• Barnett Waddingham
    Barnett Waddingham
  • GUEST BLOG: New skills for new workplaces

    By Justin Rix, Partner, Tax at Grant Thornton

    It’s hard to imagine a time when businesses, employees and everyone else looked ahead with such a mix of enthusiasm and uncertainty.

    Automation, AI and the soon-to-be ubiquitous Internet of Things are opening up a whole realm of possibility for how we will live and work in the future.

    What we do know is that the successful businesses will be those who harness technology and innovate to stay ahead, some high-profile examples include Dyson and Arm Holdings.

    The workplace of the future needs people who have specialist technical skills to develop and manage technologies that help business function. It also needs people to do the things that machines can’t such as think creatively, show empathy, work as part of a team and adapt quickly to change.

    So far, so obvious. But how do people keep up in this fast-changing environment? Agility and collaboration have emerged as the hallmarks of successful business cultures. And skills like the ability to work with diverse people from different backgrounds are key to that. A report by fast food brand McDonald’s identified that skills such as team work and communication are worth £88 billion in total added value to the UK economy1.

    Agile mind, adaptable skills

    However, agile organisations need agile people. The job landscape is fast moving, it’s difficult to predict what roles, and skills will be needed even in the medium term. Before 2008, when Apple first launched its Appstore, there was no such thing as an app developer. A recent study by the World Economic Forum also highlights this fact, noting that many jobs – such as sustainability manager, big data analyst and drone operator – didn’t exist ten years ago.

    People must take responsibility for keeping their skills and knowledge up to date, which requires an open and flexible approach to learning. And with 88% of high-growth businesses expecting an increase in competition for talent in the next year, there are also clear benefits for employers in supporting them2. Skills areas which UK employers offer formal and informal training is still largely focused on technical and professional skills at 57%, but there is a clear increase in tech-proof skills training such as collaboration and teamwork at 41%3.

    The role of business

    There are big benefits for those organisations which ensure their own employees meet their skills needs, rather than having to constantly recruit experienced hires. As old roles disappear and new roles are created, retraining the existing workforce will be crucial to meeting these new skills needs. Otherwise organisations risk incurring significant costs in restructuring, disruption to the business, poor morale and being dependent on the recruitment of expensive new talent.

    Across industries, we have seen innovative approaches to this:

    • Reverse mentoring – where a senior member of staff is paired with a junior member so they can learn about the latest technology updates – is increasingly popular
    • Informal methods – there’s a growing appetite for more flexible methods with the one-day, one-off training seminar diminishing in popularity in favour of approaches like allowing staff to take 15 minutes to watch a YouTube tutorial
    • Job rotations – or short-term secondments, either within the organisation or with customers and suppliers is seen as a great way to develop people and give them invaluable hands-on experience, not to mention the associated benefits to the business of strengthening its relationships with its customers and supply chain

    The key thing is giving people the time and opportunity to develop.

    Hands-on experience is really important and it’s incumbent on business to provide what schools and colleges cannot through, for example work experience programmes and paid internships. One goal I would like to see realised in this field is the government’s objective of training three million young people between 2015 and 2020, which is only achievable through proactivity on the part of the business community.

    The sticking power of apprenticeships

    More traditional routes, such as apprenticeships also have a part to play. And now the Apprenticeship Levy represents an untapped opportunity in the battle for talent. There is a common misconception that apprenticeships are the sole domain of school leavers coming into blue-collar trades, but this is not the case. Apprentices can be of any age and there are no restrictions, the opportunities also now go all the way up to Level 7 qualifications (equivalent to a masters degree) and can include recognised degree and masters programmes and professional qualifications.

    This provides an opportunity to retrain someone, moving them from a redundant role to fill a new skill gap; or for example to develop the next generation of the organisation’s leadership team.

    Professional diversity

    Diversity has long been recognised as important for driving innovation. Attracting and developing talent from diverse backgrounds has commercial value for this reason. We need to make sure not only that people refresh their skillsets, but that more people have access to skills development and training. 

    Creating a futureproof, diverse workforce is not only good for business, it’s an urgent and ongoing priority for the future. A McKinsey report found that firms in the top quartile for gender diversity are 15% more likely to outperform firms in the bottom quartile for gender diversity4. The same trend applied to ethnic diversity, where those in the top quartile were 35% more likely to perform better

    Optimising the use of the Apprenticeship Levy for all employees in an organisation, together with initiatives like throwing out the requirement for minimum academic grades and replacing them with more sophisticated assessments based on overall competencies and potential (something we’ve fully adopted at Grant Thornton) will quickly increase the diversity of people coming into organisations across the country.

    Speak to one of our team today on +44 (0)20 7728 3344 or email apprenticeships@uk.gt.com to learn how we can support your business to attract, develop and retain your top talent.

    You can also visit our website to find out more.  


    1. McDonalds – Backing of soft skills
    2. People power report
    3. Recruitment & Employment Confederation (REC) – UK employers face growing candidate shortages in 2017
    4. Why Diversity Matters, McKinsey, 2015


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