The skills shortage – what can you do?

Skills Shortage - what can you do about it?

I’m sure you’ve seen the many reports coming out from organisations such as the CIPD, British Chamber of Commerce, Institution of Mechanical Engineers, Engineering UK and others highlighting that the UK will lack the skills required for the future.

A skills shortage is a worrying concern for business, leading to reduced productivity, organisational competitiveness and the ability to attract and retain talent.  

Yet how is this possible when L&D is passionate and cares about developing the skills of their people.

Are companies not investing in people?  

According to research by the CIPD, XpertHR and Bersin the average spend per employee in 2015/2016 is anywhere from £201 to £,1068.  Dig deeper and the spend per employee changes according to the size of company and industry sector of course. In our experience of working with companies of different sizes, the figure is nearer the bottom end of this scale.

Whilst companies are investing more investment is needed. UK organisations must recognise learning isn’t a stop/start exercise and look to protect and increase budgets for L&D.

For those of you without large budgets, we know it can be challenging. But it never needs to be a barrier. L&D can get around this by being creative, use internal resources to share knowledge and best practice and curate free external resources.

Do people not want to learn?

In our experience, people do really want to learn. L&D professionals want to help people learn. Yet there are still ways of thinking within organisations which create barriers to effective learning and knowledge retention.

We believe there are three distinct groups of learners;

  • the self-starters who recognise the importance of developing their own learning plans are life-long learners
  • those who need initial support and guidance to steer them in the right direction at the start with some level of accountability or review
  • and finally, those that need significant support and guidance from others to begin and continue their development

So regardless of the grouping, people want to learn and develop themselves. Some just need more help than others.

Is L&D failing?

In our opinion – no. To start with, Towards Maturity 2016 Benchmark reports that over 50% of training is delivered face to face. This doesn’t surprise us. We doubt face to face will ever stop. What we have seen is L&D improving the effectiveness by creating blended learning programmes, with pre and post event work, e-learning and communities of practice.

The L&D professionals we work with and speak to are proactive, pushing forward the agenda and looking to develop the L&D offering within their companies. They recognise the expertise they have and use it wisely to govern learning and outsource what is appropriate. 

Adopting learning technology continues to be challenging but let’s overcome this. What is clear is that the industry recognises that there isn’t a silver bullet to success. Change takes time.

Look on social media and there are lively discussions between L&D practitioners on how to develop the L&D profession and improve the pace of change. L&D is focused on helping to learn in the best way possible.

What about the line managers?

Line managers have a key role to play. They must combine day-to-day management of people and operations with the implementation of company policy. They have great responsibility for the development of their direct reports. Even more so with the increased adoption of the 70:20:10 model and self-directed learning approach.

However, are they ready for this? Have they learnt or had training on how to develop their direct reports? Do companies judge current and future managers on their ability to develop people or their technical expertise?   In an ideal world, a manager would be capable of both. In the meantime, we need to recognise that continuous investment in the frontline managers is required to help upskill staff.

We can’t ignore the potential skills shortage

One report could be brushed off as scaremongering or lobbying, however several reports, from different industries, including statements from the chief of UK’s cyber security, about the lack of skills tells us we have a real problem.

Let’s, for now, accept that when people enter the workforce they might not have learnt the skills required. It’s not ideal, it’s not right but it’s the situation in front of us and the one that must be addressed. 

What can we do about it?

So, our solutions begin at the point an individual starts working for your company. Day zero.


  • Demand investment in your development and your colleagues
  • Be proactive – push for action, give feedback when leaving, before leaving, don’t work for companies that don’t have a recognised people development approach.


  • Do the same as employees, for them and your behalf
  • Learn how to help employees with their development
  • Develop coaching skills
  • Allocate and allow time for employees to spend on learning. Daily or weekly.

Business leaders

  • Encourage people to learn
  • Or make it compulsory for them to spend time on their development. A performance measurement perhaps?
  • Create a budget that is worthy of your organisation
  • Recognise that all the above is going to help you recruit and retain the best talent work for you
  • Put pressure on the educational system to produce people with hopefully a greater base set of skills or the hunger to learn. Ideally both.

L&D Directors and Managers

  • Support all the three groups in the best way you can
  • Shout about your successes – go on tell your business just how great a job L&D professionals like yourself do
  • Produce reports, show statistics and figures that highlight the need to invest on a continuing basis
  • Demand greater resources
  • Analyse the impact of development – formal or informal
  • Encourage lifelong learning
  • Make yourselves available to the business – daily!

It’s joint responsibility – consider every group a piece of a jigsaw. It can only be completed with all the pieces interlocking.

What next? 

In a couple of years, how will the UK look? We won’t be part of the EU and no one knows what this will really mean. Will we have less access to skilled workers? What impact will it have on trade, exports and imports? And our productivity?

We in L&D need to do everything in our power to turn the tide and support improving the skills our workers. Let’s make ourselves heard, demand better and ensure that reports of this ilk never appear again.

A skills surplus…. now there’s a thought.

Free L&D consultation

If you feel you’d benefit from having a chat about how to resolve the skills shortage and the impact on your organisation please get in touch, we love talking about learning.