By Sue Parr (pictured), Director of Apprenticeships and Part-time Programmes – WMG, University of Warwick
It is clear that the economic situation worldwide is unprecedentedly challenging and the recently released UK figures for June to August show a downward trajectory that reveals unemployment rates of 4.5%.
Many companies have previously spent a lot of time and money on trying to ensure that they recruit the right people with the right skills and attitudes for their business and having in place good retention strategies has also been a key feature of successful businesses. Unfortunately, in the past, recruitment and staff development have often been the two things that are seen as areas in which savings can instantly be made and are therefore often the first “casualties” of downturns. However, ensuring that you can attract and retain talent that will help the organisation survive and thrive has probably never been more important for businesses.
Although, of course, it is not possible to make predictions about what markets will look like in the future, certain changes are already evident. Overnight certain industries that seemed so solid have had their business models challenged. Traditional marketplaces have disappeared, and seeking new clients and new ways to engage with existing clients has become paramount. Many businesses are changing how and even what they do. They will need people who can see where the real value is within the business, be responsive to change and agile enough to manage themselves and teams through those changes.
Individual businesses will obviously have specific needs, but two general skills that feature in most surveys of skills shortages are the need for better management and better digital skills. Whether it is about the need for more efficient and advanced technology or better information extracted from multiple sources of data within a business – improved digital skills can help companies improve productivity or change and develop more competitive business models.
In the current climate, better use of data about customer behaviour and preferences that can help businesses reach their customers more effectively and make their communication with them more personal and targeted can be a key differentiator. An integration of data from different elements of the business can help many companies develop new business models or enter new markets.
There are fears that the current situation may bring a halt to staff development and in particular might have an adverse effect on the previously growing number of apprenticeship programmes. However, while companies still need to pay the wages of those that they take on to apprenticeship schemes, for many of these companies the education or training that apprentices receive can be paid for from the apprenticeship levy to which most business contribute.
A lot of companies have already taken advantage of degree apprenticeship programmes, finding that the combination of reskilling, immediate application of knowledge, workplace development and professional skills that apprenticeships provide lead to an ability to contribute to the business, whilst providing opportunities for apprentices to begin to develop their professional careers. The importance of developing these new skills has become less of a desirable approach and more of an essential requirement if businesses are to recover in the current climate.
It may be that it has never been more important for organisations to attract and retain talent to help them survive and thrive, particularly through training new entrants and reskilling existing workforces in alignment with the skills the individuals and businesses now need.