Skills agenda still on track despite impact of recession

Employers have insisted the skills agenda is on track despite admitting it was “inevitable” that training and development would suffer during the recession.

A UK Commission for Employment and Skills (UKCES) report last week warned the UK would fail to meet a key Leitch Review target to train at least 90% of the workforce to Level 2 by 2020, if the UK did not speed up progress. But it refused to blame a lack of skills achievements on the economic downturn, claiming employers were, and should, be training their staff regardless of financial pressure.

Business groups including the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) and the CBI stressed firms were better placed now than in any other recession to continue training their staff.However, they warned it was unavoidable that the downturn would slow progress on training, and called on HR managers to keep making the case for skills to chief executives.

HR professionals attending last week’s Human Resources Forum onboard the Oriana discuss the impact of the recession on their organisations’ training provision. Interviewees: Natasha Cragg, head of HR recruitment and retention, Hoare Lea; Sean Wheeler, group director of people development, Malmaison and Hotel du Vin Hotels; and Victoria Hindle, lead HR manager, Rathbone.

John Philpott, chief economic adviser at the CIPD, told Personnel Today: “Compared to previous recessions, employers are keen to continue investing in skills. But at the moment the recession is bound to have an effect.

“Employers don’t see the recession as an excuse to cut investment, but in some cases it’s inevitable because you’ve got to cut something.”

He urged organisations to review what training packages delivered value for money.

Mike Campbell, author of the UKCES report, warned HR would make a “serious error of judgement” if it failed to convince business leaders why training was important.

The head of education and skills at the CBI, Richard Wainer,said: “If you compare the recession to the one in the early 1990s, the skills agenda is much higher on the priority list. But budgets are clearly under pressure. For companies facing redundancies, skills is not going to be at the top of their agenda.”

He added: “HR clearly needs to make the case for how the training they want to do will impact on the bottom line.”

Lee Hopley,head of economic policy at manufacturers’ body the EEF, agreed. “It’s inevitable that training will slow during a recession, but HR recognises their [organisation’s] people are part of building up competitiveness,” she said.

The Department for Innovation, Universities and Skills stressed significant progress had been made towards encouraging employers to offer training, such as providing more funding for apprenticeships.

Opinion: Jim Hillage

It is true that some employers will do less or delay training during a recession. As quite a few are recruiting far less, it is understandable that less training may be needed. But a large number are recognising that in a tough economic environment, maintaining a competitive advantage is key, and skilling up your workforce is a big part of that.

Training budgets might be cut, but the training volume can remain steady, with firms looking to develop employees’ skills more economically by bringing more training in-house and moving staff to different roles to give them broad experience.”

Jim Hillage is research director at the Institute for Employment Studies

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