Are we really diversity ready?

Keely Woodley Keely Woodley

Skills for the modern workplace

On 23rd May, I had the pleasure of being in the panel for a discussion on 21st Century Skills at the Financial Times chaired by FT columnist Lucy Kellaway. My fellow panellists included Chris Hirst, Chairman and CEO of Havas UK & Europe, an advertising agency; and Andrew Mullinger, co-founder of the Funding Circle crowdfunding platform.

The discussion was full of surprises and revealing perspectives around the opportunities and challenges facing employees and employers in the 21st century.

Making the transition from education to the workplace

Kellaway kicked off the discussion quoting the FT's MBA skills gap study, an FT survey that asked employers what soft skills they found most difficult to hire for. It was fascinating to hear that the ‘ability to work with a wide variety of people’ was found to be the most important skill for recruiters. This ability was not the most difficult to recruit for overall, but it was the most difficult to recruit for out of the top five most important skills.

I was particularly struck by this finding.

Having diversity policies in place that strive to employ those from different backgrounds is only one part of the picture. As we move to more diverse workforces, it is likely that more people will go into an office environment with little understanding of what to expect and find it very challenging. This is particularly so, if they are not from backgrounds where working in offices is the norm. Schools and education struggle to fill the gap and make the connection with the real world of work.

For employers, it raises the question: once you get talent from different backgrounds in place, how can you make sure they stay and don’t leave because they simply can’t cope with this new environment?

Role models

Creating role models is one way to bridge the gap between education and work. Business also has a role to play. Research from The Education and Employers Taskforce recently found that young adults who had four or more interactions with employers at school are five times less likely to be NEETS (Young people not in education, employment or training) and earn 16% more.

Grant Thornton has led on an initiative to work with schools through their School Enterprise Programme, piloted with over 500 students at Rivers Academy in West London. Working alongside educational consultants we have developed a programme that gives students the opportunity to run their own microbusinesses as teams, whilst developing financial and entrepreneurial skills through real-life experience. In addition, they explore the developing world to understand what we can do as responsible businesses and citizens to enable others to thrive. As such the programme allows them to support global entrepreneurs in the developing world. This programme gives young students a real insight into the business world; unlocking an entrepreneurial mind-set in the next generation. 

I’ve only touched on a few of the many points covered in the discussion which included topics like the importance of resilience, the need for lifelong learning and the implications of automation. Listen to the podcast and let us know what you think @GrantThorntonUK and use the hashtag #VibrantEconomy or #FutureOfWork.

To hear the discussion go to: What are the skills needed for the 21st-century workplace?