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Upskilling: the key to fighting UK business uncertainty, skills gaps and productivity lags

It’s safe to say that UK businesses are facing a period of unprecedented change and challenges and it doesn’t look like it’s going to let up any time soon. Despite rising slightly in 2018, our productivity still lags behind our European neighbours and two years of preparing for Brexit has also cast a shadow

It’s safe to say that UK businesses are facing a period of unprecedented change and challenges and it doesn’t look like it’s going to let up any time soon. Despite rising slightly in 2018, our productivity still lags behind our European neighbours and two years of preparing for Brexit has also cast a shadow. Contributor City & Guilds Group.

Recent City & Guilds Group research – People Power – found that nine out of ten UK employers are struggling to recruit the skilled staff they need, and two thirds think that skills gaps are likely to get worse or remain the same in the next three to five years.

A time for change
The solution though is in our own hands and we need to turn our attention inwards and start with our existing workforce. And that means now, more than ever, employers need to be upskilling their employees, investing in skills development and training programmes and driving tangible benefits of their businesses.

At City & Guilds Group, we know that learning and development is crucial to business success and we believe those who invest in their talent deserve to be recognised. That is why, every year, we recognise and celebrate businesses from across a variety of sectors and regions of the UK, who are leading the way by implementing valuable and successful training programmes and who can evidence the impact it has on their organisation.

Established in 2015 and supported by HRH The Princess Royal, President of The City & Guilds of London Institute, The Princess Royal Training Awards showcase the real benefits that employers of all sizes can reap from upskilling and empowering their employees. Last year, 48 businesses achieved the standard of excellence required. They came from a wide range of industries, from retail to hospitality, manufacturing to finance, and from the public,  private and not-for-profit sectors.

Building the digital future
The apprenticeship levy offers one of the most pertinent and prominent solutions to the skills crisis we face today. As the UK’s largest independently owned hosting provider, Manchester-based UKFast has seen rapid growth in the last five years, now boasting 400 employees and an annual turnover of £47 million. However, they recognised that the skills of students leaving school, college and university did not meet its business needs. In response, UKFast created an in-house apprenticeship scheme and education centre.

The programme uses a blend of classroom, e-learning and digital literacy projects, with a large focus on transferrable skills, including confidence and communication. Over the last five years, the programme has proved incredibly successful, with the apprentice pass-rate reaching a staggering 100% and 85% of qualified apprentices staying in the business. Apprentices now make up 18% of the business’ total workforce saving an average of £5,000 on recruitment costs.

But this isn’t where their great work stops. Recognising that the digital skills gap affects the entire Greater Manchester area, UKFast’s Education Team started working with over 56,000 pupils across more than 50 schools to improve digital literacy across the region. They offer work experience opportunities, workshops, code clubs and hands-on technology experiences to children from all socio-economic backgrounds with a particular focus on working with local girls’ schools in a bid to address the gender imbalance in the IT sector.

Resilience is more than physical fitness
With tens of thousands of active personnel, the Royal Air Force’s primary role is the air defence of the UK – a huge responsibility that requires intense physical and mental strength. While they’re known for their excellent physical training, there was little training in place to prepare for the mental and emotional impact of serving and fighting with the Armed Forces.

In 2012, the RAF’s senior leadership team created the Adventurous Personal Development Training, a resilience training programme to be undertaken by all personnel at least once every three years. The training brought together the four elements of resilience in order to improve physical and psychological well-being, boost morale and build a healthy workforce. Initiatives are tailored to different groups, and test individuals by placing them outside their comfort zone, allowing them to experience and introduce coping mechanisms in a controlled learning environment.

Feedback from the 12,000 participants along with questionnaires and interviews with managers has shown that the training has resulted in positive behavioural changes in dealing with service challenges and improved resilience and well-being, which is significantly contributing to the welfare of the RAF family and community. The current retention rate of RAF personnel is on average 11 years, two years above the average for the armed forces.

Addressing skill needs and driving impact
These are just two examples of organisations who have gone above and beyond to provide world-class training schemes for their employees. Over the last four years, the Princess Royal Training Awards have commended more than 100 businesses for their contribution to learning and development.

So, what can we learn from these businesses? Most importantly, they are proof of the very real benefits that come from investing in training schemes. Effective skills development and learning programmes are a tried and tested way to increase staff loyalty, retention and engagement, improve productivity and customer service, and reduce employee turnover.

Investing in employees today is one critical step towards future-proofing your workforce of tomorrow. The good news is we already have the people we need and with the right investment they will help to deliver a real return in what we invest in them.

The 2019 Princess Royal Training Awards, delivered by the City & Guilds Group, are now open for entries until 29 March 2019. For more information, visit

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