Investing in our next generation workforce to avoid a skills gap shortfall

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Written by Armin Hopp on 29 October 2014

I was encouraged to read that employment in the UK is looking up this quarter and that people are feeling more positive about their job security and prospects. In fact, the proportion of UK residents in employment has returned to pre-recession levels, with jobs growth in London up by 2.3 per cent since 2008. When taking a closer look at the situation, however, we’ll see that wages on the whole have dropped, and that many candidates have had to take on part-time work when they would have preferred a full-time position. Furthermore, a lot of companies seem to be cutting down on entry-level jobs and expecting their new hires to come into a new job with plenty of experience and the ability to get results from day one. This makes it particularly difficult for new graduates with little work experience, who are hoping for a company to train them up during their few years.

Where have all the skills gone?

A recent CBI report showed that almost 60 per cent of UK businesses worry that they won’t have enough skilled employees to meet their future needs. For example, around 90,000 new engineers are required each year, but the Institute of Engineering and Technology found that 60 per cent of its members feel their business is threatened by a shortage of engineering professionals.

Another issue is our ageing workforce, which makes it difficult for businesses to find employees to fill entry level vacancies. According to the Office for National Statistics, the number of people aged 60 and above in the UK is expected to increase by 13 per cent by 2020.

In Germany, my home country, organisations are facing a similar challenge, with skills demand exceeding supply. Around a fifth of Germany-based organisations are now trying to deal with the skills shortage by retraining current employees in-house to carry out tasks for positions they cannot currently fill. More than a tenth are taking on people who don’t necessarily tick all the boxes in the job description, but offer them additional learning and development programmes on the job.

Sourcing from overseas

For UK-based organisations, one way out of the situation is to seek alternatives from other countries. Many are now looking beyond UK borders to find fresh talent. According to The Guardian, graduates from the EU are becoming an increasingly attractive option for local employers. On average, they are older, more skilled and more experienced than UK graduates, says a CIPD report, and therefore more employable than a lot of UK graduates.

A further factor which I consider vital is the level of language skills these EU graduates bring to the country. In the increasingly globalised business world, the ability to speak a second or even third language on top of English is a huge competitive advantage. As we all know, Britons tend to lag behind when it comes to speaking a foreign language, making it difficult to compete for a position in a multinational company, be it in the UK or mainland Europe.

Pushing forward

As we approach the New Year, it’s time to start thinking about how to address the skills shortage in a sustainable yet cost-effective way. If skills in the market are scarce, new hires will have to learn within the company once they’re on board. For this, learning needs to become part of our corporate culture, which, in turn, is often complex and expensive. Early results from the annual Speexx Exchange 2014 Survey have shown that a third HR and L&D managers are now turning towards corporate MOOCs to train their workforce. 34 per cent already offer some form of MOOCs to their employees and a further 32 per cent plan to introduce them by 2016. The remaining respondents (34 per cent) are not planning any Corporate MOOC initiatives in the foreseeable future. Millennials, who are tech-savvy and will make up 50 per cent of the global workforce by 2020, are more likely to be able to work with this type of tool independently, at a cost much lower than traditional training.

Nevertheless, we need to keep our staff engaged by communicating corporate changes and strategies clearly and effectively – this goes for learning and development strategies, too. Otherwise, we risk making our employees feeling like interchangeable numbers, which will eventually cause them to look for opportunities elsewhere. The human factor, such as regular contact with a trainer or coach can make all the difference. What it comes down to is empowering our learners to take control of their own skills development, but still offering regular motivation and guidance by an expert trainer. HR and L&D Managers play an equally important role in supporting learners and staying up to date with their progress and results. Only with consistent communication and engagement will workers feel motivated to acquire the skills they need to help make their company thrive.

Armin Hopp is the founder and president of Speexx


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