Skills: Why an adaptable and flexible workforce is essential for 2014

May 13, 2014 3:52 pm

Back in 2006 the Leitch Review found that the UK had to improve skills at all levels if it was to get to grips with productivity and become a world leader in skills by 2020. With the UK coming out of recession, the demand for flexible, adaptable and skilled workers has never been greater.

IBM’s Global Human Capital Study* identified the critical steps needed to develop an adaptable workforce. These are steps you could take as a business to help ‘future-proof’ your most important asset – your workforce.

Look to predict future skills as best you can

If you can successfully anticipate future business trends you can identify what competencies you need to target in advance of the market shift. This step is easier said than done, with only 13 per cent of the study’s interviewed businesses believing they had a clear understanding of the skills they needed for the next three to five years.

Make sure you read. Subscribe to thought-leaders’ blogs or media in your field and get a feel for where your industry is heading next. The onus is on you to know what the near future holds so that you can stay one step ahead of the competition, and ensure you’re able to deal with market shifts. Workers with so-called ‘transferable skills’ – where they can work across related disciplines – are increasing demand. This blog describes the four essential pillars on which to build your future workforce.

Make sure you know how to find the experts

The IBM study highlighted that being able to find the experts was another critical factor, and again one that few of those businesses asked were comfortable with. The single biggest method of finding skilled people (50 per cent) was through directories. Using recruitment agencies can assist as long as they are briefed correctly.

There is plenty of merit to locating close to the workforce you need. Many areas of the UK have labour pools that tend to have specific skills. This can be from legacy industries (engineering, mining for example) or as a result of industry sector clusters that may have grown up around big businesses and specific supply chains. Government intervention and economic programmes can lead to expertise pooling in some areas. When looking at location, do your research to understand the local economic environment and explore if skills you require are likely to be available there.

Foster collaboration and ‘skill-sharing’ across the business

It makes sense to get people doing the jobs they’re best at. But carrying this out exclusively and restricting people in ‘silos’ can lead to a lack of innovation. The study maintained that less than one in 10 companies believe they are very effective in fostering collaboration across the enterprise. Time pressures and misaligned performance measures were most to blame, as was the physical aspect of the organisation. More open plan offices and communal areas can help but there needs to be direction from the top of the organisation.

Embrace flexible working practices for a better workforce

Research by the Recruitment and Employment Confederation (REC) claims the benefits of flexible working extend beyond the typical focus on working parents. According to the REC**, companies more responsive to fluctuations in demand, ‘weathered the downturn best and are returning to growth the quickest’.

That conclusion is backed up by the CBI which found 83 per cent of employers believe the UK’s flexible labour market helped reduce job losses during the downturn. REC also maintains that employees on flexible work tend to be more productive and satisfied with their jobs, show better attendance rates and are more likely to stay. They also believe that workers on flexible time or contracts are less likely to have disciplinary issues.

* IBM’s Global Human Capital Study

** REC Flexible Working

What steps are you taking to ‘future-proof’ your workforce? Have you got a good idea where your industry will be in five years’ time? What impact does location have on the availability of skilled workers?

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