Investing in future generations of employees is crucial for the future say employers at the latest ‘The Future of the Workplace’ event held in Peterborough on the 24th January 2019…

Broster Buchanan, a consultancy that partners with employers to help attract and retain talent, is pioneering a series of events to better understand the challenges UK companies are facing. The project is paving the way in supporting positive developments in the workplace and facilitate better links between education and employers to encourage a stronger workforce for the future.

At the third event in the series, representatives from the area’s leading employers including United Learning, AstraZeneca, Associated British Foods and Masthaven Bank discussed the key challenges they are facing in creating a workplace fit for the future. On the agenda was a number of topics including Brexit, managing five generations in the workplace and the attraction and retention of future generations of employees.

With Brexit creating a huge amount of uncertainty, there is no doubt that the possible impact is at the top of the agenda for many businesses. Food supply chain, logistics and manufacturing sectors who rely heavily on the European labour market are extremely concerned about the stability of their workforce.

Alan Peeling, CEO for two local manufacturing businesses expressed his thoughts, ‘Around 60% of our staff are European workers. They don’t know if they can continue working in the UK and we can offer little security and certainty to them because it is so unclear; the consequences of us losing them could be catastrophic.’  The potential impact is palpable for small businesses like Alan’s and other larger companies such as United Learning are undertaking in-depth internal investigations to fully understand the impact of Brexit on their workforce.

Another key topic discussed on the day was the strategy around retention of multi-generational employees, now a defining feature of today’s workplace; 50% of the workforce are Millennials and Generation Z (those born between early 1980’s and early 2000’s). It is widely accepted that they expect a different management style and working environment to that experienced by previous generations. ‘There are now 5 generations in the workplace and individuals should be managed, developed and incentivised differently’ says Jenny Comer, Group Financial Controller for AB Agri, part of Associated British Foods. ‘Where one team member might want to reduce their working hours as they head towards retirement, the other may need nurturing and developing with incentives.’ These policies need to work with the needs of individuals and we can’t assume one size fits all.

Flexible working is now par for the course; remote access, the gig economy and shortage of talent means employers have to adopt alternative way of working to compete in the market. United Learning is working hard to develop benefits and rewards to attract and retain talent and have introduced term-time working and job-shares, however as a business operating within the education field this has been harder to implement in schools. ‘The rigid school day makes is harder for us to offer flexibility for teaching posts and this can prevent us from attracting a wider talent pool. We have to think outside the box and be creative to ensure a workplace fit for the future’ said Lisa Cole, Head of HR at United Learning.

The increase in demand to pursue interests outside of work, particularly within the millennial community has encouraged employers to consider retention schemes to attract and retain the best talent in the market. With younger generations leaving to pursue travelling ventures, one employer has implemented a 2-5 month unpaid sabbatical with a guarantee of their job back on their return. With the scheme currently in pilot stage and being trialled on existing staff who have worked in the business for over 3 years, they are currently not externally advertising the benefit. However, results so far have been really positive and will be rolled out across the business if successful.

Attraction of talent is becoming more of a challenge as employers struggle with the widening skills gap. The latest research from Microsoft UK suggests that more than half (58%) of teachers believe the current education system isn’t preparing children for a digital future. With skills shortages in the UK now at critical levels and university debts at an all-time high, there needs to be more investment in developing the education system to prepare for the future workplace. Schools need funding to secure an improved digital infrastructure; over half are still using analogue equipment (Microsoft UK) and students need more opportunity for hands-on experience through work placements, internships and apprenticeships.

According to the Institute of Fiscal Studies, the average university student will graduate with debts of over £50,000 which for many this is just not palatable. In a bid to offer alternative routes to a professional career employer need to seek to forge strong links with local schools to showcase their careers and encourage students to consider workplace alternatives which will offer both qualifications and work experience.  In Germany around 60% of young people enter a vocational training programme as an alternative to university education, and unemployment rates are almost a third lower than other EU countries.

The apprenticeship levy, introduced to all employers with an annual wage bill of over £3 million per annum in 2015 was created to encourage more apprenticeships by 2020 in light of the widening skills gap. However, the general consensus is employers have found the system too complex to navigate and it feels more like a tax than an incentive, and apprenticeship numbers have in fact been in decline since the levy was introduced.

There is no doubt increased government funding is required to revolutionise the UK education system, but alongside this there is a huge opportunity for employers to create a driving force of partnerships with industry specialists and other businesses to share best practise and work together; building relationships with schools will help to develop a stronger internal infrastructure, offering an improved pathway to internships and apprenticeships and ultimately encouraging a stronger workforce for the future.

‘The Future of the Workplace’ will be visiting Birmingham on the 7th March and further events in Newcastle, Leeds and Nottingham are planned for later in 2019.

‘Bridge the Gap’, a spin-off project which aims to support employers and schools in offering students more tangible and relevant careers advice and experience from UK employers is being developed and is expected to launch later this year.

For more information contact Lenna Thompson on 07377 625 413.