How to smash through the skills ceiling

Whatever industry employees work in, regular upskilling and training opportunities are required to succeed in the modern-day workplace.

Digital, financial and general business skills in particular are needed to grow workers and, in turn, help meet the changing needs of their employer.

As part of our AATPowerUp series, AAT has uncovered a wealth of evidence that there is a skills ceiling which is costing lower paid staff an average of £11,926 a year – the gap between those who receive regular upskilling and those who do not.

Every piece of evidence we found tells us that, where employees are not provided with the chance to upskill, this leads directly to substandard business productivity, low morale and poor retention of workers.

Yet investment in skills training has dropped by a quarter in the past decade, and while the Confederation of British Industry reports that four in five UK businesses expect to increase the number of higher-skilled roles over the coming years, two-thirds worry there will be a lack of sufficiently skilled people to fill them.

Why should businesses tackle the skills ceiling?

  • Upskilling provides many benefits to help tackle low productivity in the UK. A Happiness and Productivity study, commissioned by the University of Warwick, found that employees gain more confidence and autonomy through upskilling, resulting in a productivity uptick.
  • Flexible training options mean that businesses can focus on the exact areas that they require their workers to become more proficient at, a far cheaper alternative to recruiting someone externally who has skills in those areas.
  • The opportunity to learn new skills at work was identified as one of the most important factors in job satisfaction, according to a Boston Consulting Group of 200,000 people, meaning businesses are likely to retrain workers and attract high quality staff from elsewhere.
  • Employers can discover untapped potential in their staff, boosting their skill set and allowing them to take on extra responsibilities. The Social Mobility Commission found in January that training was more targeted at senior roles, with 30% of managers receiving training in the last quarter of 2018 compared to just 18% in more junior roles.
  • The economy would benefit to the tune of an astonishing £125 billion if the UK workforce was upskilled as a whole, according to the Centre for Social Justice.

Why should employees take the chance to break through the skills ceiling?

  • Retraining and upskilling is good for employee happiness and wellbeing.
  • Recent Linkedin research found that employees with opportunities to learn at work are 47% less likely to be stressed, 39% more likely to feel productive and successful, and 21% more likely to feel confident and happy.
  • Individuals can boost their earnings potential and increase their chances of moving into higher paying roles. The Open University report that 52% of businesses surveyed in their 2018 business barometer increased the salary on offer to recruit someone with the right skills.
  • UK workers want greater flexibility – and with this can come upskilling opportunities with instant practical benefits. A survey by Deloitte has found that 70% of employees wanted management to support work-life balance, while 60% wanted a range of flexible working options

Jack Welch, former CEO of General Electric, once commented:

“Before you become a leader, success is all about growing yourself. After you become a leader, success is about growing others.”

You can read the inspirational story of Richard Matthews, who upskilled with AAT qualifications to aid his employment with HMRC.

AAT is calling on employers to help break the skills ceiling through growing and investing in their employees, in order to enable them to contribute in the best possible way.

Adam Harwood is AAT's Media Relations Manager.

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