According to the most recent Labour Force Survey by the Office for National Statistics, the amount of employees receiving job-related training in the UK has stagnated and, in many cases, decreased in the past two years. The figures are worse for men than for women with a drop of almost seven per cent among males aged 18 to 24 years old between 2013 and 2015.
But people continue to hail the benefits of in-job training and staff development.
Many cite their importance in keeping employees happy, motivated, and engaged. Upskilling can also help staff operate more efficiently with positive effects on an organisation’s productivity and output.
Robin Lockwood, managing director of not-for-profit engineering Group Training Association, Seta, also values cross-training a workforce.
“It’s important that, while someone is employed for one particular task, they know other job roles for sickness and holiday cover,” he explains.
But it’s not just in the engineering sector that training is important.
With technology advancing apace, there is an ongoing need for many employers to keep their workforce IT proficient.
Suzanne Slater, regional manager for the business and professional sector for the NECC, works with a number of North East companies that are looking to increase IT skills.
“We are often asked to go into a business and help with essential IT skills in using email, the internet and software products such as Word, Excel and Powerpoint,” she points out. “We’re also seeing more demand for IT security training as well as in social media.”
As Suzanne explains, benefits of such training can also have an impact on an employee’s personal life, too: “We had one lady who didn’t use a computer at all but we did some training with her and she went out and bought a tablet. The next time we saw her, she had done her first online shop and sent emails to friends and family down south.”
Indeed, many companies and organisations take staff development and training very seriously.
Mark Thompson, director of people and organisational development at Gateshead College, says: “We’ve developed an online performance management system called Aspire, which facilitates the identification of individual training and development needs, matches this into a succession planning strategy, and enables the college to analyse the data to produce effective learning and development plans at individual, team and organisational levels.”
With such compelling arguments for training and staff development, why aren’t these concepts being embraced more by companies and organisations?
One reason is that employers believe sending staff on courses will cost too much, whether in terms of cost of the training or in lost production.
Robin says: “There can be a danger of this if you send people on random courses. But if it’s part of a considered upskilling strategy, then you can ensure employers will get manifold payback on their investment.”
Another reason is that employers are concerned that by training people, you risk them leaving for another, better paid job.
“But what if you don’t train staff and they stay?” says Mark. “At Gateshead College, we would much rather invest in people and see them motivated and developing their skills while they are here, even if ultimately they leave us for bigger and better roles elsewhere. They will go as ambassadors for the college and we’ll have benefited from engaged and productive colleagues.”
Funding is one encouragement that will motivate employers into giving more training and staff development, and there continues to be announced various funding pots, such as the European Social Fund.
Robin also recommends companies having a “champion for skills within the organisation’.
He elaborates: “It doesn’t have to be a dedicated job but someone who feels passionate and strongly about skills building. It’ll help to create a skills and development culture.”
With the skills gap continuing to make headlines, perhaps it is important that more businesses – of all sizes and sectors – take on the responsibility of upskilling existing workforces.