A ‘prime suspect’ in the crime of low productivity is weak investment in training and developing skills. A lot has been written a lot said, programmes developed, government policies set, yet not much seems to change.
Research by Activia, reported in The Director in January 2016 put the UK 22nd in Europe for investing in professional development. However in the UK 90% of companies provided training compared to only 69% in Germany. Various estimates of UK spend per head in recent years put it at about £400 per head, compared to around $800 in the US (according to Training Magazine in 2016). A CIPD Policy report in 2017 said the skills crisis was worsening as UK training spend falls significantly.
There are some common themes – the apparent drift of the UK towards a low wage low productivity economy – largely driven by the service sector. A big gap between the UK and high productivity countries like France and Germany in delivering vocational qualifications at NVQ level 2-3. Lastly the recognition of the link between weak or poor management skills and low productivity.
Over the last three years the Government has published a number of papers with a Productivity Plan (2016), UK skills and productivity in an international context (2015), and Education, skills and productivity: commissioned research; First Joint Special Report of the Business, Innovation and Skills and Education Committees of Session (2015/1`6). They all cover much of the same ground, but come up short with really specific plans and recommendations.
The UK would appear stuck in a cycle of low productivity, weak investment and low levels of training (or poor quality). Yet there are many exceptions. There are plenty of highly effective and productive businesses in the UK, but not enough. Years of austerity and ‘doing more with less’ have taken a great toll on the public sector. Budgets may be a lot smaller, but is that because the public sector is more efficient or has simply stopped doing things?
There seems to be enough evidence to suggest that the UK as a whole is not doing enough and in some cases not doing the right kind of training. What can be done?
Organisations need staff sufficiently educated and then trained not just to do the job, but to do it well and be effective, adding value to the organisation as a result. ‘Skills needs Analysis’ is an oft used phrase, but it needs to go further. Consider the options below in terms of someone to employ. Who would you prefer to take on? –
Someone who can do the job
Someone who can do the job well
Someone who can do the job well and really efficiently
Someone who can do the job well, really efficiently and knows the impact of his work for his colleagues
Someone who can do the job well, really efficiently, knows the impact of his work for his colleagues and understands the impact of his work on the organisation as a whole.
Of course the cost of employment will go up as you choose a more capable employee and the person you hire at the bottom of the list may well be promoted quickly requiring you to replace them. In addition, many of the additional skills noted above are hard to teach in a classroom, they are acquired through experience, coaching and learning from experts.
I am proposing a different starting point for development. Rather than build up a set of skills for a role (technical, maths, English, add in some interpersonal stuff etc.) which describes the first person on the list above, start from a vision of a high performing unit (the last person on the list above). Imagine a group – a sales team, a software development team, a manufacturing cluster and think of the type of person you would want in each role in the team. Think of the full mix of skills, talent and experience needed to deliver the high performing team and THEN start to break it down and work out the best pathway(s) for achieving the right mix (accepting that there will be more than one answer). That becomes the framework for recruitment and development. The measure of success then becomes progress towards achieving the team and its performance rather than simply hiring the ‘right’ people or delivering training courses.
For those organisations that cannot see the clear benefit of training, I would suggest starting from the perspective of productivity and the high performing team. Rather than try to measure a specific return on training investment, look purely at the impact of training on productivity. (Accepting that some training is always a ‘given’ for any particular role)
I suspect that there are many successful organisations already doing this (or something like it). However it requires a very conscious effort to take a different approach, over a period of time, which will require management input and cost money. The potential rewards are enormous because the organisation is not just recruiting to a template or delivering material, but developing talent towards a specific vision.
One last thought. I have worked with many organisations and people around the world over some 30 years in consulting. One thing that continues to amaze and encourage me is the potential that exists in everyone. Most of us operate well below our potential. One way of improving productivity is to free up some of that potential through the development of staff.