Belfast Telegraph

Monday 22 September 2014

The natural law of business

Scott Alexander, head of training and development at Legal-Island

Scott Alexander claims Legal-Island offers the best training on employment rules and HR.

How long has Legal-Island been operating in Northern Ireland?

We were started 13 years ago by chief executive Barry Phillips in Derry/Londonderry with a borrowed overhead projector and a bucket load of chutzpah.

Do you have any plans for expansion?

We’ve doubled the number of training events in season one, in comparison to the same period last year and many of those will be based in England. We ran our first events in Great Britain in 2010, having been Ireland-wide since 2000.

The economy has been in the doldrums for some time with worse expected to come due to public sector cuts and the effect of a rise in VAT. How has that impacted on business?

Last year was much better for us than 2009. Things stabilised and through networking we established synergistic partnerships with interested parties to find new markets.

Business doesn’t disappear completely — you just have to work harder and smarter. Networking is the key to survival and success.

Have you launched any new initiatives to combat the current challenges?

Almost everybody is in the same boat — we’re all looking to stay in business. We’ve joined with other experts and have moved into training on education law, data protection, payroll and winning tenders. We have also improved our core services of training events and information updates based around employment law and human resources.

In this competitive marketplace with plenty of choice for consumers, how do you win business?

That’s easy — find out what the customers want and deliver it to a better standard than anyone else. Be prepared to offer deals but keep the focus on quality.

If people try ‘cheap’ they invariably get ‘nasty’ and will go back to quality because it lasts and provides value for money over time.

Look after your reputation and build relationships on trust.

How does the work of Legal-Island differ from that of a traditional legal practice?

We don’t offer advice. We’ll put you in touch with those that do but our main work in Northern Ireland is providing Northern Ireland-relevant information and training, not advice.

Companies might be tempted to cut back on extraneous costs like employment law training during a recession. How do you make sure they don't?

We don’t — we just remind them that failure to keep up to date with legal requirements will cost them a lot more than coming on our quality training courses or subscribing to an accurate email update service (both reasonably priced)

What do you foresee as the next big trend in employment law?

The abolition of the default retirement age could transform the workplace. With older employees around for longer, passing on experience over a longer period and workplaces reflecting the ageing population things should improve in many ways. But people slow down as they get older and flexible and part time working will increase — IT also makes it easy for many to work from home. The downside is employers will have to deal sensitively with the dismissal of older employees — they can no longer rely on an automatic retirement after April 6. Mediation is another big one — tribunals are too expensive for the state and the parties to sustain.

What's the single best and clearest piece of advice you would give to an employer on how to maintain good industrial relations?

Be open and honest. If you’re trustworthy your employees will cut you slack when the going gets tough. It should work both ways, remember.

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