An army of office workers brings economic growth

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The make up of the UK workforce is fundamentally different to that of 60 years ago. White collar roles dominate the marketplace, and there is strong evidence these workers are responsible for bringing the UK out of the economic slump.

Despite a strong political focus on technical, manufacturing and construction initiatives over the past five years, with funding and tax breaks for these industries dominating the outcomes of the Budget and the Autumn Statement, it would seem that placing greater emphasis on supporting office-based staff is now just as important, if not more so.

The latest figures from the Office for National Statistics show that growth in skilled trade industries has slowed since the onset of the recession in 2008, despite a perception that these industries are the heroes of the recovery. Instead, white collar workers carrying out what some might consider as the mundane roles in business – from administration to HR, IT, operations, sales and marketing – are actually the quiet army driving the economy forward. The services sector is now 2.9% bigger than back in 2008, and services alone make up a massive 80% of UK GDP. 

Perhaps unsurprisingly, this broad section of society also works extremely hard, with reports suggesting that professionals in the service sector are now working much longer hours than they were just two years ago. Figures indicate that 82% of service-based professionals worked 40 hours or more per week in 2013, up from 68% in 2011, with nearly a third working more than 50 hours a week. This represents a huge investment by employees in their professional lives and one that has been reflected in the impact on the economy. 

But is this increased effort understood and appreciated by employers? As office workers increasingly become the powerhouse of the UK economy, it’s in employers’ interests to support and equip them with the skills they need to maintain and increase this momentum.

This is largely a numbers game. In the UK alone, 20 million workers spend hours each day on the unglamorous essentials of office work: spreadsheets, word processing, presentations, project management, research and so on. So it’s getting this kind of training right that will bring us the biggest bang for our buck.

As technology advances and ways of working change, being able to increase ROI through an appropriately skilled and engaged workforce will have a significant impact on productivity. Of course, not everyone’s learning needs are the same and training provision should be differentiated accordingly, and tailored to individuals where possible.

The services sector and knowledge workers in particular have proven themselves to be the unsung heroes of the UK’s economic recovery. Investing in sensibly-chosen, efficient training, support and initiatives to boost business growth is a sensible move, both through business practice as well as government policy.

For businesses, the benefits include: optimising the talent of its workforce; focusing training on relevant, pressing skills gaps; reducing the drain on business resources; and ultimately maximising ROI. For the government and the country, the benefit of such shrewdness may just be long-term economic stability.

Marc Zao-Sanders is co-founder and managing director of training and course provider Filtered

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