Rarely a week goes by without a headline or story about a particular skills shortage, last week in the UK it was the film industry but you can add to that IT skills, freight drivers and even lawyers – heaven forbid. And whilst, like most of our news stories these days, there is an element of hyperbole and “story making”, there is also a common link. That is organisations’ collective inability to properly invest in future skills.
With the exception of an extreme event – pandemic, ash cloud, insurrection to name but a few – businesses would be deemed to be negligent if they failed to build resilience into their supply chain and as a result were unable to deliver their core product or service. Supermarket supply chains were such a big story exactly because we are so used to turning up in our local shop and finding everything that we have on our shopping list. The planning and thought that goes into the supply chain far outweighs anything that organisations commit to the workforce planning. And yet “people are [their] greatest asset”.
The abundance of routes into qualification now have never been better or of a higher standard. Add to that that organisations in the UK are already paying into the apprenticeship levy, it begs the question what stands in the way of better, more thoughtful planning and resilience in the workforce planning? When HR teams (in particular) talk about wanting to be more strategic and having more influence at the “top table”, then you have to ask why they aren’t championing this more successfully? How many really understand the broader skills horizon versus just hoping that their latest recruitment campaign or family friendly policy will solve their current issues?
Our job should not only be to meet the current needs, but to anticipate and protect the supply for the future. That means we need to understand not only future needs, but likely supply, the demographic and geographical challenges of our markets and look to build the interventions now that may not serve us, but will be gratefully received by those that follow. That’s the proper work, the strategic work that we want to do and yet, when there is the opportunity, too often fail to take up. But what if we did?
Anyone who has followed this blog for any period of time will know that I’m a massive proponent of technical education as a worthy alternative to traditional academic paths. Back in 1995 I was working as a lecturer in a Further Education college where I could see the energy and excitement that students had to vocational courses. Far from being the dumping ground of the formal education system, it was full of career minded young people who wanted to crack on.
The extension of the Higher Education system over the last two decades has fundamentally misunderstood both the desires of learners and the needs of business and the economy. At the heart of this is, I believe, an innate snobbery and superiority complex that led policy makers to believe that if every child did A-levels and went on to University it would be in the betterment of society and a high skilled society. This false belief is also why I’m also opposed to universal free higher education.
It is also why I’m delighted to see the development of T-Levels as an alternative academic route for 16-18 year olds in the UK. If you don’t know, the T-level is a technical alternative to the A-level and is a two-year college or school based qualification designed specifically around a technical profession. One of which will be HR, which I’m on the panel to help design the requirements.
One of the most challenging aspects of the T-level proposals is the 45 days work experience a student needs to undertake during their studies. If you think about it, it absolutely makes sense for employers that a young person has not only learnt the theory, but had a chance to see it applied in the workplace. But it requires employers to plan ahead for the application in 2020 and 2022 to make sure that the opportunities are available.
So my ask is this. If you’re an HR professional or business leader and you’re constantly talking about skills gaps and the lack of technical skills in the economy. Start to think ahead, explore the T-levels that are being developed, think about the opportunities that you could create, engage with local education providers and help to make this new route to qualification a success, not just in the HR field, but all the other areas that T-Levels will operate in.
As I’ve said so many times before, you can sit on your hands and complain about skills, education and development. Or you can step up and make change happen. The choice, and the resultant outcome, is yours.
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Most of us in our careers will move between jobs and employers. We will spend time in roles that we love and roles that we need to do. The ability to recognise which type of role you’re doing, and why, is critical to being both successful and happy.
You’ll do “a job” for a number of different reasons. It might be necessity – needing to pay the bills put food on the table. It might be development – learning a new skill, getting sector or management experience. Or it might be more personal – the need to stretch or push yourself out of your comfort zone.
Doing a job is fine. It gets you where you need to be at the time that you need to be there, it provides a means to an end – as long as you know the end that you’re after. It only becomes a problem when you forget and confuse it with being “the job” and then it seems to lack something else.
By this I don’t mean that there is one perfect ideal role for all of us. For some that may be the case, for others there will be more than one. It really depends on your career, your drive and your desire. And of course, “the job” may not be a constant state over time – things change.
Working in “the job” has a higher level of fulfilment, it meets your needs on more than a functional level. It could be the people who you’re working with, the fit between your work and home. It might be the ability to do things that you’ve always wanted to do, or work in an industry that you’ve always wanted to be in.
When we look back over our careers, I bet we can all differentiate between the two. Sometimes it is harder to do so in the moment. So if you’re feeling downbeat or ill at ease with your current employment situation, ask yourself – is this a means to an end, or an end in itself? If you can be clear where you’re at, why you’re there and where you’re going next, the whole thing becomes a lot more tenable and clear.
The connection between self belief and outcomes can be one of the most powerful drivers of performance. When an individual or team truly believe in something, they can often deliver results greater than the sum of the parts. That’s why we often seen teams deliver incredible, unexpected outcomes – “against the odds”.
At the same time, the connection can also be one of the biggest inhibitors when we fail to see or listen to the feedback that surrounds us. Not all of our efforts will bear fruit and the ability to realise this, see where we are falling short or can improve and recorrect is critical.
That’s one the beautiful things about creating a team that operates as an open system. Open systems listen to the feedback in the external environment and respond and develop accordingly. They are, to some extents, the epitome of selfless, ego less organisations. It doesn’t mean that there isn’t the need for process or procedure, but that these are constantly developing in relation to the external environment in which they operate.
In the book “Black Box Thinking”, Matthew Syed gives a number of examples of open systems, but the one that struck me the most was the airline industry, where feedback and information is shared across companies and used to deliver improvements industry wide on all aspects of safety. When someone shares something they’ve learnt because of an incident or a near miss, you don’t hear anyone respond, “but that’s not how we do things here” or “we’ve always done it that way”, they listen and learn.
It begs the question, in our organisations how much do we really listen to the feedback that is around us and how willing are we to adapt and respond as a result? Too often we talk about the reasons why things are as they are, or why they’re too hard to change. But wouldn’t a more engaging, energetic and profitable way be to listen and address?
If we see the work that we do it and the way that we do it as an ongoing journey of improvement rather than a fixed deliverable, we can use the feedback that we hear and see as a positive means of continuing on that journey, rather than as a means to critique what we’ve just done. And from that, we will only ever see better results for everyone involved.