In the lead up to the general election I listened to a live radio show from Redcar, home of Corus and the focus of much media attention as the steel plant has wound down operations and made wholesale redundancies. As one of the largest employers in the region and one that has turned out generations of steel workers, the questions to the assembled politicians inevitably turned to their plans to generate jobs in the region.
Much talk focused on the development of green technologies and wind farms in particular, a strong area for potential jobs growth in years to come. However those who thought this would take the heat off the jobs argument were bought back to earth by the observation from one of the audience, 27 years a steel worker. In his view the undoubted skills he had acquired over 27 years were very specific to his industry. He couldn’t afford to wait 5 years for new industry to come to town, he needed a job now. He was fearful that he could not afford the time and money to re – train and anyway, “at his age”, nobody was going to employ him. His views were real, raw, frightening and very much held by the majority.
An article I read made me reflect on the impact technology is having on the workforce. I love innovation and had given much thought to the negative impact technology is having on employment opportunities. The example in this particular article was a PA with some 20 years of administrative expertise who had been out of work for the best part of a year with little prospect of anything on the horizon. The bosses that she had worked for over the years now arranged their own diaries, managed their own email, even typed their own correspondence! Administrative tasks are now managed automatically or outsourced. It’s not just those in “traditional” industries that are affected, it is all who are feeling the full force of the winds of change.
Whats the answer? Our SteelWorker is right, 5 years, let alone 5 months, is too long to wait for a new job. It’s not just about money, what about the massive social impact unemployment brings? Government must align itself with the needs of its people and its businesses, to engage, to ask what skills are needed to thrive and to deliver the education and training needed to secure employment. I mean real training, skills training, hands on experience. Something akin to traditional apprenticeships. Something that combines classroom theory with practical application.
The same can be said for employers. Moaning about skill shortages whilst cutting back on training budgets is not the answer. Engage with the communities in which you exist. HR, get involved with schools, colleges, training providers, anywhere where skills are being addressed to ensure that those skills are meeting the needs of employers. Recruiters, encourage employers to make attitude not experience the basis of hiring. Encourage employers to give people with the right attitude the skills and knowledge they need to succeed. This will have a significant impact on engagement, retention, performance and consequently the bottom line.
Life through rose-tinted specs? Its possible, but who is going to pay for it? The cost of giving people the right skills to get them back in the workplace and making a positive financial contribution to GDP far outweighs the cost to the public purse of paying unemployment benefit. In a downturn investment in training is a soft target. However in order to retain competitiveness we need to ensure training and equipping people with the relevent skills for not only tomorrow but today is top of the agenda for UK Plc.