#BuildBritainBackBetter – Redeploying, upskilling and upcycling the UK workforce

DeeDee Doke looks at sustainable employability – a ‘new deal’ on recruitment and redeployment in the UK.

The timing of PM Boris Johnson’s announcement of “a new deal” is welcome not only as a move to boost the economy but also as a means of getting hospital improvements and rail and road repairs underway.

Spending on physical infrastructure can create jobs and improve quality of life for those who use the improved hospitals, new and improved rail services and roads. However, it’s also time to launch a ‘new deal’ on recruitment, employment and skills transfer in the UK. Let’s call it ‘sustainable employability’.

If a job and skills are a person’s most valuable assets, the loss of a job can mean being kicked into a no-man’s land of unemployment, the wastage of skills that can be built upon and lengthy or permanent exile to a label of ‘un-needed’, ‘un-wanted’ or ‘useless’.

This is not a new phenomenon; it’s as old as the concept of a job itself.

But most approaches to both fuelling the needs of a business or industry and upcycling or redeploying existing skills and abilities fall short in a world that demands instant gratification and perfect keyword matches when hiring.

That’s where sustainable employability comes in.

Recycling skills
One example of an effort in this direction is the UK’s aerospace industry, which tries to match employees in roles facing redundancy with skills requirements in other aerospace companies.

However, there is opportunity to extend this much more widely. Take the skills challenges of the Covid-19 pandemic. Front-line help in basic emergency aid was needed in hospitals, with many roles filled by cabin crew staff whose services were not needed on their employers’ aircraft, an initiative that took place not only in the UK but in Sweden. When a call went out for social care workers across London, displaced retail and hospitality business employees were sought after for their customer service abilities which would be applicable in a care setting.

And what about the manufacturing workers at Ford who shifted their activity from making cars to making ventilators? This exemplifies the capability to switch gears quickly and apply skills to different types of products and uses within the same factory when leadership is attuned to core capabilities and skills.

National skills inventory
The practice needs greater formalisation – for instance, how do you log banks of workers in given areas with transferrable skills? Perhaps we need to start with skills inventories in local areas and in regions – something that professional networking site LinkedIn has certainly looked at and has worked on – along the lines of a national census.

This rethink of recruitment and employment is especially critical for the workforces of the UK’s ‘salt of the earth’ industries: hospitality, retail, manufacturing, social care, call centres, facilities maintenance, transport. They are so likely to have transferrable, upskill-able skills and too often not considered sufficiently flexible to move across.

Redeployment and upskilling
At the more technical end of redeployment and upskilling, employers moving into new products or services often make workers redundant who have experience on the previous offering. They regularly aim simply to bring on new workers with already attained credentials or skills for the new ways of working. What a waste. Upskilling – or as I prefer to say, upcycling – their workforce creates an adaptable, flexible, even more valuable team than before.

Recruiters could build a sustainable employability model to support their current industry based on knowledge sharing with other recruiters and clients, staying ahead of what new products or services are on the way and ensuring they understand the nuts and bolts of what might be needed to put the new ‘thing’ together.

Admittedly, responsibility for sustainable employability has started at the local level – a good example is the West Midlands Combined Authority – and within some of the more proactive Local Enterprise Partnerships (LEPs). However, recruiters should seize the moment to offer a broader view of what is possible through clients and candidates that are based across the country for industry-wide and basic skill set approaches.

Given the implications and realities of the Covid-19 pandemic for the UK economy, many – too many – people will lose their jobs. But at the same time as we build our roads and rail to new standards, let’s look at building on the core ‘salt of the earth’ skills we have, and support and upskill the people who may have the toughest time finding new jobs into new roles, new careers and industries they might not have previously considered. Let’s build opportunity, so that everyone who wants to work is recognised for having valuable skills.

DeeDee Doke is editor of Recruiter and recruiter.co.uk

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