“The skills gap is the most significant problem businesses are talking to me about at the moment.”
So said BBC business journalist Steph McGovern when she visited the region recently to talk to the North East Advanced Manufacturing Forum.
And it’s not just the technical skills that you’d expect these manufacturers to be most interested in where problems have been identified.
The UK arm of McDonald’s recently launched a new campaign to drive recognition and promotion of soft skills, such as communication and interpersonal skills, teamwork, time management and self-direction, which its research suggests are worth around £88bn to the UK economy and are considered essential to commercial success by 97 per cent of our employers.
As a big recruiter of young people, MacDonald’s has significant insight into the skills levels of the nation’s school leavers, and their view is that over half a million UK workers will be significantly held back by a lack of soft skills by 2020 if a major overhaul of how they are developed is not undertaken as a priority.
There is no argument that the UK economy needs technological innovation, but the eternal business truism ‘people buy from people’ also remains as relevant as it’s always been, and if we can’t tell the world about what we can do, any advances we do make could easily go to waste.
If you can’t ask what your customer wants, and then talk about what you can do to help, you don’t stand much chance of delivering what they need.
The high growth North East businesses in which we invest are all active recruiters and trainers, so we hear a great deal about the skills gap and the difficulties of finding and keeping good people.
The evolution and revitalisation of the regional economy over the last couple of decades means that the old ways of working are no longer good enough.
Having a poor approach to soft skills in any business is more than just a recruitment or retention problem – it’s actually going to lead to the creation of lots of new competitors.
As the economy continues to improve, we are seeing more senior managers within businesses becoming dissatisfied with how their employer does things, and deciding to set up their own business for themselves, so they can do it their way.
When reviewing the growth plans we receive, the sales targets they contain and the calibre of the senior personnel that will set the strategies that will see them delivered, we place huge emphasis on our team’s interpersonal skills.
Our investment management – the bread and butter of our business – relies heavily on maintaining open and honest relationships, and experience tells that sharing and enhancing knowledge is the basis for making good decisions.
If you know which side your bread’s buttered on, it’s wise not to gloss over how important it is that all your team communicates well and has the skills required to reach a common commercial goal.