From education to employment

The predictability of unpredictable incidents and how you plan for them

John Drew, Bus Depot Manager in Corby, suffered an unusual Monday recently when over a quarter of his workforce failed to turn up for their shifts. What made his Monday even more unusual was the fact that these members of his team had each recently become over £3million richer after their collective scooped the EuroMillions jackpot a few days before.

While you would, of course, be elated at such a monumental windfall for your colleagues, the subsequent rejigging of rotas and calling staff in from other Stagecoach areas, caused a fair amount of stress to John Drew’s day.  Although this is very much an isolated incident, it does shine a light on the unexpected threats that can hit an organisation or institution. Despite events like this being entirely unpredictable, there are still a number of steps that can be taken to prepare and plan for disruptions that your college might face.

Business Continuity Planning is something that organsiations around the country are beginning to wise up to. Over the past few years, events such as the Volcanic Ash Crisis, the SARS virus and the summer riots have all alerted organisations to the fact that they need to have a contingency plan in place. Slightly more than half (52%) of all education institutions have now put some groundwork in to tackle these unexpected threats, according to the latest Chartered Management Institute (CMI) report ‘Planning for the Worst’.

The report, published in association with Aon, the British Standards Institution (BSI), the Business Continuity Institute (BCI) and the Civil Contingencies Secretariat in the Cabinet Office, shows that the biggest threat to the smooth running of FE colleges is the weather, more specifically snow. Yes, you can argue that we live in the UK and snow is pretty much a dead cert, however, the one thing that you can’t predict about snow is when it will arrive: I write this as snow is falling in April, after a minor heat wave has hit the country. Every college in the country should have a plan to cope with adverse weather conditions, it’s not as if the warning wasn’t there.

The second biggest threat of the year to education institutions came from the public sector strikes, which affected 73% of managers. Other unsuspected problem makers were the Blackberry outages (26%) and the aforementioned summer riots which impacted nearly one in five institutions.

The big potential disruption to the smooth running of operations in 2012 is, of course, the Olympic and Paralympic Games. Although not remotely unwelcome, the Games could prove a logistical nightmare as transport becomes gridlocked, infrastructure experiences unprecedented levels of demand and an extra one million ticketholders arrive in the UK from abroad. Although, thankfully, the majority of the Olympic goings-on fall over the summer, therefore conveniently avoiding the busiest time for colleges and also giving college staff time to appreciate the festival atmosphere of London in the summer, the Games will last for longer than most of us expect. For example, the Torch relay begins on 18 May and will travel within ten miles of 95 percent of people in the UK. 

If you do have a key number of your team members working over Games time, the key is to maintain as much flexibility as possible. Where it is possible for staff to work remotely, ensure that your system can cope with a high number of people accessing the system externally. If you are based in London, look at avoiding key commute times and allow staff to work flexible hours to avoid gridlock on the London Transport Network.

Continuity planning doesn’t have to be time consuming. Often these issues just require a small amount of thought being put in. Have you considered the easiest way to contact students or staff? Do you have alternative suppliers in the case of a problem in the production line ? Are staff briefed on what to do in an emergency? Once a business continuity plan is in place, it is vital that it remains updated and relevant.

While the disruptions that face UK colleges are incredibly unpredictable, the one thing that is predictable is that these threats and disruptions will occur. Whether in the form of a volcanic ash crisis, a major pandemic, cyber security breaches or your entire staff winning the lottery, a business continuity plan is the one thing that you cannot risk avoiding.

Christopher Kinsella is acting chief executive of the Chartered Management Institute

For more information on the report and business continuity planning, click here

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