Why investing in external training can help fill the skills gap

on 25 July, 2014

As the UK looks to move into the next stage of post-recession recovery, it is unfortunately becoming apparent that a skills gap across a number of industries, including construction, could hold negative implications on future business growth and development.

Government figures show that the sector started training only 13,700 apprentices in 2012-13, down 39% from the year before. Many have already responded by launching their own apprenticeship schemes, but these will take a number of years to establish before they start developing the next generation of skilled workers.

At a time when the construction industry is urgently looking for 180,000 more workers by 2018, what can companies in the sector do in order to fill the skills gap that exists today? How can we build a business full of talent and skills if future workers aren’t accessible?

At Severn Partnership, we recently took an alternative route to building our team. With a lack of skilled surveyors and engineers at all levels from apprentices, quality graduates, trainee managers through to skilled managers, we decided the best way to ensure talent remains in the sector is to invest in the existing workforce. We did this by combining internal schemes with specialist external training providers and tailored programmes, to encourage them to expand their own skill sets and move into other areas of the business.

We also recently embarked upon a bespoke change management programme with Midlands-based consultancy Clare Hall Organisational Development. This was an investment in external training to upskill our surveying team and give them the skills they require to adopt a more formal project management role within the business. This enabled our directors to free up time to concentrate on the future growth of the business and to innovate our services, without immediately having to take on additional resources.

The result has been a 12% increase in staff productivity, and the external training has enabled us to release our SEEABLE brand to the marketplace, which allows non-technical access to complex 3D data on desktops, smartphones and tablets through innovative apps.

Recent research from the Department for Business, Innovation & Skills states that businesses that seek external training and information are 14% more ambitious and 50% more successful than those that do not. This is no more important than in the construction industry, which the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors has revealed is dealing with its biggest workload since its quarterly surveys began in 1994, with a lack of new talent coming through.

As those who are familiar with the role of chartered surveyors will understand, project work forms the majority of the role, and as a direct result of working with Clare Hall Organisational Development and giving field-based surveyors the skills they need to adopt more of a project management role, we experienced increases in productivity, morale, and ultimately profitability, without having to embark on a recruitment drive. Instead we have adopted a business strategy whereby we invest in our existing staff, ensuring we both retain and develop talent within Severn Partnership, even at a management level.

Ultimately, investing in upskilling your staff has a multitude of benefits for your business, helping to save both time and money by improving performance and reducing staff turnover. This is especially pertinent when addressing the skills gap currently faced by the construction sector. However, it should be noted that in order for upskilling existing staff to become most effective, business owners should adopt a proactive stance towards external training, instead of treating it as a reactive measure to sector challenges.

We need to move towards making further education and skills development a permanent fixture within workplace culture, adhering to a continuous and ongoing skill development and renewal attitude. Ensuring your staff are skilled will put you in a position whereby you are able to stay ahead of industry challenges and changes and continue to grow, even at times when new talent is sparse.

Mark Combes is managing director at Severn Partnership

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