Thursday, 27 November 2008

Please, not just retrenchment: surviving the recession in a socially responsible way

Some advice from people who might know how boom can follow bust

Some people who might know

Ten years ago the Asia financial crisis laid low the ‘Tiger Economies’ of the Pacific Rim. Boy, did they learn from this and did they recover in the years since!

Now of course they too are severely affected by the collapse of world trade. Last week the Government of Singapore issued advice to companies, based presumably upon fairly recent experience of building new prosperity following financial ruin.

An article in the Straights Times has summarised salient points of potential interest to those involved in Conductive Education around the world, employers, employees and service-users.

Employers… must be socially responsible as the economic downturn bites harder, and resort to retrenchment only after all other options have been exhausted.

There are many other alternatives available before the dreaded axe is wielded.

The Singapore Government is releasing a list of cost-cutting options available to companies with excess staff in a time of slowing business (a position in which CE around the world services might find themselves):

The guidelines - which are not mandatory - include having flexible work arrangements, a shorter work week and sending employees for upgrading.

Acting Manpower Minister Gan Kim Yong says:

'We want to help these companies and guide them through the process, so that they look at the whole challenge holistically, and so that they also understand that there are many other options available other than retrenchment'.

In Singapore, as (so far) in many other places, services industries like the education and childcare sectors, are still hiring. Mr Gan added:

'The key is how we can help the retrenched workers transit to these new industries.'

Who will be most affected? Again Mr Gan has an answer:

On who will be hardest hit, he said that the impact will be felt most keenly at middle-management levels and in PMET (professional, managerial, executive and technical) occupations. This, he explained, is partly a factor of success…

The majority of jobs in world CE fall within the PMET bracket.

A socially responsible response

In no spirit of criticism, and acknowledging some outstanding exceptions, it is fair to say that Conductive Education has not expanded around the world on the basis of social responsibility. Much of it has been driven at best by enlightened self-interest, and often simply by self-interest. Why not? That has been the spirit of the times.

Now that the CE bubble might be bursting, the corresponding risk is that the major response within Conductive Education will be sauve qui peut, ‘every man for himself’’. And Devil take the hindmost.

A socially responsible response would involve, at the very least:

Setting aside time and resources aside to safeguard clients, so that they are not left wholly on the lurch where their CE services shrink or vanish.

Doing the same for employees (and, again, the hear the plea that non-conductors are remembered here too)

Doing what in Singapore the Government calls ‘sending employees for upgrading’. Now what could that mean for Conductive Education, not just for the benefit of those directly involved but also for would-be beneficiaries of the system. Most importantly of all in the long term, the survival and future development of the system.

Painless? Certainly not, but it will hurt, whatever is done. Even over the medium term, simple retrenchment might hurt even more. This way, however, perhaps increases the chance of Conductive Education’s surviving in the longer term with three important assets, not just intact but also enhanced, as a basis for rebuilding a new CE order as we emerge into a new world:
    • reputation
    • people
    • institutions
That might be what they would recommend to ensure the survival of Conductive Education in Singapore, at least, they might do if they had any there yet!

Maybe, though, one day they will.


Chow, J. (2008) Guidelines today on options before wielding the axe. Ministry of Manpower list will include flexible work plans and shorter work week, Straits Times, 19 November


  1. "rebuilding a new CE order as we emerge into a new world:" order?
    What do you mean?

  2. Specifically, I do not know what CE will likE like in, say, three or four years time, because I do not know what the wider world will be like.

    Among other possibilities are major shifts in balance from West to East, and from publicly to privately provided services. What are now established institutions and values may be history. There may be a lot less money around.

    Within such a context, what new practices, programs, structures, relations etc might CE develop? These will presumably depend upon the ingenuity and crativity of thos working in CE, and its would-be users.

    The quicker the task of elaborating these begins,
    the quicker we might see its fruits.