Strategy & management, Comment

“Are we no longer able to ­consider a slight decrease in productivity to develop the future stars of our workforce?”

It is no secret that over the past few years there has been a focus on an ageing workforce and a decline in younger workers entering particular industries.

I would like to play devil’s advocate and suggest a notion that, yes, we do have an ageing workforce, but that has always been the case. That is one thing we can be certain of: each year we get one year older. Is it the case, however, that we do not have the right skills in our young people to backfill or learn from our experienced colleagues, and that we’re raising the bar so high that the skills available are not being considered?

I would suggest that our mature, highly experienced employees and colleagues did not leave education with all the skills and qualifications that they hold today, so why do we feel we can develop a younger workforce to directly replace those that are entering retirement?

A phrase we hear a lot is “work ready”. What does this mean? I hear often that young people need to be trained to QCF Level 4, an equivalent or higher and that they need to hold at least six months’ industry experience with all the desired technical and health and safety related qualifications.

Could it be the case, even with the focus on apprentices, that we have started to lose the tradition of ‘an apprenticeship’? By that I mean a young learner being effectively and adequately developed by another more qualified, experienced individual to enable that young learner to take on that role in the future.

I am not for one second saying this is happening across all industries or by all of those committed to apprentice development. I am merely trying to look at it from a different perspective.

Are there the young people with an acceptable level of “work ready” skills trying and willing to be supervised and mentored to enhance their skills and become an effective member of the workforce? Or are we setting the requirements that high because we expect the apprentice to be a productive member of the workforce from day one?

Are practical skills at level 2 or theoretical knowledge at level 3 not a suitable possession of the foundational skills needed? Or do we no longer have the ability to consider a slight decrease in productivity in the interest of developing the future stars of our workforce?

I fully appreciate there are many factors to consider and unfortunately it is never straightforward, but from my observations and experience, countless numbers of people are willing but find it too difficult to get that elusive “foot in the door”.

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