Who, today, begins employment with a view to remaining in that organisation for the next five years, let alone until retirement? We are living in a time in which short-term employment and self-managed careers are the norm. Employees have taken charge of their own destiny, often moving from company to company to advance their careers, and employers are having to fight harder to keep their staff. It is widely accepted that people are the foundation of organisational success. Without a capable and motivated workforce, an organisation will struggle to survive in today's fiercely competitive business climate. Winning the competition for skills is the first step to winning the competition for customers.
Organisations don't just have to compete for skills with other organisations in the UK, they also have to maintain the loyalty of their workforce in the face of strong attraction from abroad. Foreign study and travel have almost become an inevitable stage in a student's academic career. From there, it is a small step to seek work in a different country, which the student perceives to offer more than our own. In today's fluid society, with people moving easily from country to country, it is imperative, particularly within the single market, that UK businesses are able to attract and maintain a skilled workforce.
Britain was ranked 11th in the World Competitiveness Yearbook, published in June last year. This excellent result was due to strong economic growth and falling unemployment. Over 22 million people are currently in employment and we cannot afford to underestimate the extent to which our economy depends on maintaining the motivation and improving the ability of the workforce. Skills are also a key to generating inward investment.
The creation of corporate or national wealth is best represented by the following: national or corporate wealth equals productivity equals skills equals training equals education. It is a linear equation, which shows that education is the beginning of the continuum having a direct effect on the economy. The Government's commitment to lifelong learning will not just benefit the individuals who develop their skills and experience but the country as a whole. Likewise, the Investors in People Standard, which helps employers to improve the performance of their employees against specified corporate aims, will simultaneously improve individual ability, corporate performance and UK competitiveness, as well as acting as a sweeper for the whole process. I have long believed that the only difference between company A and company B, or indeed between country A and country B, is the skill and leadership of its people. Yet, although 80% of chief executives recognise that investment in people is key to business success, a report carried out by Coopers & Lybrand and Investors in People UK has found that only one in three has a written human resource strategy aligned to corporate objectives and that 20% of boards do not have a member with responsibility for people issues.
While CEOs fail to act to ensure that their employees will be capable of contributing to business success in the future, they fail to tap into the commitment and motivation of their employees, who feel undervalued and uninvolved. Research published during Investors in People Week 1997, found that one in four workers in Britain feel underutilised, bored, demotivated or stressed. As a result, employers are left facing a hefty bill in staff turnover and poor efficiency, which could be avoided.
Proper feedback and evaluation, as shown by the Investors in People Standard, are essential to ensure that 'spending' on training becomes 'investing'.
Boredom and frustration at work is often the result of an employee's lack of involvement with the company's goals and a feeling that their ideas are not wanted or listened to. For the employer, staff turnover increases as employees walk out of the door for more interesting jobs.
There is also an impact on levels of customer service and quality - both key areas of success in today's competitive environment.
The cost of replacing an employee has been estimated by the Institute of Personnel and Development at up to £15,000, depending on the experience and skills of that individual. As well as the direct costs of advertising, recruitment and training, there are indirect costs such as lost production, reduced performance levels, unnecessary overtime and low morale. Maintaining the loyalty of good employees is a sound business investment. When an employee leaves, heading for another organisation, so does his or her training, knowledge and job experience. The choice for an employer in finding a replacement then lies between the unemployed, whose skills and experience may well be out-of-date or less relevant, or in poaching individuals from other rival companies - a process that involves lengthy and expensive recruitment and induction processes.
The Coopers & Lybrand research found that some 62% of CEOs fear that their employees are ill-equipped in terms of skills. Yet, it is in the hands of the CEOs to change this situation. Skills shortages are often the result of short-termism and little or no analysis of present or future training needs. Nearly half of the chief executives questioned also said that they were concerned about training level. The answer must lie in analysing what people skills are needed to meet the changing demands of the workplace and then putting a framework in place to fill the gaps.
Keeping skilled workers is one of the first business goals. However, as companies expand and evolve, they will inevitably have to search the job market for able individuals who will contribute to the growing success of the organisation. As the workforce is becoming increasingly demanding, organisations will have to demonstrate that they will take the development of that individual seriously. For today's career-focused employees, the offer of self-development and good training can be as motivational as a bonus. The more people know, the more people grow. The more things people know how to do, the more things they will be motivated to do.