It was interesting to listen to Digby Jones at the recent Personnel Today HR
Directors Club in London. The CBI chief made particular reference to the recent
media coverage on the ‘offshore’ phenomenon. As we are all aware, the UK
manufacturing industry went through a challenging time during the late 1980s
and early ’90s when it became fashionable to outsource operations to emerging
It was the finance sector that filled the hole left by manufacturing’s
exodus, generating employment by building call centres. Now it too is feeling
the pressure to offshore its business, turning to other countries to carry out
call centre and processing activities.
Jones’ view is that it is inevitable that these moves will continue and we
should plan for them rather than resist them. He reckons it is our
responsibility as an HR community to equip those employees remaining in the UK
with a different set of appropriate skills.
This will leave us with many issues to face, not least increased
unemployment. Specifically, there would be a greater impact on the young as our
16-20 year-olds will find it harder to find early employment opportunities and
to learn basic vocational skills.
We simply cannot sustain an economy that has a working population derived
only from university graduates. We need to vocationally train and employ school
leavers straight after GCSEs. In the past decade, 16 year-olds have been
encouraged to stay on at school, complete their A-Levels, then move on to
university. We even banished the word ‘polytechnic’ from the English language
in a bid to persuade our youngsters that attendance at a ‘university’ would
give them a higher status.
This needs to stop. There is a credible alternative career option still open
to 16-24 year-olds – the Modern Apprenticeship Scheme.
There are less schemes these days than, say, 20 years ago, but there are
currently more than 140,000 modern apprentices being trained across the UK.
Furthermore the Government, through its local Learning and Skills Councils, is
beginning to heavily promote Modern Apprenticeship Schemes with an added
incentive this year of a training allowance. This is aimed at two areas: first,
it is designed to encourage more school leavers to sign up to the scheme; and
second, it helps smaller companies (SMEs) access a pool of trained applicants
ready for work from day one of employment.
Our nation will always need an ongoing supply of trained, employable,
skilled youngsters whether craftsman, engineers, technicians, electricians or
business administrators. It really is time for employers to action vocational
training and employment for school leavers by tapping into programmes like the
Modern Apprentice Scheme. University should not be the only option for the
By Alan Bailey, Head of business process outsourcing, Xchanging