Anton Colella: Time to solve the skills gap

anton-colella-london
Anton Colella By Anton Colella, ICAS CEO

4 September 2015

Anton Colella discusses the biggest risk facing British business – and why a new approach is needed to solve it.

There's an elephant in the boardroom.

According to a survey of the Finance Directors of many of the UK's largest companies, it casts a greater shadow than China, Brexit, or the hacking horrors of cyber-attacks.

It's the new number one at the top of Britain's risk registers: The difficulty of recruiting the right people with the right skills to grow our economy.

The skills gap has been a frequent complaint from the boardroom for years. But the evidence from the nation's FDs is that it has now become critical.

It is not just a problem in construction and manufacturing and technology, but is also a red flag across every sector.

What lies behind this worrying and rapid development?

First and foremost, the speed of change in business is faster than ever. Quite simply, our education system is struggling to keep pace.

The skills gap is a global phenomenon. Ask any board director in Asia, any recruitment consultant in Sydney or any C-suite executive in the States.

In only 18 months, the smartphone leap-frogged the laptop as the most popular device for consumers.

In 18 hours, volatility in the Chinese stock market rocked the global economy.

Yet our schools, colleges and universities adapt at a pace that looks increasingly glacial, compared with this rapidly changing world.

Many young people are still learning French, when business wants Mandarin.

They are being taught to pen essays, when business craves the craft of digital writing.

They are all taught to read and write, but they are not all taught to write software code.

'Business and education must work together'

Globalisation and changing technologies are driving the need for the quickest corporate transformations since the industrial revolution.

Against this backdrop, Britain is sending more young people to university than at any time in our history, yet we are experiencing our greatest shortage of the right skilled labour.

The skills gap is a global phenomenon. Ask any board director in Asia, any recruitment consultant in Sydney or any C-suite executive in the States.

Whoever solves this fastest will gain a global competitive advantage.

So, what should Britain do?

First of all, we require our education leaders to have an abrupt change of pace and mindset.

The conservatism of course designers needs to be challenged.

If the skills shortage is the greatest barrier to growth, boards must recognise that and invest significantly more in learning, while innovating to solve the problem.

But this must be supported by the business sector being better at articulating what we need and want.

The traditional model of three or four year university degrees needs to be adapted.

A more agile approach is required to ensure that courses, content and degrees don't become outdated so quickly.

Business needs to partner more frequently with education so that young people experience the workplace earlier, rather than being asked to adapt to an alien world once they have graduated.

Investing in innovation

The boardroom needs a shake up too.

If the skills shortage is the greatest barrier to growth, boards must recognise that and invest significantly more in learning, while innovating to solve the problem.

We need to add a new C to every C suite - the Chief Talent Officer.

This may become the most critical role in any ambitious company.

It means breaking from a traditional HR approach and focussing on 'people transformation'.

Careers should become about how many new skills and how much new expertise can be acquired in our working lives, rather than how many different jobs we do.

The businesses that do this well will become magnets for the most talented.

Our political leadership needs to play its part in driving this realignment.

The Government's target of three million apprentices is an excellent aspiration, but only part of the change that is needed.

The Chancellor and Prime Minister are currently in a political period of 'golden opportunities'.

After their election victory, they now have a window to create real, dynamic change for Britain.

Even if that means ruffling the feathers of education leaders, business bosses and anyone else caught in the crossfire.

We mustn't forget another group who must shoulder their responsibility - the workforce themselves.

The employees who will win in the workplace of 2020 are those who own their personal development - the people who hunt out the new skills they need to succeed.

Britain's so called 'entitlement generation' must not become a burden on our businesses, but instead become the new talent that will drive our economic future.

For years we have talked much and acted little on solving the skills gap.

Now education, business, government and the workforce must come together as never before to create a new momentum for the benefit of all of those who prosper from the wealth of our nation.


The New ICAS Conference

Learn the secrets of the FD and hear from some of the biggest names in business at the new ICAS Conference on 27 November 2015, with speakers including Nick Hewer, Nev Wilshire, Sir Brian Souter CA and Kirsty Dingwall CA.

Topics

  • Thought leadership
  • Political landscape

Previous Page