Good training starts with good workforce planning

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Written by Richard Griffin on 19 March 2014
What a worry. Last month the Royal College of Nursing announced a shortage of 4,000 nurses with advance clinical skills. In the economy as a whole vacancies are at a 15 year high, but as I wrote in my blog last time, UKCES' 2013 skills survey shows employers are worried that a lack of certain skills may hold the economic recovery back: a big problem given that The ManpowerGroup's latest survey shows businesses in every sector this year expect to increase recruitment. Kevin Green of the Recruitment and Employment Confederation said, "recruiters are struggling to find the managerial and technical skills that employers require". Last year the UK skills minister pointed to the challenge of ensuring employees had the right level of numeracy and literacy skills, describing the problem as a 'fault line'. In March the charity National Numeracy estimated that poor numeracy skills cost the economy a staggering £20.2 billion a year.
UK businesses need the right number of staff, at the right time and with the right knowledge, skills and attitudes, including essential skills like maths. As an aside I have frequently reflected on how poor training outcomes are linked to poor workforce planning rather than training content and delivery. A lack of clarity about roles and responsibilities too often puts training on the back foot. Good training starts with good workforce planning and equally meeting skills gaps is more about appropriate workforce planning than training. In fact rushing to train up more engineers or nurses because there are shortages now is a case of shutting the door after the horse has bolted. Will there still be a shortage in three years time when they are trained? 
While it's right to worry about skills shortages I do wonder if we are thinking about all this in the wrong way.  Do we need to stop worrying about current skills gaps and rather prepare workers to respond to future needs - whatever they may be -  by being: flexible, responsive, adaptability, resilient etc, ? Should we concentrate more on attitudes rather than distinct technical skills?
I am 50 (I know hard to believe). Contrast my career with my fathers. My dad left school at 15 and, national service aside, had the grand total of two jobs and two employers in all the time he worked. When he attended training it involved him sitting in a class room. The boundaries of his job were fixed and requirements standardised. The skills he required were generally task based (closed).
I left education at 21 and have already worked for over ten employers including in a bank, as a postal worker (great job), as an accountant (less good), as an economist, for trade unions, government and now a university. The boundaries of my job are much less clear and the skills I need much more open. One of the things I like about my job is it's not predictable. Dealing with uncertainty though does require certain attributes.
In my dad's day, it was much easier to plan jobs. It was clear what was needed. Today that's not true. I suspect a lot of the work my father did is now automated. I am not suggesting that we stop worrying whether we have enough IT experts or plumbers or whether enough of us are good enough at maths but that we need to think more widely and deeply about a broader set of attitudes employees need to help them and their organisations navigate a rapidly and ever changing world. If we shifted our focus more in this direction then may be we could worry a little less about skills shortages
About the author
Richard Griffin is director of the Institute of Vocational Learning and Workplace Research at Bucks New University. His email is:

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