Pain to Train? Employers need to focus on Train to Gain

13 December 2007

Up-skilling a workforce is generally considered the best way to increase its productivity, but where is the evidence to support this theory and what other factors are key to boosting commercial performance?

Employers must focus on boosting appropriate skills within their workforce
Employers must focus on boosting appropriate skills within their workforce

Peter Pease, director of national training provider QGS Synergy, discusses how, in his experience, only relevant employee engagement is key to empowering staff and consequently improving a businesses productivity.

Increasing productivity is pivotal to the success of any company that wants to keep its competitive edge. This cannot be ordered or bought, instead this business ethos needs to be instilled throughout the entire workforce, an ethos that is continually renewed, evaluated and amended.

Traditionally productivity is recognised as a measure of how well an organisation achieves appropriate output whilst minimising the resources needed. In reality this could mean the removal of a process, which could ultimately lead to redundancy, although this should never be the case.

Improving productivity is not about simply controlling cost, it's about being competitive, introducing change, sustaining performance, response, reliability and quality - all the factors involved in managing a successful company. It is a culture that needs to be evident within a company’s values where all employees continually strive to make better use of available resources. This ongoing process ensures the work effort within an organisation is both effective and efficient.

The UK’s manufacturing and engineering industries are facing increasingly tougher competition from Asia –they provide cheaper labour and higher levels of quality production than the UK, thus offering better value for money over homegrown alternatives, but for what price to our workforce and economy?

Although up-skilling a workforce has the potential to play a distinctive role when improving the profitability of a company, it can only provide the tools for employers to encourage this industrious culture …In this respect, the buck always stops with the managing director.

It may sound obvious, but when an employer decides to significantly bolster the skills of their workforce it is crucial they focus on the appropriate skills for the business. The modern day mentality for many employers has steered away from this with much emphasis on only raising the qualification levels of staff, not the skills they need to support business objectives. By providing relevant skills, training is then utilised to not only bolster an individual’s proficiency but also improve the efficiency of an overall workforce, as a unit - upskilling the company if you will.

No matter the size of a business or the sector operated in, identifying areas of weakness and under-performance is crucial if you wish to successfully improve the way the company manages its resources. To effectively manage productivity and continually enhance it, a method of measurement must be implemented to identify areas for improvement. One factor often missing in order to measure the progress of a workforce is the starting point: the initial measurements on productivity levels, quality data and waste measurement. Recording productivity levels enables progress to be tracked and problems identified. It is from here that the management can then observe the workforce and develop their competitive edge.

One common problem that is perpetuated by most employers is the perception that improving productivity is only possible through the better skilled managers. Often forgotten are the front line staff who represent the real productivity engine in most sectors. To address this, employers must accept the management potential of the shop floor staff.

In our experience it is often front-line staff - those with few, if any, qualifications - who have the knowledge and experience to improve business operations; but are often excluded from initiatives to share ideas and implement waste reduction projects. The key is, understanding how best to engage staff to optimise commercial output.

The pressures associated with managing a workforce become an obstacle when attempting to step back and analyse staff’s needs. It is important to recognise staff as an important resource and encouraging development is crucial. A legacy of staff loyalty, dedication and motivation, are all priceless commodities that span through a workforce and assist in helping to increase productivity.

Two recent examples of financial benefits being derived from delivering continuous improvement training to the main workforce are worth mentioning.

In a manufacturing environment, QGS delivered its Business Improvement Techniques Programme (BIT) to production operatives resulting in one Business Improvement Project (candidates usually take part in three) identifying a potential waste saving of £3.2 million per annum.

A second example was in a service environment and the same programme identified an improvement equating to £2.4 million per annum. In both cases, QGS used a nationally recognised qualification as the template and Train-to-Gain funds covered all fees; the only investment from the employer was 25 hours per candidate, on average, and their time to guide us on key business priorities.

Ultimately, employers alone have the ability to fully assess their resources by identifying issues holding back productivity and subsequently making strategic decisions to become more efficient and productive.
The enlightened employer, however, will realise the role of the workforce in this process and take advantage of training interventions as well as working on the organisation’s cultural ethos, to help achieve optimum business performance.

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