With the industry skills gap still widening, many companies are looking to find a suitable and sustainable solution to the skills shortfall, says Philip Burgess of the Construction Equipment Association’s (CEA) skills advisory panel
AS we know, the extent of the skills gap is such that only a small fraction of the number of new engineers and technicians needed each year across UK industry can be expected to be met by new graduates and through apprenticeships. More shorter-term measures are needed and the upskilling of existing employees is increasingly being regarded as having the greatest potential to achieve this.
But how can we further enable and encourage people to retrain and upskill through their working lives when practical tools and case study examples showing solutions for effective upskilling are few and far between and hard to find? The onus should be on each industry sector to define upskilling as an issue for itself and to seek to address it in practical terms; and the CEA Skills Advisory Panel is about to take on this challenge for the construction equipment industry.
We aim to better understand the working relationships between employers, their employees, further education training providers, universities and communities at the local level which upskilling and lifelong learning demand. From this the intention is to provide succinct advice on upskilling measures drawn from our members’ experiences of what has worked well and what has not.
Upskilling an employer’s workforce is a long-term investment that improves business in a number of ways. The most notable benefits are boosted morale, higher valued work and a more adept and versatile workforce; all leading, in theory, to greater productivity, competitiveness and profitability. Although training can be costly, it doesn’t have to be the financial drain that many employers fear it to be. As a precursor to the provision of guidance specific to our sector, here are some practical, generic and cost-effective training methods for employers to bear in mind.
Some online training courses are free, while others may cost money but require no additional expenses. The only requirement to embark on an online course is an internet connection, which is paltry compared to the costs incurred from travel and accommodation for face-to-face courses, but employees still gain essential knowledge and training. Some virtual lectures and seminars offer almost the same experience as live attendance.
This method of upskilling is completely free. Taking on a junior employee as a mentee is a big commitment, but it can be the best way to teach someone. Your experience is one of your most valuable assets, so joining a mentoring programme, or just committing some spare time towards enriching a junior employee’s skillset can be highly effective. Decision-making, problem solving, critical thinking and other essential skills can be learnt and honed through mentoring.
GOVERNMENT AND PRIVATELY FUNDED
For employees who want to engage in more costly training, it can be subsidised with government funding. The Education and Skills Funding Agency supplies business with funds to upskill their employees in a variety of ways. If an employee wants to embark on a more intensive form of training such as a degree or an apprenticeship, there are bursaries and grants available that can be attained with your guidance and support.
Training doesn’t always have to follow a formal process. To be the best in any field, learning should never stagnate. Fostering an environment of education can help employees take education into their own hands both outside and inside of the workplace. Continual learning is the only way to stay current and relevant, so positive reinforcement can help with this. In addition to providing upskilling opportunities as referenced above, employers can hold meetings and seminars promoting self-education. Incentives for learning targets can also encourage self-studying.
It is often said that training differentiates a successful company from a floundering one and that keeping employees trained in current practices is essential to business success. If budgets are making this difficult, then there are always options that are more affordable. Motivating employees to keep up their self-learning is important both for the technical and practical skills gained by it and for the increased productivity and morale that should follow.