Almost three quarters of business leaders are expecting a skills crisis to hit the UK within the next three years, according to a recent survey by the Princes Trust. While industries like engineering and digital technologies are at the sharp end, a resurgent economy means that most sectors are seeing demand outweigh supply in resourcing.
It’s a worrying picture for any developing business and we can’t rely on Government alone to rectify the situation. Industry must play a part and as an entrepreneur it is up to you to take active steps to protect your own growing business from being hindered by a shortage of fully qualified people in the job market.
At Aquila Insight we have first hand experience of tackling the skills problem. We have expanded from two to 45 staff in three years but finding data scientists with the right mix of technical, analytical and personal skills hasn’t always been easy. As we grow, ensuring we can keep up with business demand is vital so recruitment and staffing is often top of the agenda.
Ongoing staff training
Thankfully, ongoing training and staff development go a long way in addressing gaps that open up on your team. And it doesn’t have to cost a fortune in training fees, either. Using internal resources and tapping in to experience you have on your team can make a huge difference for the trainee and the business.
Giving an employee the space and means to grow and develop within the organisation is also likely to boost morale, instil loyalty and impart your company values.
Most professionals agree that training is central to the ongoing success of high performing organisations. However this training has to be right. We all remember our best teachers; when it’s good you leave feeling energised, enthused and excited about putting your new learning in place.
But when it’s poor, you sit in a room worrying about the ever-increasing number of emails building up in your inbox or trying to create a plausible excuse for leaving early.
So far, so good in theory but where should your management team start when putting this into practice?
First off, remind your staff that you encourage ongoing development and will support them. Most businesses, large or small, will have some kind of development principle as one of their brand pillars. And be clear that it’s not just technical skills that matter. In many cases, it is the soft skills like the ability to build good relationships with clients that need to be enhanced.
In most businesses there will be that person (or people) who can present well, manage clients flawlessly, draft and publish on social media, represent the company at conferences, and run workshops.
Practice makes perfect
These skills don’t always come as second nature but they can be taught and with practice people will improve. Most businesses will have these mentors in-house and will generally find them keen to pass on their experience and expertise.
Whatever the size or type of business, you will almost certainly have experts in your industry on site. They come in many guises – sales people, consultants or account managers, for example – and these individuals often like to be listened to.
Take full advantage of their willingness to share their knowledge and allow them to contribute to your own training curriculum. From their perspective they raise awareness of their respective skills, products or services. The benefit to the organisation is that you have a team of unpaid trainers who can develop your team’s knowledge base.
If you are worried about poor practice being passed on between team members it may be worth hiring an external trainer for a fresh perspective. Your industry body is a good place to start as these organisations will have a development and training directive and often support CPD.
Businesses of all sizes and their employees, and indeed the self-employed, should make full use of the assets they have on offer. All manner of training and development materials, ranging from web-based learning and presentations to blogs and industry articles, are readily available to members and sometimes free to non-members too. Businesses need to recognise that allowing their employees time to research their sector will benefit both the company and the individual in building up expertise and best practice.
And if you’re reading this as an employee rather than a manager, remember that you can make a difference too. Don’t be discouraged if your workplace doesn’t have staff development as a core value. If there isn’t a training programme in place then take it upon yourself to suggest one.
If there simply isn’t the budget to kick one off internally then see what’s out there for free. Having a highly skilled workforce is one of the key tenets of a top-performing organisation and it pays dividends to get involved.
Matt is General Manager of data analytics company Aquila Insight’s London office. He is also a member of the Institute of Direct Marketing’s curriculum committee.
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