SME Agony Uncle: Bobby Kerr answers all your business and work-related questions


Each week broadcaster, entrepreneur and agony uncle Bobby Kerr joins The Hard Shoulder to answer all your employment-related questions.

Ireland has long had a love affair with academic accomplishment - but this week, Bobby has been wondering whether the pressure to achieve a college qualification is leading too many us up the wrong path.

It comes as a new ESRI study found that almost half of us feel overqualified for our positions - while one-in-ten don't feel up to work we are doing.

Meanwhile reports in both The Irish Times and The Irish Independent found that rates of third-level participation have increased sharply in recent decades,

The reports highlight a  growing belief among parents and students that higher qualifications are essential - despite the wide-range of other avenues available for career advancement.

“If you take both of those extremes of half of us saying we are overqualified and then one-in-ten not being up to the job, it puts us in a pretty bad place,” says Bobby.

“It means that really we are educating ourselves for the wrong types of work. It means that there is a real disparity between education and reality.”

The answer, for Bobby, lies in a closer alignment of work and education - with the technical college model often providing a far better grounding in terms of the needs of the workplace.

“In other words the courses that are on offer in some of the non-Universities are much more pertinent in terms of getting a job,” he says.

“I have nothing against getting an Arts degree; but if you do an Arts degree what are you qualified in?

“I think we need to get back into apprenticeships and I think apprentices need to be much more far-ranging.

“If you are physically working in a place and then you are educating yourself simultaneously in that field; the connect is much, much stronger.”

Hi Bobby, I work in a small office in Dublin and - since nobody else was bothered - I’ve had to come up with our Christmas party plans for this year. I’ve arranged a meal (after some haggling over set menu prices) and we all agreed drinks at the bar around the corner would be a decent solution to end the night.

But I haven’t asked the office manager to chip in and he hasn’t offered either. It’s probably only fair that I inquire about it, since some of my colleagues have asked if I said it to the boss too.

What should I do? Cheers, Mick

“First of all, I think fair play to Mick,” says Bobby. “There isn’t too many people that put their hand up for that kind of thankless task.”

“I think he if has taken the initiative to go and rally among the troops and arrives to the boss with almost a part solution saying, ‘listen can you match fund this,' I think anybody who wouldn’t look at that favourably would not be a great employer.”

While the policy on who fronts-up for the Christmas bash will always vary company-to-company; Bobby would be “very surprised” if Mick’s initiative was not rewarded with some form of match-funding.

Bobby has picked up a few simple rules over the years for any employer aiming to survive the seasonal session with their reputation - and their bottom line - intact:

  • No partners – invites are for employees only
  • No hard liquor or spirits – if you’re lining up the shots; you buy them yourself
  • Put somebody in charge of the event
  • End it on time
  • Always leave early yourself

“Just remember your responsibility as an employer,” he says

“I have learnt over the years what works and what doesn’t work and I have seen it going all so badly wrong.

“If something happens at a Christmas party, unsavoury or otherwise, the employer can be held responsible.”

I work in a Cafe and my manager said he wants to use our tips collected at the till to part-fund the Christmas party. I have a problem with this as I don’t plan on going to the party. What should I do?

Anyone who has worked in the service industry will know that any inconsistency when it comes to divvying out the tips can quickly lead to mass mutiny.

Staff expectations will differ depending on the style of establishment - but for Bobby, it is essential that management puts a system in place that is “very transparent and is fair.”

“I think best-practice is firstly that there is a policy on it and that every employee who starts is told, ‘this is how it works here,’” he says. “You take the job on the basis of full disclosure.”

“I personally think the tips are there; they are the staff’s and I stay as far away from them as I possibly can.

“In the service business, you do have people working in the wash-up who are not in the front line and rates of pay do differ and I think some employers do try to align the rates of pay with good intention - but often it can end badly because of not being clear and not being fair.”

You can listen back to all of Bobby’s employment advice from Tuesday’s The Hard Shoulder here:

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