is the narrow course the new Labour Government has commitment to forge. Perhaps treading an awkward path is not so challenging, when Prime Minister Keir Starmer has already successfully crossed a slippery room with his precious Ming vase, like that Roy Jenkins envisaged Tony Blair carrying in 1997. That task completed, the promised decade of renewal begins. And the UK election has felt a lot calmer than those in some other nations, in this year of many elections.

Much is being discussed in the UK now about the way ahead for employers, including this helpful summary in HR review. In Bright Horizons’ world of empowering employers and employees to combine work and family, we will be ready, as ever, to work with employers in navigating the changes and supporting business that is a win-win for employer and worker. We are planning a webinar on 17th September to unpack some of this: more to come on that. Some of the manifesto promises included:

  • Childcare: Continuing the current rollout. There is also an aspiration to create more places, with school classrooms considered to be an option.
  • Family-friendly legislation: Aims to make parental leave a day-one right; introduce right to bereavement leave; make it unlawful to dismiss pregnant employees for six months after return from maternity leave except in specific circumstances. Review the implementation of carer’s leave and examine benefits of introducing paid carer’s leave.
  • Flexible working: Make flexible working the default from day one for all workers except where it is not reasonably feasible. Introduce the right to disconnect, similar to France, Spain and Australia.
  • Some other aspects of Diversity & Inclusion: Pay Gaps: add obligatory reporting on Ethnicity and Disability (alongside Gender) for organisations with over 250 staff. Require large employers with more than 250 employees to produce Menopause Action Plans.

Bright Horizons’ executive HR director Janine Leightley was interviewed by Personnel Today under the headline: ‘New government must raise status of childcare profession’. Janine Leightley set out ahead of the election what the sector would like to see from a new government. Areas of focus include talent attraction and retention through raising the status of the profession, better training routes and also adding early years practitioners to the immigration salary list, given the minimum salary for a skilled worker visa is £38,700. A professional body – the Royal College of Early Years – was also mooted. As Janine outlines, Bright Horizons has had huge success in attraction and retention, countering the sector norms, given huge investment and attention paid to culture and professional development.

The Hot Air surrounding AI?

The Tony Blair Institute’s report: Governing in the Age of AI: A Leader’s Guide to Artificial-Intelligence Technical Strategy offers much advice to our new leaders. Noting that the UK stands third in the world in opportunities around AI (after the US and China), the former Prime Minister advises Sir Keir Starmer to pursue the productivity gains possible in the public sector though wider deployment of AI, along with boosting the UK’s advantage in sectors such as life sciences and clean energy.

This advice is well founded and inspiring. It does however, come with one heated issue. There has been much news coverage in the last few days with the headline that Google's greenhouse gas emissions in 2023 were 48% higher than in 2019, according to its latest environmental report; the increase is attributed to growth in use of energy-hungry generative AI, which requires both powering and cooling. As the BBC article above describes, “the boss of the UK's National Grid said in March that the combination of AI and quantum computing would lead to a six-fold surge in demand in the next 10 years”. In nearby Ireland, there is a moratorium preventing the construction of new data centres in Dublin since “nearly a fifth of Ireland’s electricity is used up by data centres”

Like the Labour manifesto’s aim to combine the best of two apparently opposing forces, perhaps we can have both here too: environmentally sensitive AI. Christina Shim, Chief Sustainability Officer at our client IBM, writing in the Harvard Business Review, discusses “How Companies Can Mitigate AI’s Growing Environmental Footprint”. Christina Shim’s list of approaches includes utilising foundation models (instead of starting from scratch for each new use), optimising data processing locations, investing in energy-efficient processors, and leveraging open-source collaborations.

A Focus on Sustainable Human Skills

Speaking of sustainability, on June 27th, Ann Stubbs, Bright Horizons Head of Pedagogical Research and Development, along with Ellis Corcoran, Deputy Manager from Didcot Nursery, presented impact data from Cohort 1 of the Eco-Schools programme at this year's Nursery Management Today conference. This aspect of the curriculum is part of Bright Horizons’ Future Earth strategy.

The wider curriculum and educational approach centres the child, their wellbeing and resilience. Social and emotional skills are coming strongly to the fore alongside the growth of technology just as our Future Skills for Young People research highlighted earlier this year. The Royal Foundation Centre for Early Childhood has underlined that “businesses can support the development of children’s social and emotional skills. Early childhood is the most critical time for the advancement of social and emotional skills. By investing in resources devoted to young children’s development of these skills, businesses would not only ensure the social and emotional competence of their future workforces, but also provide crucial assistance to the working parents and caregivers that they employ”.

The Wide-Ranging Influence of Bright Horizons’ Thinkers and Speakers

It’s worth pausing to nod to the further output of advice and insight by Bright Horizons colleagues in the last month. ITV News Future Foundations Series covered childcare in June with a focus on the role of early years provision in labour market participation. Paul Quartly, Enterprise Sales Lead, spoke from the Bright Horizons nursery at Cambridge University Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust. As this 3-minute clip references, the Royal Foundation recently identified £45.5bn potential gains for the UK through investment in better early years education, and the Fawcett Society found that 1 in 10 mothers have quit jobs due to childcare pressures.

For Carers Week, with its theme of ‘Putting Carers on the Map’, Ian Wells, Head of Work+Family Operations and Service Delivery at Bright Horizons covered the transition faced when our own parents become more dependent on us. In Workplace Wellbeing Professional, Ian provided insights into how this may feel for employees along with employer tips on supporting networks, encouraging open conversations, providing back-up care solutions and more.

Amanda-Jane McCann, Client Relations Account Manager and Chair of Bright Horizons Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging Group, wrote in HR World on “LGBTQ+ Allyship in the Workplace, highlighting six ways to be a supportive colleague.

And HRreview kindly invited my article on “How The Best Employers Help Parents With The Summer Juggle”, guiding employers in supporting working parents through the summer holiday pressures, referencing the practical steps taken by our clients Sidley Austin, Bloomberg and Baker McKenzie, with solutions such as back-up care and employee network events, together with insights from my colleague Emma Willars, Coaching & Consultancy Development Manager.

We were also proud to be able to bring together a large group of employers in early July for a pro bono Forum on “Understanding Domestic Abuse as a Concern for Employers” with guest speakers Helen Lamprell, Chief Legal and Transformation Officer, from our client Aveva, Carolanne Minashi, Global Head of Inclusion, from our client HSBC, Louise Acunzo, Service Manager, Solace Women’s Aid, our partner through our charitable Foundation and Emily Harris, Social Impact Manager and Bright Horizons Foundation for Children UK.

Bright Horizons recognised yet again by Great Place to Work

Well, our award-winning recognition is almost getting embarrassing; or at least repetitive! Last month saw Bright Horizons recognised in the Great Places to Work for Development: having also been in the Super Large Category of Best Employers. Now we’ve been placed 17th in the Super Large Category for Wellbeing – scoring a hat-trick of recognition – a result the England team might only dream of.