Beat the skills shortage with training

A well-trained and skilled workforce is vital for a growing and flexible economy. But in today’s global, competitive marketplace, skill demands are changing rapidly.

The level of experience that will get an executive on the boardroom one year may not get them into the post room the next.

Any number of factors will influence the future skills needs of employers, from new legislation to technological advances. As the need for greater quality and more innovation grows, it is clear that employers will demand a wider and more accomplished level of skills.

The question is, are enough plans being made to meet these needs, and keep UK plc competitive?

A survey from the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development suggests not. Its annual look at training and development warns that without more planning for the future there will be a painful gap between the types of skills demanded and those actually available.

Just over a third of UK organisations surveyed by the CIPD said they expected to need a higher level of skills over the next three years. Just over a quarter said they would require a ‘broader range’ of capabilities.

Unsurprisingly, management and leadership skills, particularly the ability to manage change, topped the poll of future needs. Softer skills such as the capability to communicate and build long-term relationships with clients came in second.

‘Employers will want skills continually updated,’ said Jessica Jarvis the CIPD’s advisor on learning, training and development. ‘Leadership, management and strong communication skills will become more important.’

Yet training managers concede that their companies tend to recruit staff on the basis of their immediate needs, and are failing to think about the qualities they need in the future.

In a CIPD poll on recruitment criteria, management and leadership skills came down the bottom of the list, while interpersonal skills, specialist skills and experience came at the top.

Jarvis warns that the employers are being too short sighted and are expecting to fill their future needs purely through recruiting instead of gradually developing existing staff.

‘Skills shortages are already causing employers real difficulties and yet they are still failing to face up to their future skills needs,’ Jarvis said. ‘If employers do not provide support for learning at work, and continue to rely on recruitment to meet skills needs, they risk contributing to a wider problem for UK plc.’

But it’s not all bleak, and there are some companies grasping the skills nettle. Retailer the John Lewis Partnership has introduced a more proactive development programme for its managers, which aims to change their focus from being ‘process-orientated’ to becoming team leaders.

Last year, its 5,000 managers undertook a self-assessment to identify their needs, and were then offered a broad range of training options. These included coaching and mentoring, and new performance management tools designed to reward new skills such as team leadership.

According to a recent staff survey, managers said they felt more included and committed to the business than previously. For some companies, however, there are real barriers to training, and those can include their own staff and line managers.

The CIPD found that 41% of those polled reported that staff dragged their heels on training, while more worryingly still, 39% said senior staff were disinterested in ‘upskilling’ workers. More than a third of companies have either none or a minority of line managers trained to support the development of their teams.

The institute says more work needs to be done to convince businesses of the link between training and their bottom line performance.

‘Organisations are not providing sufficient support from the top or sufficient motivation to their people to boost the skills levels of their existing workforce,’ said Jarvis.

So the message is clear: speculate to accumulate. Train your workforce now, and develop the leaders and entrepreneurs of the future.

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