Shape of the future workforce under spotlight as CIPD chief addresses South Bank audience

By Scunthorpe Telegraph | Posted: 23 Oct 2017

Skills, recruitment, retention and the shape of the future workforce came under the spotlight when a senior national figure addressed a South Bank audience. David Laister reports on what CIPD chief Peter Cheese had to say, and how an innovative IT business is helping lead the way. 

Reflecting on the repercussions from the seats of Power in Westminster and Washington, Peter Cheese, chief executive of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, gave his take on the current state of affairs and the challenges close to every business’s heart.

“We live in exciting times,” he said. “Politically we cannot write the script, it is a very different political environment now – Donald Trump in the White House, who would have thought that!  Brexit here at home. It does create challenges for business and the business environment. 

“The CBI and TUC, together, have said we have got to protect EU workers’ rights, and we are already seeing a drain of people heading back.

“For so many years the debate has been about globalisation, opening up the borders. Now we are seeing people saying ‘it is not necessarily good for me, what about my voice’. Putting up barriers and walls is not language we have been used to hearing.”

Mr Cheese, who represents 135,000 members, and has been in post since 2012, said opportunities were rapidly emerging as issues came into sharp focus.

“Brexit is a trigger to address skills,” he said. “I was talking with a university lecturer and he said 40 per cent of the faculty came from Europe. I said ‘I bet you didn’t know that on June 24, 2016’.”

Citing 60 per cent of kids starting school will be doing jobs that haven’t yet been invested, he touched on FOBO, the next stage FOMO – fear of being obsolete following from the milder fear of missing out.

“We just don’t know,” he said. “Every sector is expecting something to happen. In retail, the BRC estimates that one in three jobs could disappear, driven by economic necessity. We are 20 per cent less productive than the French, but how do we pull more out of the resources we have? In retail, the rising cost of labour, with minimum wage and pensions, is the biggest cost, and margins are already tight.  

“They are going to have to displace these jobs with technology.  That’s part of the debate, but technology also creates new opportunities. It was said by now we would be working 15 hour weeks. I know many are working 15 hour days. 

“The technology is always on. Vodafone said 40 per cent of us grab our phone and start reading emails if we wake up in the middle of the night. We have mental health challenges and wellbeing challenges we need to address.  We push so hard for our economic output.”

Touching on immediate issues in the workplace, Mr Cheese said: “A lot of business growth challenges are related to staff.

We are seeing a growing skills mismatch, and this will get wider, arguably, because of technology.   Young people turn up and haven’t got basic work disciplines, be it time keeping, communicating properly, literacy ...  numeracy levels in this country are extraordinarily low. Core skills are the most important, and the ability to critically think, as well as a basic understanding of the digital world.”

And while they may be issues at the recruitment stage, retention is seen as equally important, if not more so when it comes to the bottom line.

“We have got to rethink what we do in the workplace,” Mr Cheese urged. “The biggest waste of talent is the people who leave. People join an organisation but leave managers. 

“We have treated people like bad robots, put them in a box, give them lots of rules and tell them to get on with the job. We have got to treat people as adults, as human beings, engage, support and develop them, and that is at the heart of all good business.

“I think this is all in our collective hands, and the more we get together as a community and support each other the better. It is up to us, not a big power in Westminster, to sort this out.”

Kate van der Sluis, employment and sills board member at Humber LEP, (pictured right) , gave a sub-regional perspective on the subject matter.

“The skills gap is getting bigger and the recruitment even more challenging,” she said. “It is going to get harder across the whole of the area, and if it hasn’t already it will effect the bottom line of your business.

“We are approaching 73 per cent employment, the highest for nine years, so the majority of work-ready candidates who want a job have a job already – we are approaching a saturation point. 

“We have to keep emerging talent in the region.”

Looking at initiatives in place, she said: “In the Humber we don’t sit still, we do stuff, we have specific skills shortages and there are some great initiatives, such as Women into Manufacturing and Engineering and Humber Skills Pledge. I think regional businesses are beginning to understand the importance of flexible working too, but unfortunately it is just is not enough. 

“In the context of continuing competition for talent in the north, this is just not enough, not consistent enough, not quick enough and we have to get better. 

“We need a talent strategy and we need one really fast.  

“The ambition has to be to drive up the quality of leadership and really engage and develop these people.” 

IT academy is held up as an exemplar to other employers

VISION BECOMING REALITY: Glenn Thow, who has pioneered an academy for LCS.

GRIMSBY IT specialist Glenn Thow’s LCS Group was held up as an example of good practice as it prepares to launch an academy to ensure a workforce of tomorrow, today. 

A first intake will join in the new year.

Speaking after Peter Cheese, Mr Thow said: “The skills gap was getting wider, we had recognised that for a long time. Mid-stream engineers for IT are in short supply. We poach our staff from competitors, they poached ours, and all it did was push up the pay-band, which was not good for the business and in the long run, not good for them. 

“We needed to think where we would be in three, five or ten years’ time. We needed to train people ourselves, we needed to bring people in to business without any pre-conceived ideas about what they should be doing, or about work, because they have not had a great experience before. 

“By engaging with local young talent we have the opportunity to shape and mould, to give them a career and fulfil their passion and give an answer to our problem to fulfil the needs of our growing customers.”

The facilities on a recent LCS open day.

Mr Thow is working with Grimsby Institute and Franklin College to provide the platform, recognising strong IT-related courses from which he can recruit.  

Having bought and completely refurbished premises on Alexandra Road in recent years, The Academy is all set to go in an environment that will undoubtedly please. And picking up on Mr Cheese’s points about retention, it is clear he is on that wavelength.

He said: “Employees are not just driven by money, and some business owners are not just driven by money. We have an obligation too. I have great people working with me, and I am going to keep them in Grimsby because we have an amazing business and we are not determined by locale but by the people in it. 

“If you go to work and enjoy what you do it feels like fun. Creating a joyful and happy environment will benefit the company and me as a shareholder. As a company we are going to progress and be more prosperous.”

Looking at the wider issue of recruitment, Mr Thow said: “In the UK we are privileged and honoured to live in a society that has so much, yet we all want more. I see a lot of young people who have a degree of apathy to life and work. They have been brought up in nice warm homes, surrounded by all the technology and gadgets, taken on holiday once or twice a year and want for nothing. That can have a positive impact and a negative impact. They may not have the drive, the passion, the will to do something. They expect it to come to them.”

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