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Why Training Isn't Enough

Monday, September 24, 2007   

In the last blog post I mentioned the CEO of a four thousand employee-strong organisation who believed that skills shortages were a myth and that recruiters are to blame for people not directly applying to his company for jobs.  If you were to type 'skill shortages' into Google I suppose you might find some of the 2.3million posts on the subject matter sharing that view, although, whether you do or you don't, it's missing the point.

To be honest, I'm not sure what motivates the 'denial camp'?  Back in 1991 when I commissioned research into the skill-shortages preparations of one thousand UK employers, 87% of them said that there wouldn't be any skills shortages, or if there were it wouldn't effect them.   A coincidence that a similar percentage report severe hiring problems today anyone?

OK, let's just take the view of the denial camp for a moment.  For arguments sake we can say we agree that there isn't really a skills shortage, but rather some OTHER reason why these 85% of UK companies can't get their business done properly due to hiring problems. Isn't the effect just the same and, as such, something desperately needs to be done about it?

In any event, whatever the claim to be the cause of hiring problems, I could perhaps just accept and work around the views of the 'denial camp'  if their solution wasn't just to carry on doing exactly what they have been doing, despite the fact that it's been failing miserably.  (Captain Blackadder responding to Field Marshall Haig's battle plan?).

Whilst any resistance to the common-sense angle of the campaign is of course disappointing, I am pleased to say that what little I have experienced so far comes from what I described in the intro as the 'training will save the day camp'; a sort of "we don't need to support this because we're already dealing with it through training" stance.

I am fully supportive of those who take the view that there needs to be a huge shift towards training.  The mindset of the past 30 years has seen employer skills policy largely revolving around letting 'the firm down the road' do all the training and then to try and pinch their staff once they're fully trained-up at someone else's expense. 

Aside from the rather obvious flaw that everyone had the same plan, the problems with believing training initiatives will resolve anything are three fold:-

1. We need one and a half million skilled and willing people to fill the skills gap now and to replace those baby boomers who are retiring from the workforce between 2005-2020.

Assuming they all started their training courses tomorrow morning, it will be on average three years before they complete that training, and then at least another two to five years after that to acquire the practical experience that will qualify them to be effective enough to bridge the skills gap that employers are experiencing

How many more £billions will be wiped off the UK's GDP whilst firms are waiting years for this training policy to filter through to an affective pool of labour that is available to them?

2. What skills shortages have done is given freedom of choice to people with in-demand skills and, effectively, turned them into consumers of employment opportunity. 

This represents a significant mind-shift from the thankful prospective employee who would jump through whatever hoops in return for work and vain hope of job security - and it is one that will not be easily reversed.

Sticking the word 'Opportunity' in front of boring job adverts or job descriptions just isn't going to cut it.  Everyone involved in the hiring process now needs to understand what to do now hiring is a two-way street.

3. Skills shortages just expose the previous one-sided nature of hiring practice and represent  just one part of the problem

A huge part of the productivity and wastage problem is that conventional hiring practice fails to consider the real operational needs of the business and tie strategy, budget and process to the current market demand for the skills that are actually needed.

Even if we managed to flood the UK with skills tomorrow, it still wouldn't deal with the fact that organisations waste millions on putting the wrong backsides on the wrong seats and then hiding from the consequences

Training is the macroeconomic solution for the years to come, but there may not be many more years for some of those firms failing to learn how to make the most of the talent that IS available to them right here and now.

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"So, the fact that the hiring strategy has failed so many times before doesn't deter you at all?" 



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