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Are your employees hitting the skills ceiling?

6 min read

09 May 2019

A business’s employees are amongst its greatest assets and the benefits of training and upskilling are there for all to see. How can employers step up and break the skills ceiling?

“Before you become a leader, success is all about growing yourself. After you become a leader, success is about growing others.”

So said Jack Welch, one of the most successful business executives of the past century, famous for leading General Electric for 20 years. His position reflects the need for businesses to consistently invest in their employees and enable them to contribute in the best possible way.

Unfortunately, many people in the UK are trapped under a ‘skills ceiling’. Individuals are not provided with opportunities to continually upskill and, as a result, are being limited in their career development. This lack of opportunity is leading to substandard business productivity, low morale, and poor staff retention. A more targeted approach to skills development is needed to support individuals to grow in their careers, which will in turn allow businesses to develop and thrive.

What is the skills ceiling?

The Office of National Statistics’ 2018 Annual Survey of Hours and Earnings (ASHE) identified a significant gap of £11,926 in yearly average earnings between those who receive regular upskilling opportunities and those who don’t. According to the Centre for Social Justice, employers’ investment in skills training has dropped by 25% in the past decade, with just one in 10 workers currently studying for a nationally recognised qualification. In addition, while 79% of UK businesses expect to increase their number of higher-skilled roles over the coming years, 66% fear that there will be a lack of sufficiently skilled people to fill vacancies.

Why should businesses offer employees more training?

Recent LinkedIn research found that employees who are offered opportunities to learn at work are 47% less likely to be stressed, 39% more likely to feel productive and successful, 23% more ready to take on additional responsibilities, and 21% more likely to feel confident and happy. A further study from the University of Warwick found that upskilling gives employees more confidence and autonomy, again resulting in an uptick in productivity. It is clear that businesses that invest in the skills of their employees are also more likely to retain them and attract high quality staff from elsewhere.

What actually is the skills ceiling?

Businesses that invest in their staff are more likely to retain them.

Employees want to feel that their employers are investing in their growth and personal development – a Boston Consulting Group survey of 200,000 people established that the opportunity to learn new skills at work is now considered one of the most important factors for continued job satisfaction. Upskilling can also lead to enhanced job security, which is another key driver of staff happiness and wellbeing.

More training would also be good for the UK as a whole. According to the Centre for Social Justice, if the entire UK workforce was upskilled, the economy would benefit by an estimated £125bn. Many lower-skilled workers who fail to retrain can instead put themselves at enhanced risk of unemployment, putting a greater strain on the Treasury.

What should businesses do?

AAT is calling on all UK businesses to help employees break through the skills ceiling and realise their full potential. This means providing regular upskilling and training opportunities to employees particularly in digital, financial and general business skills (such as communication). These are skills required by, and key to the success of, every business, no matter what industry, to help employees meet the demands of the modern-day workplace.

Learn about the skills ceiling

More training would be good for the UK as a whole.

Increasingly, the workers of today are seeking more flexibility. Employers can help meet this demand by offering short, sharp upskilling opportunities with instant practical benefits for employees. It shouldn’t be forgotten that businesses will also benefit from investing in shorter training opportunities because their employees will be able to learn and apply new skills to the workplace in a shorter amount of time. 

As we face an uncertain future for the economy, businesses need to put themselves in as strong a position as possible to weather the changes that may lie ahead. This can be done by ensuring that employees have the correct training opportunities to enable them to develop. Training and upskilling broadens an employee’s skill set, and by encouraging it you’ll be enabling them to take on additional responsibilities and supporting them on their career pathway, allowing them and your business to mutually benefit.

A business’s employees are amongst its greatest assets and the benefits of training and upskilling are there for all to see. Now it is up to employers to step up and break the skills ceiling, for the sake of both business and employee.

Mark Farrar is Chief Executive at AAT (Association of Accounting Technicians), the UK’s leading qualification and professional body for technical accountants and bookkeepers. For more on how AAT can help train and upskill both finance and non-finance staff, visit AAT Train Your Staff.