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Employers should work together to develop a skilled workforce

Several years ago I received a letter from my bank thanking me for signing up to their new online banking system. Did this mean, it asked, that I now wanted to be an online customer rather than phoning the call centre or visiting a branch?

Today such a question would be met with incredulity, but in the early days of e-commerce there was a widely held belief that individual customers would choose to interact with a service provider through a single, preferred channel.

We all know from our own behaviour as consumers that this isn’t what happened. Rather than sticking to a single, preferred channel we, the consumers, chose to use different channels at different times – often during a single transaction, creating today’s multi-channel commerce model.

Until now, the convenience afforded by this channel-hopping has proved to be immensely satisfying. But as more service providers – banks, retailers, local authorities and government departments – have embraced the multi-channel model the consumer has started to demand more than just convenience.

Now, we’re demanding what’s being called an ‘omni-channel’ commerce model. This takes the multi-channel model to the next level by integrating all the available channels – direct mail, catalogues and brochures, contact centres, online, mobile devices, face-to-face – into a single, personalised customer experience.

Creating this omni-channel experience is now a key focus for many in retail, and it’s spreading rapidly into other areas of the economy. But it made me wonder whether there’s a bigger picture here that risks being overlooked.

Imagine someone taking the bus to do a bit of old-fashioned shopping in some bricks-and-mortar stores, popping into McDonald’s (of course) for lunch, and ending the day with a visit to the cinema.

This individual’s overall experience will have been shaped not just by the omni-channel capabilities of the retailers they visit, but by a range of other factors: the bus journey by public transport; the upkeep of the shopping areas by the local authority; the ease of payment by financial services; the value of the lunch by the hospitality sector. And so on.

The supply chains driving these organisations are enormous, and it takes only one of the links to fail ?to dent the customer experience. A mildly disappointing shopping trip isn’t the end of the world, but I use this to highlight the complex network of interconnections on which each of our organisations relies to deliver the outcomes we set out to achieve.

So when we think about the skills we need to be developing in the workforce to achieve these outcomes, is limiting our thinking to just our own employees missing a trick? Shouldn’t we be taking an omni-channel approach where we engage with other employers to create a workforce with the breadth of skills that we all need?

To achieve this the Government has invested in industrial partnerships through the UK Commission for Employment and Skills. Large organisations have signed up, and so have universities, colleges, training providers, trade unions and other skills stakeholders.

For me, this represents the future of skills development in the UK, and I would encourage as many employers as possible to get involved. Perhaps one day the thought of conceiving a skills development strategy that focuses solely on the employees of a single organisation will seem as bizarre ?as asking someone whether ?they would like to interact ?with an organisation through a single channel.