Tag Archives: skills

National Service the answer to skill shortages?

An article in yesterdays Daily Telegraphy (www.telegraph.co.uk) by Richard Tyler got me thinking, is bringing back National Service the answer to skill shortages and high unemployment amongst young people, young men in particular?

Compulsory National Service was abolished long before I was born and therefore I cannot speak from experience as to its value.  There were however a number of things in the report that struck me as a possible solution to many of the problems employers and the unemployed are facing.

The article was entitled “Employers Benefit from Afghan Tours”.  In it, Richard Tyler highlighted a recent report from the Ministry of Defence that was endorsed by the Chartered Management Institute.  The report found that reservists “deployed to Afghanistan gain up to £18,432 of relevant civvy street experience”.

Dig deeper and the report evidences “during a typical year, a reservist gained skills from military training that would cost £8,327 for their civilian employers to buy”.  It is estimated that “10% of the experience of deployment in Afghanistan was relevant to employers”.

There has been much talk recently of the challenges facing young men in particular as the largest percentage of the population out of work.  Employers talk regularly of young people leaving education and lacking many of the basic skills employers require.  We have in the region of 270 graduates applying for every graduate training position.  Many will be disappointed yet clearly have much to offer.  Could a stint in the military be the answer?

The purpose of this post is not to debate the rights and wrongs of the war in Afghanistan.  However there is much the military can offer young people in terms of equipping them with the skills they need in the workplace.  Discipline, teamwork, focus, commitment, responsibility, accountability, leadership, structure, application, communication, clarity, purpose.  These are all words we recognise as essential workplace attributes for a succesful career, but in many cases employers evidence that these are not qualities evidenced in abundance from the employees of the future.  Education it would appear in this regard is letting employers down.  Could a stint on the parade ground be the answer?

A quote from Richard Tyler’s article from Corporal Kelvin Roberts, a Reservist who has just completed a tour of Afghanistan and an employee of Bank of America gives further insight in to just what this might mean for employers;

“I feel I really developed as a person in Afghanistan, I gained experience that has definitely helped me since I returned to work”.  “I’ve learnt how to better manage a team and delegate tasks.  I am more confident and have a greater sense of my own leadership abilities”.

Could any employer confidently predict similar feedback and return from a training course, not matter how effective?  Corporal Roberts experience is something that is firmly engrained in him and I have no doubt such experience and qualities will serve him well in his career.  Should employers and governments be looking to the military as a great way of developing skills amongst our young men and women?

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Filed under Careers, Employee Engagement, Hiring, Job Creation, Talent

Cause for optimism

Statistics can be interpreted as we would wish them to be read, in particular if the person commissioning the report has a vested interest in the outcome.  Cynicism aside (and I am something of a glass half full kind of person) I was encouraged by the optimism (albeit cautious) evidenced by a recent survey from CareerBuilder.co.uk.  For some time I have sensed that we have been in pre-election limbo whereby nothing at all seemed to be happening, not only in terms of hiring but generally in terms of business investment.   However the CareerBuilder survey suggests that an improving global economy has seen an unexpected upturn in the hiring plans of UK Private Sector employers.

By no means does this survey evidence a return to boom from bust.  39% of UK employers reported they plan to hire full-time workers in the next 12 months.  26% plan to add part-time workers whilst 21% expect to employ contract or temporary workers.  Another significant finding from the survey, despite unemployment at its highest level in over 14 years, 28% of companies surveyed reported having vacancies for which they cannot source suitably qualified talent.  62% believe there is a national skills shortage and experience tells us the gap between Employers needs and candidates skills is widening.  This can only be resolved by increasing investment in training and changing the recruitment decision away from experience to focus on attitude, the focus of many a posting on this blog.

So where are the jobs coming?  Unsurprisingly this survey highlights companies moving away from cost cutting to focus on those areas most closely associated with revenue growth first.  Typically Sales (46% of those surveyed who expressed an intent to hire expect to hire in sales in the next 12 months).  Next comes Customer Service, IT, Administration, Accounting and Marketing.

Employment is known to be a lagging indicator.  Unemployment will continue to rise even as the economy returns to growth.  Nobody is whooping and hollering over these numbers and I certainly doubt we will see anything other than at best a slow and steady climb out of the depths for employment in the private sector in the next 12 months.  The picture in the public sector remains uncertain, perhaps the only certainty is the inevitability of job cuts.  If private sector employers can open their eyes and rid themselves of industry bias, perhaps those leaving the public sector can fill that gap in the labour market the private sector knows exists?

For more information on this report visit http://www.CareerBuilder.co.uk

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Jobs needed now, we cant afford to wait.

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.

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The lost generation.

The future of UK PLC remains in the hands of our stars of tomorrow. Today’s Graduates are tomorrows business leaders. The transition from University to the workplace has never been easy but in recent times has it ever been harder?

We are starting to see some evidence of an improvement in the number of opportunities for job seeking graduates. The research company High Fliers have suggested that graduate vacancies will rise by 12% this year, after falling 18% in 2009.

Competition is, however, fierce. PricewaterhouseCoopers is the biggest private sector graduate recruiter. In 2009 they received nearly 20,000 applications for 1000 places, an increase of more than 50%. This year they expect this number to rise yet further, having already received 6,000 applications by November.

How does a Graduate get ahead in the face of such fierce competition? Work experience is a huge positive in the job seekers favour. For those Graduates who couldn’t afford an Internship or any form of unpaid work experience, temporary work has historically presented a great opportunity to realise that gap on the CV. However, that opportunity could soon be taken away by the Agency Workers Directive.

I fully support the intentions behind the legislation, to ensure equality of benefits in the workplace for temporary and permanent employees. However, in practice the administrative burden and additional cost this places on employers ( suggested £1 billion pounds ) removes the benefit of employing temporary staff.

Ironically this cost is likely borne by the very people the legislation is supposed to  protect.  Temporary staff will suffer lower pay rates (traditionally temporary staff have enjoyed a higher hourly rate than their permanent equivalents) or businesses will simply decide the cost of employing temporary staff is too high. Existing permanent employees will work longer hours, increasing stress, chances of burn out, reductions in employee engagement and productivity at a time when UK PLC needs to enhance such issues to the full.

Historically one of the great strengths of the UK economy has been its flexible labour market. To deny the economy the flexibility it needs is at best irresponsible. We need to encourage innovation, job creation, flexibility and opportunity. None of our economic policies are addressing this.

Temporary work is a great opportunity to really test yourself in the workplace, unearth skills you didn’t know you had or even decide what you don’t want to do.

Through no fault of their own we are developing talented, educated, hungry and ambitious yet ultimately disaffected young people. Give flexibility back to employers and let them create opportunity. Big Government does nothing to improve job opportunities for future generations.

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Cut business taxes, encourage entrepreneurs and business investment, create jobs and wealth, increase the tax take and hey presto a recovery!

If only it were really that simple!  I am a glass half full kind of guy, one who believes that the good will eventually rise to the top.  However I am concerned that there is the very real risk of a “jobless” recovery, or at least another 12 months before we will see any semblance of growth in the jobs market. Despite marginally improving economic conditions, in my experience employers are incredibly cautious about making external hiring decisions, preferring to look at the internal resource first. I suspect that as conditions improve we will see the inevitable rise in temporary and interim opportunities are employers remain reluctant to commit to permanent hires.

I am also concerned that whilst corporates show some signs of a return to stability, SME’s, the lifeblood of the economy, are still finding credit conditions such that it is virtually impossible to secure funding for growth. We also have the looming spectre of HMRC calling in the billions of pounds outstanding in PAYE and VAT under time to pay arrangements. This has proved a lifeline for many, plugging the funding gap that banks traditionally would have funded. However for some businesses this scheme has delayed the inevitable and I am concerned we will have a swathe of insolvency in the first quarter of next year as HMRC turns up the heat to improve cash in the public purse.

We also have a government, regardless of political persuasion, that must make cuts in the overbloated public sector whilst minimising the impact on front line services.  This I am afraid will clearly impact on jobs.  In order that we have a robust recovery, we must invest in education and innovation and reduce business taxation and the regulatory burden on businesses.

Research proves that cutting business taxes to encourage entrepreneurship and investment creates wealth through creating jobs.  This of course increases the amount of tax going back in to the public purse and as a result investment in public services.  All of which are critical to ensure we drive down unemployment, get great people back in the workplace and give the economy a robust platform for future growth.  This needs to happen fast.  On reflection, it really does seem that simple!

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Stand out from the crowd in tough times – stick your hand up and volunteer

I gave a presentation recently to a group of Accounting Students. Just coming to the end of their studies, they were full of hope for their future careers and were keen to understand what the prospects might be for them to find the job of their dreams. Having given them what I considered to be an extremely honest assessment of the employment market, I wanted to give them at least something positive to take away in order that they might stand a greater chance than most of really standing out to the extent that employers feel compelled to take them on.

Despite the fact that so many organisations are reducing headcount or freezing hiring activity, I would argue that the principle barrier to any organisation realising its goals lies in its ability to attract and retain, engage with and develop great talent,. On many an occasion it has been said that people are a company’s greatest asset. Arguably it’s more specific than that. It is the right people and in the right seats that can mean the difference between business success and failure.

It strikes me that there are a number of potential subjects for a blog here, not least how should an organisation ensure it is at the forefront of attracting the best talent. However I want to focus on something that I passionately believe affords job seekers the opportunity to really stand out in a crowded space.

Volunteer – yes consider doing something for nothing! Revolutionary I know.

Increasingly I am struck by the entitlement culture that we live in, driven by the question “what’s in it for me” a view that roughly translated tends to mean what am I going to get paid for doing it? If I’m not going to be paid for it, frankly why should I bother to do it?

Life shouldn’t be about what you get, it should be about what you give. Get out there and make volunteering part of your job search. It may be as simple as writing to your local accounting firm and asking them if they would be prepared to let you work with them for nothing in order to gain some valuable work experience. It could be something as incredible (as I witnessed only this week) as volunteering to work in an orphanage in Bulgaria. Whatever it may be, it need not cost you anything other than your time, energy and commitment and it could prove an invaluable way of evidencing to a potential employer your desire to do that bit more.

Volunteer work should be shouted about loudly on your CV. It offers a great topic of discussion at interview and gives you the opportunity to talk passionately about something that you did. It creates a favourable impression with a prospective employer and affords you the opportunity to genuinely set yourself apart from all the other “self motivated, ambitious, hardworking team players” that just about every CV includes on personal profiles.

It also offers you the opportunity to broaden your skills, your network of contacts, increase your self confidence, and importantly helps someone else whilst you feel good about what you are doing. So go on, stick your hand up. Volunteer for something and use this as an opportunity to genuinely make yourself stand out in a crowded space.

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