For many British manufacturers, the issue of skill shortages remains at the top of their ongoing concerns. While the industry continues to call on the UK government to step up and tackle the potential crisis, many businesses are looking internally to see how they can do their bit. Here Lucy Speed, HR advisor at Boulting Ltd, looks at the importance of learning and development plans in tackling internal skills gaps.
All jobs require some level of training when employees start a new role, whether that be because they are fresh to the company or they are entering a new field in the organisation. For some businesses this introductory training is as far as it goes, with many showing no further commitment to their employees.
According to research, two out of three UK workers have changed jobs because of a lack of training and development. In fact, out of 2,500 people surveyed by jobs website total jobs, two thirds say training is more important today than it was two years ago. With unemployment rates standing at an all-time low, employers are facing a significant challenge to retain their workforce.
Technical skills, knowledge and experience are critical to many roles in the field of engineering. As Industry 4.0 technologies are implemented, employees across all levels are being required to undergo extensive on-the-job training. This is to not only ensure they understand the technology, but how it can benefit the business, which is particularly important for white collar workers.
It’s important that we attack the skills gap from several angles. We should not just focus on the short-term issue but also work from the roots up and identify strategies that will secure the longevity of the industry. At Boulting we are diversifying who and where we recruit from, including becoming a Tier 2 sponsor company. This has helped us to tackle some of our skills gaps, but much more needs to be done to back fill many of the skills that the industry is set to lose.
On the job learning
A focus needs to be placed on retaining the skills in the UK to ensure that we have people that can impart their knowledge with those who aspire to achieve a career in engineering. One way to achieve this is by implementing a robust learning and development plan across all areas of the business.
A learning and development plan acts as a road map for employees and helps to support their career and personal development. It helps the company identify key roles and grow its talent to fill skills gaps. These gaps may include the operation of new industrial technologies, but also help engineers make the shift from blue collar to white collar roles.
One area of Boulting that has benefited has been the skilled system integration team. Through a combination of learning and development plans and focused mentoring programme, graduates and trainees have been nurtured and developed into highly competent engineers much faster and more effectively than in the past.
This process is important as it allows for a focus on career management and helps us ensure that there is a two-way communication and dialogue, assisting both the company and employee achieve a common goal.
The plans can be used to manage performance and demonstrates to staff that their employer is keen to invest both time and resources in their career development.
Creating your plan
There is no one-size-fits-all solution when it comes to learning and development plans as every employee is different. Each plan should be tailored to meet the needs of the individual and their current and future role.
The plan should be made up of key objectives that the employee should achieve during the lifetime of the document. These objectives can include anything from technical to behavioural and leadership skills. Staff can also be supported further through mentor programmes as well as ongoing assistance from their line manager and wider HR team.
Development plans should consist of a mix of on and off the job learning. For many industrial companies there can be a lot of tacit knowledge locked away. It’s important to open up this knowledge and ensure it is shared with the next generation of employees and leaders in order to develop the business.
On the job learning and shadowing play a key role in the plans as they provide people with the opportunity to experience real life situations and put the theory in to practice in a safe environment. Whereas off-the-job learning gives employees an opportunity to undertake further education or training that is specific to their role, something that their existing employer may not be able to offer.
With fewer people entering the field of engineering at blue collar level, there is an impact further up the chain with the industry’s future leaders. Learning and development plans can assist with identifying future leaders through appraisals and careful succession planning.
Boulting offers relevant employees’ formal supervisor and line manager training including Institute of Leadership & Management (ILM), Institute of Directors (IOD) and Association for Project Management (APM), as well as other recognised management training to aid with development.
For those making the shift from blue to white collar roles, mentoring from current job holders and senior managers is integral to managing the change and proves to be very effective. This is also important for people with experience that have made the move from other companies or sectors. When people do move between organisations or sectors, it’s important to capture their experiences and views as often they can lead to innovative changes to your business’ approach and processes.
We cannot bury our head in the sand any longer. The engineering skills gap is growing and if not tackled properly will have a devastating impact on the industry. Businesses must take things into their own hands to ensure they are still standing in five years’ time. If they don’t, the history and heritage of engineering could be lost forever.
For more information about Boulting Ltd and potential careers, please visit www.boulting.co.uk/careers.
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