Group People and Transformation Director Aster Group
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Career flexibility: why greater investment in L&D is no longer optional for businesses

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A demand for greater flexibility in the coming years means that employers will be forced to re-imagine their approach to training and development.

23rd Jun 2021
Group People and Transformation Director Aster Group
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The prominent inclusion of the Lifetime Skills Guarantee in the Queen’s speech at the recent opening of parliament was a timely reminder that training, development and creating opportunities is going to be crucial as the country recovers after the pandemic.  

Covid-19 has changed the perspectives of both employers and employees and, as a result, the demand for flexibility will extend beyond just the freedom to work when and where we want.

Offering pathways back into work for those who lost careers because of Covid-19 is absolutely the right course of action from the government – and the skills guarantee can help solve this very immediate problem. The business community must lead the way, however, in addressing the long-term challenges that will arise as the way we think about work and careers continues to evolve. The opportunities this period has presented us with can help us to think differently.

Career control

I have long been an advocate of businesses thinking more widely about the concept of ‘flexibility’. The remote working infrastructure that has resulted from the pandemic has given many firms the basics – the next step is to start thinking in terms of flexible careers, which means different things to different people. Flexibility, the experience of our colleagues and customers, technology, sustainability and the way we connect with one another should all be key drivers for decisions being made.

Part of this is offering employees more choice in when and where they work.  A much larger, and arguably more important element, is empowering them to shape their careers in the way they want, because there is no one-size-fits-all approach. Training, development and the opportunity to acquire new skills – through government schemes or otherwise – is a huge part of that.

As an end to the pandemic now seems more likely, we must acknowledge that our relationship with ‘work’ has changed – in many ways, it’s been put into perspective.

I envisage a future where employees will expect more of a say in how their careers evolve and we may even see ‘portfolio careers’ become more common, where people have multiple projects or even work for several different employers at once, and a wider and more diverse set of skills.

As the demand for more freedom increases, however, businesses will likely need to work harder to keep their employees fulfilled. Retaining and nurturing talent may require them to be more willing to facilitate an employee taking on a new challenge within their organisation to avoid them going elsewhere, for example.

Aster enables colleagues to shape their training and development so they can easily move between teams within the business, if they decide they’d like a change of direction. Even for those staying in their current roles, exercises like job shadowing and secondments allow our team to experience other areas of the business. This helps them gain a deeper understanding of core functions of our organisation that they are not exposed to every day.

For those who do want to make a change, providing them with opportunities to learn new skills helps us to retain employees who might otherwise have gone elsewhere to pursue the career they want. Similarly, when people do move on – as sometimes that’s the right thing for them – we try to stay in touch and welcome the possibility that they might return at a future point in their careers.

reskilling hub link

Shaping talent

Alongside adapting to the evolving expectations of current employees, the other key challenge for businesses is the need to develop the next generation of skilled workers. Those who are new to the job market – graduates, school leavers etc. – have been set back just as acutely by the pandemic as those already in work and there is now massive demand for entry-level opportunities.

While schemes like the Lifetime Skills Guarantee are positive, businesses can’t rely on the government, or even the education system, to provide them with the supply of new recruits they need. I believe a defining characteristic of the job market over the next ten years will be the need for firms to be far more proactive in how they engage, invest in training, and retain young people. Vocational pathways will be crucial, alongside closer partnerships between the business community and the education system.

Apprenticeships are one way for this to be better realised. Our apprenticeships cover a range of roles including trade skills, business administration and customer service, giving us a really diverse pool of new talent in roles right across the business. Moreover, they are an indispensable part of our efforts to connect with our communities. They enable us to reach out and provide opportunities to groups that might not naturally look for work in our sector.

Educate to accumulate

Covid-19 has changed the perspectives of both employers and employees and, as a result, the demand for flexibility will extend beyond just the freedom to work when and where we want. It will encompass a whole range of factors – training and development key among them – that contribute to people having the autonomy and empowerment they need to make their careers work for them.

Whether it’s offering current employees the opportunity to explore new directions, or doing more to provide pathways for the next generation, our approach to training and development is now more crucial than ever as we attract, retain and grow the talent we need as a nation to succeed post-pandemic and ultimately improve customer satisfaction with the services we provide.

Interested in this topic? Read Upskilling: why the UK needs a capabilities revolution.

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