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Shifting focus to capability development in 2022

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Mark Creighton discusses how L&D professionals can move the conversation beyond skills and building capabilities to strengthen the future of our nation’s workforce.

10th Nov 2021
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For too long the conversation surrounding skills has been static. Now we are faced with the immense challenge of training the UK workforce so that businesses can survive in today’s complex working landscape.

As announced in the 2021 Autumn Budget, a ‘skills revolution’ is needed to help strengthen today's workforce. 

Yet foundational skill development is only a fraction of the solution. There is an urgent need for basic capabilities across our working landscape that will allow businesses to serve the challenges they face in a new and changing economy.

It requires us all to move the conversation beyond skills and to truly understand the value of investing in people.

The actual state of the UK skills gap

Earlier this year we were interested to see just how businesses felt about the skills gap following one of the most unconventional years in working history. One of the key takeaways from our Beyond Skills research was in the wake of threat, businesses recognised a large gap between the capabilities they needed to survive and those their employees possessed. Meaning, we are faced with much more than just a skills gap. 

There is a vast imbalance between the capabilities our workforce needs and the talent those working across it hold. What is interesting is that the capability chasm is present across all industries despite it being a little-known topic of conversation. Take the technology and telecommunications sector for example, where 64% of those surveyed believe that the ‘vast’ capabilities gap in their organisation would leave them unable to deal with future challenges. 

More broadly, all industries agreed that a good learning and development strategy would impact growth. Our research identified that 71% of businesses that invested in employee development in 2020 saw growth.

In contrast, 61% of businesses who admitted they had no strategy or a strategy that was unfit for purpose saw a decline. Evidently, capabilities can protect a business in times of change or crisis by fostering agility within the workplace, particularly in complex areas such as data and digital. 

Initiatives must aim to address all levels of the business to ensure that individual capabilities developed translate into business capabilities

Meeting the needs of our modern workforce

Because of the scale of the problem, the onus cannot simply ride on one organisation or Government body, not to mention temporary workers who are contracted in to solve complex challenges on a need basis.

The investment promised by the government in the 2021 Budget is a necessary first step, but it only makes up a small part of the work needed to give people greater opportunities to secure highly-skilled jobs. 

Backed by this funding, businesses must be willing to invest in their people and implement long-term training strategies based on a solid understanding of what capabilities their organisation needs.

Initiatives must aim to address all levels of the business to ensure that individual capabilities developed translate into business capabilities – capabilities that will propel a business forward and help it flourish. This will become a differentiator between organisations. If you’re not investing in training, it’s likely your competitor is. 

It’s essential to recognise the importance of individual and business capability development particularly in growing areas like data literacy, digital identity and problem solving.

The current case for capability development 

Looking inward on the technology and telecommunications sector again, more than half (53%) of respondents in our research agreed that employee development was a priority until 2020 when digital transformation took its place.

Businesses in the financial services sector took a similar approach: 80% of respondents agreed their business had adopted some form of survival. This meant shifting and pausing various programmes and strategies during the pandemic in order to make ends meet. 

This makes clear that changes brought on by the pandemic had a ripple effect on business’ training strategies which therefore came at a detriment to the wider workforce. And for those businesses who did invest in staff development, it was evident that they fared better than those who did not have a strategy in place.

As our economy recovers it’s crucial to transition away from emergency approaches. A narrow focus on skills could leave our nation with much bigger challenges beyond repair. 

As we move toward a new year, it’s essential to recognise the importance of individual and business capability development particularly in growing areas like data literacy, digital identity and problem-solving. To be profitable long-term as exemplified in the Beyond Skills research, businesses need to take stock of their capabilities and put training strategies in place that are fit for the future.  

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