High-growth businesses prioritise investing in ‘emotional’ skills


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Collaboration, adaptability, and resilience will all be key skills for the next generation of workers to possess

High-growth businesses prioritise investing in skills to retain talent, according to Grant Thornton’s People Power: Talent and Skills as Growth report.

The research, seen exclusively by HR magazine, showed that businesses whose turnover increased by more than 20% over the past year identified talent and skills as key accelerators of, but also barriers to, growth. Three-quarters (75%) of these high-growth businesses said that recruiting talent is a challenge in their organisation, compared to 59% of other businesses.

The rise of AI, potential skills shortages due to Brexit, and high employment all spell rapid changes to work, the report stated. Which means new skills, including technical skills, collaboration, and adaptability, will be in high demand, said Keely Woodley, head of the human capital services practice at Grant Thornton.

“We’re entering a new phase of industrialisation. High employment rates, and the rise of job review sites like Glassdoor means that workers have never had more power,” she told HR magazine.

“We were unsurprised to see that, of the skills needed to build a future career, technical skills came in at the most valuable. But we also saw that employers rated emotional skills as more valuable than academic qualifications,” she said.

Employers seeking these skills are looking beyond traditional hiring methods, Woodley said. “Once upon a time employers were looking to get people with the best A-Level results. But now they need people who will be resilient, dynamic, and flexible, which isn’t information you’re going to get through traditional models of recruitment.”

Wholesaler Pricecheck was cited as a case study in the report. “Because of where we are geographically [Sheffield] we didn’t have access to a huge talent pool, so we had to look for other ways to find the right people. So we forged strong links with local universities, and made sure there were plenty of opportunities for people to progress,” explained HR manager Lucy Goddard.

The business spent time with individuals to identify what they needed to progress. One example is a geography student who had the right aptitude for a buyer’s role but needed a driver’s licence, which the organisation then funded.

Goddard added: “Sometimes when you get people straight from graduate schemes they can be slightly more complacent, and we know that younger generations are less likely to stay in their first jobs. So this has meant we get people who are far more adaptable, which is an important trait to have for the growth of any business.”

Woodley emphasised that HR should avoid making assumptions about younger workers’ skills. “There is a tendency among some organisations to automatically associate digital skills with young people. But if businesses want someone who is technically-savvy they should look for someone who can provide that, rather than looking at young people alone,” she said.

Construction company Kier Group’s approach has been to invest in apprentices from a range of backgrounds. “We’ve been delivering apprentices for many years, but we really wanted to look at how we can drive diversity,” explained early careers manager Katie Nightingale. “So we broadened out our search through looking at groups of people who are returning to work, such as ex-forces individuals.”

Outside of Kier’s digital construction apprenticeship scheme, it also provides training in commercial roles, finance, and chartered accountancy. Looking at what employees want from work is vital to retaining talent, added Nightingale.

“We’ve been providing far more agile working options as we know that flexible working is something employees value. But above all we know that people want to be motivated, and that’s why continuing to give people the right development opportunities is so important.”

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