The need to upskill staff has become urgent – how are mid-market business leaders stepping up?

The skills gap is no longer just about digital skills. The pandemic has also thrust so-called soft skills, such as communication, empathy and adaptability into the spotlight. To help you develop these skills within your team and effectively build a successful organisation, we asked 601 mid-market UK businesses for their thoughts on the UK skills gap in the Business Outlook Tracker research. 

In a survey of 601 mid-market business leaders, they told us…

  • 68% of UK mid-market employers discovered skills gaps in their workforce over the course of the pandemic
  • 57% believe that the pandemic has also highlighted skills gaps in their leadership teams
  • 48% of respondents said that their business will need skills in the next two years that don’t currently exist in their workforce
  • 51% of the businesses surveyed have increased their investment into wellbeing over the last year
  • 54% agree that access to more diverse talent will improve because of flexible working

Three ways to build leadership and skills in your organisation

What actions can you take now to help mould your workforce into one that is fit for purpose? Here are three approaches that will help you get ahead of the main challenges, both now and in the future. 

1 Getting ahead of digital shifts

Fast-paced digital shifts have only accelerated as a result of COVID-19, further widening the skills gap. Nearly half (48%) of UK mid-market businesses surveyed said they would need skills that don’t exist in their workforce in the next two years.  

How can you start to get ahead of this? Thinking more widely on what the skills gap means may help with futureproofing digital transformation. Bridging the digital skills gap is not just about technical capabilities. Success also depends on 'soft' skills: from analytical thinking and innovation, to active learning – watch our chat on bridging the digital skills gap to find out more.

A third (32%) of business leaders also said they expect to invest more in skills development over the next six months. The digital shift to more flexible working arrangements looks set to continue with half of respondents saying they will offer more flexible work options, and 45% looking to invest in more online learning and skills development for their people.

Funding is a key consideration right now, as many are experiencing tightened budgets. Apprenticeships offer one way to ease the pain. And, if your business is eligible, you can use your Apprenticeship Levy funding to cover costs. Effective apprenticeship strategies improve employee retention and engagement and can build specific skills critical to business growth.

Find out more about the Apprenticeship Levy and how you might be able to get funding for your employees.

2 Upskill your people managers

The role of people managers is coming to the fore in keeping organisations moving forward and supporting workforce well-being. Doing this remotely may require a new skills set for many, however. Communication, flexibility, responsiveness, sensitivity and clarity were all responses reflecting a transition from prioritising ‘hard’ skills to embracing ‘softer’ characteristics. 
It’s not surprising 57% of respondents believe the pandemic has highlighted skills gaps in their leadership teams. 

A new model of leadership is needed to help organisations succeed. People managers need to be resilient, adaptable and communicate well in order to help their teams feel connected while physically apart. 

Empathy has also emerged as a key leadership trait. This will mean different things to different teams but there are certain areas business leaders can focus on to nurture empathy for their people.

Businesses need effective leadership and management at all levels. As a leader, you need the right support to achieve your potential. Successful leaders structure their leadership around connections across the company. You will need to work with and be empathetic towards your team members, encouraging everyone to contribute, fostering innovation and skill development across the business.

“In volatile times leadership and management teams must have the right skills to see change coming, react to it and adapt quickly. Tools like the Apprenticeship Levy are designed to allow businesses to invest in training that will develop these skills. It can help improve the diversity of your senior team so that the mix of perspectives means you're better prepared for whatever might come down the line.’’

Justin Rix, Partner and Head of People Advisory

Find out about the courses we offer to upskill your leadership and management teams and prepare your business for the future. 

3 Build a culture of inclusion to attract and retain talent

Businesses have proven they can operate and grow their people and revenues while working remotely.

More than half (54%) say that flexible working will help them access a more diverse range of talent and business suppliers. There are enormous opportunities through hybrid working to expand both teams and supply chains.

Your competitors can also access this talent, however, so it is essential to build an agile and inclusive culture to attract and retain the best people. If your company is inclusive, you will naturally attract a diverse team. Removing geographic restrictions also opens access to a greater diversity of people, leading to more innovation.

Encouragingly, 51% increased their well-being investment over the last year. Mental well-being continues to be one of the biggest concerns stemming from remote working. Efforts in this area will also pay off when it comes to retaining good people who may be temporarily struggling through this period of change.

Your business can thrive well in the future by taking steps to create an inclusive culture, encouraging communication and innovation, and nurturing your people to adapt to changes in the working environment.

Watch our webinar on the science behind good mental health to find out how to support wellbeing in your workplace.

Building skills for the Future of Work

The future of work is changing and leaders need to keep an eye on the horizon for further disruption and opportunity that may affect their business. This year we partnered with Mediaplanet to support the Future of Work campaign, which featured in the Guardian and online with over 200 business leaders attending the Redesigning the Future of Work: Lasting Lessons from the Pandemic webinar. 

The Future of Work assessed the ongoing changes, developments and disruptions in the UK's workforce and workplace a year on from the pandemic. There was a focus on the digital skills gap and what organisations can do to upskill or reskill their workforce in order to be adaptable to the evolving work environment. With organisations beginning to transition to a more hybrid way of working, the campaign looked at the impact of this on the mental health and wellbeing of employees, as well as what it means for the future of offices.

Find out more about the Future of Work campaign

Redesigning the Future of Work: Lasting Lessons from the Pandemic

Webinar hosted on 23rd June following Media Planet's Future of Work Campaign

Read more Redesigning the Future of Work: Lasting Lessons from the Pandemic

Why data-driven businesses make the best decisions for their people

Effective use of data is key to helping a business attract, retain and engage the right talent

Read more Why data-driven businesses make the best decisions for their people

The return to work: how the mid-market is preparing

Our research shows the mid-market is preparing for their staff to return to the office after a year of lockdown.

Read more The return to work: how the mid-market is preparing

Cultural inclusion in the workplace: look at the data

Uncover the importance of diversity and inclusion data collection

Read more Cultural inclusion in the workplace: look at the data

Want to address the skills gap in your business?

Upskill your workforce to prepare for the future

Further reading

Why team coaching is the future

Uncover the importance of team coaching, the challenges and how to do it effectively.

Read more Why team coaching is the future

Look after your people and they'll look after you

How can businesses take their people with them as they continue to adapt through further potential disruption?

Read more Look after your people and they'll look after you

Five steps for rethinking leadership development

We explain how you can build individual and organisational resilience through leadership development.

Read more Five steps for rethinking leadership development

Becoming a better manager: Laura's story

The leadership development programmes we offer in partnership with the Activate Business School are helping you to become better managers.

Read more Becoming a better manager: Laura's story

Managing today and planning for tomorrow is a balancing act

To grow, you need to be agile, embrace change and adapt.

Read more Managing today and planning for tomorrow is a balancing act