Agenda: Skills to weather the storm

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With stormy times ahead for the UK economy, Gemma Middleton adds her voice to those who argue that L&D is a crucial business investment when times are tough.

The term redundancy is, unfortunately, becoming all-too common in headlines. In the past month, iconic retail stores on the UK high street such as, Woolworths and MFI have gone into administration and unfortunately, they are not alone.

This month has also seen disaster strike again for the UK car industry; Jaguar Land Rover has had to let over 850 agency workers go, on top of their 600+ voluntary redundancy programme for their permanent staff.

Photo of Gemma Middleton"Many organisations believe that the best way to ride a recession is to cut spending, thus affecting learning and development... this action often causes more harm than good."

These companies are not the first and, it seems, they won’t be the last.

With such a tough economic environment many organisations believe that the best way to ride a recession is to cut spending, thus affecting learning and development; consolidation being the key business strategy. Yet this action often causes more harm than good.

Government and the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), as well as key business and trade union leaders, have been explaining why this is the wrong approach. At the end of October, five important UK business figures published an open letter to employers stating the importance and the need to keep investing in training. It highlighted recent research that showed those organisations who did not train were 2.5 times more likely to fail.

Ensuring that UK businesses are able to keep functioning efficiently and profitably is incredibly important at this point in time as Robert Lambert, the CBI’s director general, highlighted when he said: “We need to keep business working to safeguard jobs and we need to act now.”

In a letter addressed to the government, the CBI put forward a ten-point plan, which consisted of items such as tax cuts, prevention of ‘going concern’ questions as well as supporting corporate pension provision. Learning and development was also included in the plan; points included encouraging apprenticeships and funding economic costs for large firms who ‘over-train’ their staff resulting in benefits to the overall business sector.

Many people may believe that, in this current climate, working for a learning and development provider, as I do, would be a risky business. So far that is not the case. Many of our clients are looking to the future and pushing ahead. It seems organisations are listening to the advice given in the open letter.

Thankfully, I haven’t had to experience first hand anything to do with the redundancy process – being a 2006 graduate, I hit the workplace when the UK economy, labour market and overall confidence was at an all time high – how quickly the tide can turn.

However, a few friends have been made redundant this month and, as one would expect, the whole experience has been anything but pleasant – the common themes seem to be fear, isolation and anger. My friends had something else in common - the distinct lack of training that their organisations offered for everyone involved in redundancies.

We know that more redundancies will be happening; it is the scale and the aftermath that we can’t be sure of. However, one thing that we know for certain is learning and development can make a real difference, after-all we need to think long-term. As the open letter states: “The skills of our people are our best guarantee of future prosperity – and the best investment a business can make in challenging times.”

Enough said!

Gemma Middleton is a marketing coordinator at Righttrack Consultancy

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