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Data presented at the Institute of Economic Development (IED) annual conference in November suggest management in the UK is weak, and increasingly failing a workforce that counts among one of the world’s most  talented and highly skilled.
 
The starting point for ‘skills development’ is often presented as the challenge of building the quality of a local labour force. Do people in the labour market have the right skills for the opportunities available? Quite rightly, this was the main focus of the debate about skills at the conference. 
 
Notwithstanding, a skill that is critical to productivity gains, are those associated with management and leadership, encompassing not only the ability to set the strategic direction of an enterprise, but also how to motivate and inspire staff. 
 
A recent article in The Economist reported on a study carried out by John van Reenen, director of the Centre for Economic Performance at the London School of Economics. His team carried out 14,000 interviews with employees around the world and found that British workers rated their supervisors lower than those in countries such as America, Germany and Japan (see chart 1). 
 
Chart 1
One possible explanation for this the phenomenon is that of the ‘accidental manager;’ someone who has been promoted to a management position because they are good at their job, but flounder as they lack specific training or support. 
 
At the IED conference, these findings seem to be borne out by evidence presented by Katherine Chapman of UK Commission for Employment and Skills (UKCES). She highlighted a 'World Management Survey' which found huge disparities of performance in Britain's managers (see chart  2) 
 
Chart 2
This chart shows the country distributions of management practice scores on a 1-5 scale; red dots are medians and dotted lines are cross-country quartiles. The UK has a good share in the top quartile, but a long tail reaching well into the bottom quartile.
 
In the same presentation Chapman cited evidence that shows the UK is one of the most highly skilled workforces in the world with over 40% of employees holding a tertiary level education and almost 50% of all jobs requiring high level of skills of some sort (see chart 3). 
 
Chart 3
This provides evidence that one of the root causes of Britain’s productivity failure is poor management on the part of Britain’s bosses and that, moreover, they are failing a labour force that possess the skills and talent to do much better. 
 
Later in the conference Steve Rosevear from Regenis suggested ‘listening to employers’ is the single most important aspect of developing a strategy to improve labour force quality. It seems to me critical that, in parallel with this, employers are providing with essential training to ensure  they are able not only to assess the skills needed by current and future employees but also able to  nurture these people so their knowledge translates into higher job satisfaction and productivity. 
 
On this note, it was heartening to hear from Philip Cox at Cheshire and Warrington LEP; for Philip a focus on SMEs, ‘who account for 99% of private sector businesses and 48% of private sector employment in the region,’ is central to his strategy. Indeed, his first priority in their Employment and Skills Strategy is to stimulate employer investment in and demand for skills, at the heart of which is a programme to develop the employers' capacity to train and develop their staff.

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