Incoming PPMA president Dean Shoesmith has urged public sector organisations to invest in skills despite facing deep budget cuts.
Shoesmith, who takes the helm of the Public Sector People Managers' Association (PPMA) at its annual conference in London today, warned that the UK's skills deficit now posed a problem as great as that of diversity in the 1970s and 1980s, and urged HR not to neglect learning and development when reigning in costs.
Public sector organisations face budget cuts of up to 30% as the government tries to reduce the UK's £178bn deficit.
He told delegates: "My challenge to you for the coming year and beyond is don't neglect skills in your workforce," he said.
"Invest in your workforce. The only way to stimulate the green shoots of recovery is through the development of our workforces."
He added: "There is hidden suffering in all our organisations going on right here and right now. People are leading miserable lives because they don't have adequate skills to lead their lives."
Shoesmith conceded that learning and development budgets were often the first to be hit when efficiencies were needed, but he challenged HR professionals to improve their skills investment, and said cutbacks could be a serious mistake.
As joint head of HR at Sutton and Merton councils, Shoesmith said in his own organisations up to 20% of the workforce – 1,000 workers in each council – required basic skills in literacy, numeracy and computing.
But leadership skills were also a necessity, he said. "Never before has there been a greater need for leadership and development.
"It's so critical. If we don't have the leadership going through these turbulent times and that vision going forward into the future, we have problems."
Shoesmith takes over from Gillian Hibberd as PPMA president. In an interview with Personnel Today, published last week, he called on public sector bodies to start preparing for budget cuts.