On Monday we had the honour of hosting the first afternoon of the CBI’s 2021 conference from our offices in Birmingham’s Mailbox, where we welcomed Lord Bilimoria and the Rt. Hon. Sir Keir Starmer KCB, QC, MP to open the afternoon session of the conference along with an esteemed panel of speakers and 120 guests from the local business community.
But prior to that, the conference kicked off in the Port of Tyne with the CBI Director General, Tony Danker, delivering a clear message to business; with the right strategy, the UK can build the most competitive, dynamic and future-focused economy in the world. He stated that this strategy is based on six key areas; decarbonising our economy, putting innovation first, alongside future technology; reinvigorating our global trade; building thriving regions and nations; adapting to a changing workforce; and building a healthier nation, post pandemic.
He highlighted that one of the major challenges facing the UK is to level up. We need to see economic growth in every part of the country which will deliver a better future for all, with better paid jobs, and better skills resulting in real economic growth. And skills development is a major part of the levelling up agenda. When skills rise, so does economic growth and those organisations that can achieve the balance between skills and productivity will be the ones that thrive.
And it was the subject of skills that we focused on here in Birmingham yesterday. We warmly welcomed the leader of the opposition, Sir Keir Starmer, who took the time to walk around our offices, meet some of our team and even welcome five of our new recruits on their first day. Sir Keir outlined the need for businesses and government to respond to the current skills crisis and said that if we are serious about tackling productivity, we must fundamentally put in place steps to tackle long term skills development. He called out the need for critical thinking, creativity, communication and the ability to work in a team, along with prioritising digital, technical and vocational skills.
To explore the skills and talent issue in greater detail, I joined a panel discussion hosted by Lord Bilimoria alongside Phillip Gbormittah, Director of Rosterfy, Dr Helen Roberts, CEO of Robinson PLC and Joanna Swash, CEO of Moneypenny. The conversation focused on where business can look to open up more diverse talent pools such as those coming out of the armed forces and individuals with disabilities, whilst also looking beyond just graduate hires and offering more on-the-job training. It also showed that we need to be educating future generations about the jobs that are available within a business and the skills they will need to enter the workplace of the future
Cracking the current skills crisis is the greatest challenge currently facing businesses. Senior leaders have a role in creating diverse and inclusive workplaces that bring wider experiences and points of view together and which will result in greater innovation, challenge the existing ways of doing things and ultimately increase productivity.
We were also extremely proud to announce yesterday our partnership with Astriid, a UK charity that connects businesses with talented recruits who are suffering with disability or long term chronic illness, who have had their career ambitions thwarted by their condition. This partnership will see candidates sourced for roles across our hub offices and is a further commitment on our journey to create an equitable and inclusive company where all people can thrive. It will also enable us to continue to improve our approach and benefit from many years of experience And education that these candidates have to offer.
The last eighteen months have seen business pushed to the brink and it has demanded resilience, hard work and tenacity of workforces and leaders to help protect livelihoods and communities. We can succeed in closing the skills gap if we are prepared to look beyond the obvious and be more flexible in our approach. This may mean taking a good hard look at our workplaces and current processes to make sure they are accessible to everyone. From simple physical adaptations such as making sure those with disabilities can move easily within the office, to implementing the right digital solutions that enable effective remote working. It is all achievable. We need to offer flexibility too, with deeper understanding of the challenges faced by certain groups, so we can agree working hours that suit individuals as well as organisations and their teams.
We should remember too, that work is much more than just a way to make ends meet. It offers people a purpose, enriches their lives with experiences, and is an essential contributor to their self-esteem. Young people have dreams and ambitions and look to their employers to nurture and support them to fulfil their potential. Working with educators we can provide the necessary insights that can equip the future workforce with the appropriate skills, thus furnishing our businesses and wider economy with the talent we need to build long term prosperity. We can’t afford to drag our feet on this – now really is the time to ‘seize the moment’ and invest in skills development for a future where everyone can thrive, prosper and realise their full potential.