28/10/2014

By Marc Zao-Sanders, Co-founder and Managing Director, Filtered


Of all the components on which a successful business depends, finding and developing motivated and capable staff is one of the most important. Businesses without adequate personnel struggle at every level, from boardroom strategy down to the quality of outbound emails, and all of this has an impact on the bottom line. Indeed, MPs from the Government’s business select committee recently called for an urgent awareness campaign to support the improvement of the basic reading, writing and maths skills of adults, because such skills gaps are increasingly common and undermining the economic performance of the country.

There have been many recent reports that indicate that hiring quality, skilled-up candidates is becoming increasingly difficult and expensive, so the option of training staff at the outset has become more attractive. For example, a report recently produced by the CBI in partnership with Pearson indicates that over half of companies (61%) are concerned about the resilience and self-management of candidates coming to them from school. A further report from the British Chambers of Commerce states that half of UK firms believe graduates lack communication skills and basic work experience.

As a result, almost half of the companies taking part in the CBI’s survey stated that they have now been forced to organise their own remedial training to tackle weaknesses in basic numeracy, literacy and IT for adult employees with more than a quarter running specific courses for school leavers.

With the nature of commerce moving so quickly, businesses in all industries are currently reporting issues relating to staff skill shortages. Ensuring staff remain skilled up throughout their careers is vital. However, while the responsibility for on-going training of employees is usually considered to be the responsibility of the employer, ensuring that new employees are adequately skilled before they start their first job has been the topic of some debate.

The introduction of curricula more closely aligned to the needs of a future workforce (such as IT coding clubs) is a good example of where this debate has resulted in positive action by educators towards closing this skills gap. But many believe schools and universities could be doing more to prepare students for the world of work, with businesses believing that the time and financial responsibility of training new staff should not sit with them.

The problem with this approach of course is that ultimately, it’s the business that will suffer from poorly trained staff. Having staff up and running as quickly as possible when they start employment is vital.

At the recent World of Learning 2014 conference, LV spoke about its need to immediately increase its number of customer services staff. As a result the company worked with its learning and development provider to ensure this is exactly what happened. To ensure efficiency, the companies worked together to identify exactly what those employees needed to know, and focussed training solely on these key elements. The tailored training programme meant new starters were able to begin speaking with customers after just three days (reduced from six weeks). Furthermore, this approach saw three-quarters of learning take place outside of the classroom environment, significantly reducing the associated costs and driving revenues as the new, larger, skilled-up workforce got back to work so much quicker.

Of course nothing beats on-the-job training for ensuring staff are working to the standard a business expects. This approach allows the business to train new employees to the ways it works, while plugging the gaps where skills are lacking. While universities and schools would do well to ensure students gain access to real work experience, as the LV example demonstrates, there are ways businesses can work smarter to ensure that the training of new employees doesn’t result in financial drain on the company and instead, deliver a more capable workforce at the speed the business demands.