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Upskilling is key to combatting skills gaps

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Brexit has the potential to produce significant skills gaps in the UK workforce, yet this can be countered through increased investment in skills training in the existing pool of UK workers.

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As we head towards the exit door of the European Union, the decisions made over the next few months will undoubtedly shape the future of British work for decades. With the country already suffering from lagging productivity, Brexit casts further ambiguity over how we will continue to compete on the global stage. Perhaps none more so than what businesses will do once access to skilled talent is restricted.

Recent City & Guilds research People Power found that nine in ten UK employers are already struggling to recruit the skilled staff they need, and that two thirds think that skills gaps are likely to get worse or remain the same in the next three to five years. With Brexit set to exacerbate this further, it’s easy to see why so many are worried.

Skills gaps threaten our future

Although this undeniably is a cause for concern, we should rise to these challenges, by finally tackling the skills issues that have been plaguing the country for decades. We could have the answers right on our doorstep – if we utilise the workforce that we have effectively.

To ensure the country is fighting fit and can weather the storms that are heading our way, we need to be doing all we can to upskill our current workforce. This means that now, more so than ever before, employers need to be investing in skills development and training programmes and learn from the great skills development practices already happening in businesses up and down the country.

Recently, the City & Guilds Group commended 48 UK businesses who are exemplars of best training and development practice through our annual Princess Royal Training Awards. The awards highlight the real benefits employers can reap from investing in training programmes that invest in their people.

Apprenticeships plug the gap

AESSEAL is a great example, is a Rotherham-based manufacturing company that created a bespoke apprenticeship programme – run in conjunction with Rotherham College and Sheffield University – to tackle engineering skills shortages in South Yorkshire head on. The company recently invested £500,000 to double its yearly intake of apprentices and is vocal in its belief that the role is not only central to the success of the company, but to the industry as well.

AESSEAL’s investment could not be timelier. Research conducted last year by Engineering UK found that an additional 1.8 million engineers and technicians will be needed by 2025 for Britain to continue its industrial growth. Left unaddressed, this could severely impact several huge planned infrastructure projects. To combat this, we need more businesses to follow the example set by AESSEAL, through investing in learning and development schemes to ensure the industry can survive the years to come.

Investing in our future leaders

Apprenticeships are one excellent way that businesses are plugging skills gaps, but it shouldn’t stop with young, entry-level workers. The UK is also facing a growing skills crisis at managerial level that also needs to be solved.

Our People Power research found that a lack of leadership and management skills is a specific issue for UK employers, with almost half (47%) of respondents stating that managers and team leaders are the job level they struggle to recruit for most. Twenty seven percent of employers also stated that they worry about a lack of leadership and management in their businesses, and the impact of this on productivity over the next three to five years. The good news is that there are businesses already taking proactive steps to address this who we can learn from.

The catering company Bartlett Mitchell, for example, was recognised with a Princess Royal Training Award for its management and development programme, designed to increase staff retention and internal promotions within the business. The hospitality industry is known for its high levels of staff turnover and is heavily reliant on migrant workers to fill many of its vacancies. Through investing in a management and development programme, Bartlett Mitchell not only saw a reduction in staff turnover and employee sickness figures, but also 25 internal promotions over the last two years, shoring up the business for the years to come.

Likewise, in the face of challenging circumstances, such as large-scale staff redundancies, Lloyds Banking Group reiterated the vital importance of investing in upskilling. Its exceptional training and development programme was recognised for its 30-day development challenge, which resulted in a staggering 7,000 leaders being trained. The programme led to a high point in staff motivation – proving that the benefits of investing in skills training once again speaks for itself and will be crucial in improving our low levels of productivity.

The lessons we can learn

Moving forward, what can we do to build on the examples set by these leading businesses? First and foremost, employers need to recognise the real benefits that investing in skills training can bring. Effective skills development and training programmes are proven to result in increased staff loyalty, retention and engagement, improved productivity, better customer service, and reduced employee turnover. Ultimately, it’ll be improving all these aspects which will help us to survive the combined threats of Brexit, lagging productivity and widening skills gaps.

With just seven months to go before Britain leaves the EU, there is a sense across the country of preparation for the worst. There’s no doubt that Brexit will have an impact on talent pools across the country and potentially hamper our productivity even more. But by investing in upskilling now, employers will be taking the biggest step they can to prepare for all eventualities. We already have the people we need, they just might not have been trained yet.

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