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2 September 2016 | By Steve Hill Community

Why upskilling is more important than ever

Retraining staff is essential to future success, says The Open University's Steve Hill 

As technological change heats up in the workplace, businesses are set to see greater disparity between the skills they require and the expertise possessed by their current workforces.

We’re already hearing predictions that at least 15 million current positions are expected to be lost to automation and robotics. And as an indication of the pace of change, many of the roles that will be created to replace these jobs will be in areas which are not even invented yet.

But the mismatch between skills available in the labour market and those businesses need are already apparent. Research by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) discovered that the proportion of workers whose level of training is appropriately matched to their job has been falling steadily since 2012. So as the nature of many roles continues to change, it becomes increasingly essential that employers help ensure their employees are equipped for continued success by keeping their skills up-to-date.

Bridging the gap

Decision makers are getting to grips with the fact that, faced with the eternal reality of an on-going skills crisis, the solution lies with retraining the employees they already have. And they are realising that upskilling is not just about responding to the current market situation – it also helps their organisation prepare for the future as the UK’s workforce undergoes a demographic shift. 

As highlighted by the government’s Working Futures 2014-2024 report, the quantity of new talent entering the market is set to be insufficient to fill the roles available. The number of jobs is expected to rise by 1.8 million over the next decade yet, with fewer young people entering the workforce, the working age population is expected to increase by only half that amount. This will hurt businesses who are not ready to support their current workforces to take on new roles. 

Considering upskilling options which are flexibly delivered around the working schedule of employees means that training can start to bridge the gap between “learning” and “doing”. Practice-based solutions, designed to encourage application of theory to the workplace environment, can provide business leaders with the confidence to invest with the assurance of direct returns.

The Open University’s latest higher level apprenticeships are an example of the kind of programmes that aim to address this learning-doing gap. Through the extensive use of online learning, supported by expert tutors, they enable learners to fit training flexibly around the demands of the workplace.

And the new levy rules around apprenticeships mean that they can be applied to almost any job role, delivering fresh skills to every layer of the organisation. Initially covering areas such as management and digital skills, our offering challenges learners to apply the techniques they learn directly to the situations they face in their everyday role, whether at new starter or executive level.

Broader benefits

Beyond the immediately clear impact that this kind of development programme has on an individual’s capabilities, there are a range of associated benefits that can be just as important, particularly in times of market uncertainty. Equipping current team members, who are acclimatised to the culture of the business and invested with valuable corporate memory, ensures that they can continue to contribute as the nature of their role changes.

Demonstrating commitment to the development of staff members can also create positive effects for businesses which reach well beyond the individual. Studies such as the CIPD’s investigation into productivity, for example, have found a clear positive correlation between training and productivity.

In essence, by investing in the current workforce, decision makers are future-proofing their business and preparing it for success.