If 2017 taught us anything, it’s that none of us knows what the future holds. We can make as many predictions as we like, but the reality is that life will always throw the unexpected at us.
That’s true on a personal level, but it will also sound familiar to anyone who has ever been in business, regardless of the sector.
Whether it’s fluctuations in the economy having a knock-on effect, trusted staff suddenly deciding to take a new job, the fact is that running an organisation means being flexible and agile as new developments – both good and bad – come up, and as new challenges emerge.
So how do you cope with that? How do you set up a business so it can weather whatever storm develops? And how do sectors as a whole prepare?
There are lots of strategies – contingency planning, or a good insurance policy, say – but training has to be part of the conversation.
Training - more than a 'nice to have'
Too many businesses and industries view training as a nice-to-have, something to do when times are good and it’s easier to free up staff time.
But that approach is short-sighted. It’s always been the case that successful organisations and sectors place a premium on ensuring their employees are continually developing and learning new skills.
This is absolutely critical to ensuring people feel motivated to stay in a job, get even better at doing it, and remain invested in the company’s performance.
But, over the two years that we have been running the Princess Royal Training Awards, something we have also seen very clearly is that training is the secret ingredient in helping businesses manage in turbulent times and respond to new or unexpected challenges.
Success in practice
Take the Cross Government Surge and Rapid Response Team (SRRT), set up by HMRC to enable Whitehall departments to better respond to peaks in work and crisis situations, which were emerging with increasing regularity.
The team launched an Apprenticeship Programme in 2015 to train up a pipeline of talent for the SRRT, recognising the importance of skills development in building resilience and agility.
There are now more than 300 apprentices across six different locations around the UK, and the high-quality training that HMRC has invested in has enabled them to operate responsively to need across government in any number of challenging moments.
In other cases, we have seen how training has been used to respond to external developments and social change, for example the requirement for new skills to match the pace of digital transformation.
Tackling societal issues
Barclays’ enormously impressive Digital Eagles programme was established to address a change in banking customer needs and a rise in requests for support with online banking from local branch colleagues.
Thanks to a programme that has put training front and centre and facilitated staff to become the ‘most digitally savvy and inclusive workforce in the UK’, Barclays has been well placed to ensure customers and communities are not ‘left behind’ by the digital revolution.
Upskilling across industries
Similarly, training is vital in positioning entire industries to confront and manage new challenges.
Against the backdrop of the commissioning of a new fleet of power stations, Britain’s nuclear industry has faced unprecedented pressure to upskill and expand the workforce in a short space of time.
In just four years, the workforce need for the UK’s civil and defence nuclear sectors doubled from 60,000 in 2012 to 120,000 in 2016. Again, training has been at the heart of the sector’s ability to respond, not least with Energus’ nucleargraduates programme, which seeks to recruit and train a new generation of exceptional graduates. The scheme is funded by 12 leading organisations from across the industry and it is now regarded as an international exemplar in its field.
Fit for the future
The fact is that no business or sector can claim to be fully prepared for the future – the uncertainty is what makes the workplace so exciting and potentially so rewarding.
But just like you might take vitamins in the winter to shore yourself up against a cough or a cold, there are steps that can be taken to enable businesses to cope with bumps in the road or change course in response.
Training employees and investing in their development so that they themselves can be part of the solution is fundamental – and successful businesses well know it.
The Princess Royal Training awards give organisations the chance to demonstrate how investing in training has resulted in business benefits. The awards are now open, so to enter please visit: www.princessroyaltrainingawards.com
See City & Guilds Group at the Changeboard Future Talent Conference 2018