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Updating workers' skills is more important than ever to remain competitive

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Unemployment figures are at an all time high and announcements during the Comprehensive Spending Review (CSR), including half a million public sector posts to be axed, suggest that joblessness is to inflate further. This means that competition for jobs will become even stiffer. Changes to welfare benefits will mean that many parents will be forced to look for work. Many school leavers will have been unable to get into university and rising tuition fees may have put some off. All of this will result in increased talent on the market for employers to sift through when filling vacancies.

However, the jobs market still remains fragile and many businesses are still too scared to move for fear of a double dip. Increases to the retirement age and the scrapping of the default retirement age also means that people will be in jobs for longer than originally anticipated.

As a result, businesses will need to take a very considered approach when it comes to managing talent in the future. First, if people are staying in a company, make sure they are being used to the best of their ability. Some may be hanging on until something better comes along, or waiting until they are ready to retire, but sparking passion and enthusiasm for their jobs may unleash a new life. This will mean reassessing their skills and capabilities and understanding what their future goals are.

Many businesses changed dramatically during the recession to meet market needs, and a lot may be unrecognisable compared with three years ago. So talent should reflect these changes and be a part of the future.

An outcome of the CSR that is worrying many private businesses is the suggestion that they will have to pick up redundant public-sector workers. Failing to do so may result in a double dip due to unemployment and lack of skills. Businesses have proven to be flexible in the past, particularly during the recession, but boundaries need to continue to be pushed in the future – whether hiring, upskilling a public-sector worker or helping a college leaver gain some business experience. 

We live in an age where people don’t stick to one career or one sector, so businesses must learn to quickly accommodate those with diverse backgrounds and experiences and train them to the standards needed. This is why organisations need to assess, with precision, what skills they need to be profitable and competitive to survive in an ever-changing work environment.

One area that businesses typically overlook when considering how to upskill staff is vocational training – which is surprising considering that training is done while on the job (as opposed to off-site). Very often it is more cost-effective, relevant and of immediate use – much more so than academic study. For example, 12 people in a classroom being taught theoretical material will need time to decide how best to apply that learning to the workplace and then more time to put it into practice.

New recruits aren’t sent off-site to learn on their first day, so why change the formula for other skills training in the business? Vocational programmes, such as apprenticeships, attract a government subsidy and can be used for all age ranges.

The next few years will be a challenging time for both the public and private sectors, but in order to survive it is crucial they work together to drag the economy out of billions of pounds of deficit. This can only be done if businesses take on the responsibility to train and upskill staff – regardless of sector or current ability.

Ian Harper is CEO, ATG Training