Author – Chris Saxby, Managing Director, CSW Group Ltd. 

Invest in your team now: Has there ever been a more pressing or opportune time?

 

I offer a hypothesis – investment may be more important now than at any other time I can recall.

The immediate effects of Brexit, the ongoing pandemic challenges, and the current conflict in Ukraine, have had a negative effect on many employers of all sizes within the SW. Business confidence is low, skill levels are in short supply and profits are being squeezed.

 

Keynesian theory (love him or loathe him!) would suggest that when the tide is out and expected future demand is low, that is the time to make investment and boost productivity, to see disposable incomes increase in real terms fuelling consumption and the wider economy, thus driving up future demand until the cycle is repeatable. The virtuous circle all starts with investment.

We could wait to find out at a national level what central government investment is being derived, but for the SW we know already that this will be managed within the form of levelling up devolution for Cornwall and Devon; great news providing real levers in local hands.

What opportunity does this represent? The chance to level up on skills development. Sounds grand, but what does this mean? Almost any statistical marker indicates that there are more skilled jobs in the SW than skilled people to deliver them. Many employers hold out hope when recruiting, that the perfectly round prospective employee is going to turn up to interview and fit their perfectly round vacancy hole. Sadly, life’s increasingly not like that – which is where the investment in people, young people in particular, and their future skills comes in.

 

Now, more than ever, we need to think of adjacent and complementary skills rather than simply bespoke experience (and I know there’ll be those keen to point out that I wouldn’t want a dentist with adjacent and complementary skills performing open heart surgery on me …). But what skills could be learned on the job? How long are you going to keep vacancies open and unfulfilled while looking for the perfect current fit of skills and experience when you could be spending such time training and developing those eager to learn and engage?

So, we get sold on the notion that investing in people skills, especially in someone new, to fulfil our gap might be an attractive proposition; problem solved – right? Wrong! Because we’re not the only ones out there drawing the same conclusion. Just because we want new employees it is not axiomatic that they will want us!

There’s a second investment that’s essential – in ourselves as businesses and employers. Our unique selling point to the labour market is not necessarily the fabulous products we make or the endearing services we provide but the way our businesses are run. ESG is a term on many corporate lips now – environmental, social, and corporate governance – or the extent to which we work on behalf of social goals that goes beyond making profit. Many young people today (our future majority workforce) judge who they wish to work for by the impact that a company has on society as a whole and not just on their employees. While some might see this as yet another challenge it offers a significant opportunity.

In offering some thoughts about investment, could we be encouraged as employers to consider those within our society in the SW who may be furthest from the labour market today; those with additional support needs, special educational needs, disability or those with mental health issue? It’s easy to wring our hands and claim that investment here is simply wasted, or that there’s limited value to be returned, but could we be invited to think again. Not every role needs someone wholly able-bodied; one in four of us are likely to suffer from a mental health issue at some stage within our working lifetime and personal situations can change remarkably quickly with just the smallest of good or bad luck. Broader consideration of investment in our future workforce might just surprise us with the value that it returns.

This article doesn’t offer investment as a sole solution; it isn’t promoting how such investment should be made or the levels of return possible, nor does it seek to determine what businesses should invest in. It does, however, advance the argument that investment is necessary now more than ever – after all, wise investment could support the attraction of future new employees alongside the advancement of our businesses’ ESG, and that’s not a bad place for resurgence to begin!

There’s always the people investment maxim to remember:

 

 

Chris Saxby
Managing Director
CSW Group Ltd

For well over 25 years CSW, whilst uncovering learning and work opportunities for many thousands of local people, has adapted to meet market demand, and changing government requirements.  We are the South-West’s own company, proudly delivering our services for the Local Authority areas of Cornwall, Devon, Plymouth, and Torbay, with a priority focus on those younger people in our society with special educational needs and disabilities (SEND) or social, emotional, and mental health needs (SEMH), those at risk of becoming not in employment, education, or training (NEET), and those that are NEET now and for their projected future without suitable intervention.