How are we thinking about who does what work, where? How are we recruiting the right people into the right areas of our national business? How can we retain the talent and knowledge we desperately need? Richard Goff, Partner at Archipelago connections considers these questions and discusses the idea of a national workforce strategy.
You know what it’s like: every now and then an insight leaps off the page at you, grabs you by the collar and drags you down the street to a different perspective entirely.
Before Dean van Leeuwen’s keynote at the recent Future of Work Hub event he sent some pre-reading around which after offered this context:
“Between 2025-2030 the global workforce will decrease by 12 million workers per year. Much of this impact will be felt in an ageing Europe, in particular Germany, Italy, Greece, Spain, France and Belgium. A seismic demographic shift of retiring workers has the potential to collapse each of these economies.”
…and went on to make this statement:
“Of the large EU economies only the UK’s workforce will grow due to more liberal migrant policies.”
UK immigrant policies as future-focused, even necessary? This isn’t a perspective usually found in the UK media. And yet talking to the Group HR director of one of the big logistics companies recently, she said that the UK is short by 60,000 lorry drivers. Skills shortages, which we instinctively associate with certain professions such as engineering, are wide-ranging and worsening.
They’re in new industries as you might expect - four out of five “data-intensive firms” surveyed by Nesta are struggling to find the skills they need - but also in much more established job roles too. The UK Shortage Occupations List details professions that are in high demand here, and the list contains everything from geologists and chemical engineers (“any appropriate”) to sous chefs and even animators. The Government thinks our skills weaknesses are “of such long standing and such intractability that only the most radical actions can redress them”.
It’s attempting to address this which means – if we were running UK plc like a company – that the board have made sure a learning and development strategy is in place, but apparently not a workforce strategy. How are we thinking about who does what work, where? How are we recruiting the right people into the right areas of our national business? How can we retain the talent and knowledge we desperately need? To give an example of a serious retention issue, some commentators cite a 20% shortfall in the number of trained and qualified Independent Financial Advisers, partly due to increased governance pressures, and partly due to experienced baby boomers moving out of roles?
Unfortunately, workforce planning for a nation sounds uncomfortably close to the kind of centralised planning and control associated with Stalin’s Soviet Union or Mao’s China. And nobody would believe the answer lies in forcibly bussing crack squads of cowed IFAs from one end of the country to the other, or in parachuting bemused lorry drivers into different counties depending on the need. But an intelligent overview of the kind Government is intending to give to skills and infrastructure, and a bringing together of both expertise and those representing workforce needs, seems something any other organisation would do – so why not at national level too?
Perhaps it’s happening somewhere and I’ve missed it, but are we organising the best conversations across sectors and regions for a national workforce strategy? Are we drawing on the best data, ideas and practice in workforce strategy to help UK plc? Do we truly understand where to recruit for talent inside the country, and where to recruit outside? Have we considered holistically more flexible ways of retaining key talent?
How can we best organise our national workforce – even before robotics transform how we work and even if we work - which will be our next challenge before we’ve even begun to make an impact on our current needs?
What do you think about a national workforce strategy? Should there be an industrial policy or should Governments just let the market get on with it? Leave your comments in the box below.
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