Who owns the skills gap?

Written by
Chris Jones
City & Guilds Group

17 Apr 2019

17 Apr 2019 • by Chris Jones

Both businesses and individuals have a responsibility to change their mindsets and view learning as an ongoing, lifelong pursuit. City & Guilds Group chief executive Chris Jones answers some timely questions around workplace learning.

Is the UK workforce equipped to cope with ongoing technological and demographic change – plus Brexit?

The sheer speed of change is catching us all out. In our recent Learning Next research with YouGov, we asked 2,300 UK employees about their appetite to learn new skills and the support they are getting from their employers to do so. Even though the vast majority (81%) believe the skills they need to do their job will change over the next five years, a third said they did not learn any new workplace skills last year.

It’s no longer enough simply to rely on skills you picked up in education, or when entering the workplace. Recent labour market insights from Deloitte talked about the concept of your ‘skills shelf-life’ and how this is reducing thanks to technological change.

From the employer perspective, we know that skills gaps and shortages are a real worry, and Brexit will only compound this. When we conducted our People Power research with Censuswide last year, surveying 1,000 UK employers about their skills issues, 63% of respondents said they expect their skills gaps to stay the same or worsen, leading to higher operating costs and difficulties in meeting customer demand.

How can organisations upskill their employees in a VUCA environment, and what is HR’s role?

Employers must consider their entire workforce. All too often, training and development budgets are aimed at new entrants, but with more over 65s remaining in employment than ever before, older workers have a vital role to play in improving productivity and business performance.

Employers must also maintain an open dialogue with employees about their training and development needs. Less than half (46%) of all workers feel they are getting enough advice and support from their employer to develop vital work skills for the future.

Where HR teams can have real impact is in aligning training and development plans with business strategies and having a clear goal about the impact any training programme will have. You need to have an aim and a means of measuring its success.

Where are the key skills gaps in today’s workforce and who requires upskilling?

In our People Power research with employers across all industries, we found that the biggest skills shortfall is across manager and team-leader roles. This lack of leadership has a big impact on UK plc, as leaders have a vital role to play in maintaining productivity in a volatile environment.

ILM’s Leadership Lag research, among 2,000 UK employees and 500 employers, asked UK workers how their leaders made them feel; only 15% felt empowered, compared with a quarter who were made to feel stressed. Specialist technical skills are also lacking across many industries, and are the exact skills that need refreshing most often to keep pace with change.

When it comes to who requires upskilling, the answer for me has to be everyone. Both businesses and individuals have a responsibility to change their mindsets and see learning as a lifelong pursuit rather than a single intervention.

What form and frequency should training take in the 21st-century workplace?

People access information in a variety of ways and this should be mirrored in how training is delivered. Kineo, our workplace L&D brand, always starts from the premise that content must be interesting, relevant and easy to incorporate into your life.

It’s also important to mix up the types of learning people will encounter to suit different styles. In the Learning Next research, we found that people most often learn at work through informal on-the-job training, self-study and internal conferences and events, yet they also rated coaching and mentoring and formal qualifications highly when asked how they would prefer to learn.

The frequency of opportunities matters less than the impact these interventions have on the employee, and this, again, comes back to setting clear and measurable objectives for your learning and development.

What are the current barriers to learning new skills and how can organisations address them?

Unsurprisingly, our research showed that most people find it hard to take time away from work to learn new skills. More worrying was the second most popular response: a lack of employer investment in training and development.

Simply put, employers need to invest more. It’s shameful that UK employer investment in training is half that of the EU average, according to the Institute for Public Policy Research Skills 2030 report, and surely no coincidence that our productivity is also suffering.

What does ‘lifelong learning’ actually mean?

Lifelong learning is about a mindset shift from thinking that learning stops when we leave formal education towards a recognition that learning never stops. For individuals, it’s about recognising the need to keep learning; for employers, it’s about creating a culture of continuous learning across the entire workforce, while for policymakers, it’s championing skills and education for all.

Too many people are turned off education in childhood, and the HR community has a pivotal role to play in re-imagining learning for the 21st century, making it fun, accessible and valuable so that everyone can benefit, no matter what age or stage of their career they are at. Who owns the skills gap? We all do and we all need to work together to close it.

City & Guilds Group