The Open University (OU) recently hosted a webinar called How to beat the skills shortage. The webinar discussed the UK’s skills landscape, in the context of the findings of the 2022 Business Barometer report, which was produced by the OU in conjunction with The British Chambers of Commerce (BCC).
Sonia Sodha, Chief Lead Writer and Columnist at The Observer, facilitated the panel discussion. Joining her on the panel were Ettie McCormack, Learning and Performance Consultant at STEP Forward Solutions, Phil Kenmore, Director of Corporate Development and Partnerships at the OU and Jane Gratton, Head of People Policy at the BCC.
The Business Barometer report, now in its sixth year, identifies the key workforce and skills issues facing UK organisations. This year’s report found that over two-thirds of SMEs are currently experiencing skills shortages, with larger organisations faring even worse - 86% of large organisations are reporting skills gaps. Manufacturing, the public and third sectors are particularly hard hit.
After discussing the key findings from the report, the webinar then outlined a three-pronged, strategic approach to addressing skills shortages: plan, train and consult.
Effective planning is the first step to overcoming skills problems. Ettie said organisations need to take a proactive approach to skills development and workforce planning, rather than chasing a limited pool of talent and skills and getting into bidding wars with other recruiters. She would like to see businesses optimise the talent they already have, enabling them to build a workforce for tomorrow. This requires a forward-thinking focus on long-term capability needs.
Organisational capability is what drives organisations forward.
So when you’re planning your capability, it means you are addressing the skills that you need in order to realise strategic plans.Ettie McCormack
Learning and Performance Consultant, STEP Forward Solutions
In part two of the webinar – the role of training – Phil started by talking about employers’ attitudes towards training, based on the findings of the Business Barometer report. The survey found that in order to address current skills shortages, many organisations plan to invest more in training next year. Roughly half of the large organisations polled expect to increase their training spend, dropping down to 43% for SMEs.
The Business Barometer also found that 90% of large organisations have carried out an audit and review of skills and formulated written plans, such as how they are going to meet their skills needs. Recruitment is a quick fix for a lot of employers, but this is an expensive way to address skills needs, particularly with regards to skills that are in short supply, such as digital, technology, leadership and management. Phil explained it’s vital that organisations, large and small, take a long-term strategic approach to skills and training, rather than just reacting to short-term demand by buying in skills on a demand basis.
By taking a long-term approach and building an internal talent pipeline, organisations are taking a more sustainable, strategic approach to skills planning. “It’s the longer term addressing of skills gaps that will actually drive growth in the future,” he says.
Phil went on to talk about some of the training partnerships the OU has with organisations, such as the NHS, Uber, Amazon and North Yorkshire Police. The NHS, for example, has used the Apprenticeship Levy to great effect to target specific skills gaps, such as partnering with the OU to co-design and co-deliver nursing apprenticeships.
Consultation is also key, as Jane discussed in the third part of the webinar. Jane explained it’s critical that businesses connect with each other and tap into the expertise of institutions such as the BCC, or get involved in their Local Skills Improvement Plans in England.
It’s about sharing best practice, making connections, trading locally, internationally, finding a mentor, finding partners to collaborate with and grow and make new opportunities.Jane Gratton
Head of People Policy, The British Chambers of Commerce
Jane encourages businesses to tackle local skills needs together and to invest in skills development. She also talked about the benefit of short, flexible courses such as microcredentials.
All three panelists agreed that training and development is key to addressing the burgeoning skills crisis. And that in the current economic climate, organisations of all sizes need to be creative and very specific in how they meet their skills needs.