Skills training: UK must do better

12 Sep 2007

I was chairing the CBI Skills Summit today. There was lots of talk about the need for the UK to raise its game in skills training. Richard Lambert, Director-General of the employers organisation, criticised what he called the 'weedy' response from the government to the Leitch Report (which, if you recall, said Britain's skills were 'not world class'). Lambert argued that the government should be pressing ahead much faster.

The most interesting speech, though, came from Sir Terry Leahy, the top man at Tesco. He showed what can be done if a company takes training seriously --- and the trouble is that despite Leitch and the government saying employers should be in the lead on skills training, not all companies seem to make it a priority.

If others followed Tesco then training would have a higher profile and maybe we could compete with the skills levels in competitor countries.

Leahy argued that skills training for the workforce has to be part pf the company's 'core service'. In other words, it must all be geared to the company's main aim, in this case to secure customer loyalty.

He believes that all his staff should be encouraged to learn something new. At any one time, 1 in 10 Tesco staff are on the 'options' training courses. Moreover they get their reward for boosting their own skills because the company has a policy of appointing from within. 

As Leahy put it, at Tesco there are 'only 6 levels between the checkout and the Chief Executive' and the options courses gives everyone a chance to move through all those levels. With 80% of appointments made internally, talent spotting is very important.

This is the way to motivate people to upgrade their skills: offer real prospects of promotion in a company with a flat management structure that actually rewards people for learning something new.

Tesco also has the impressive record of employing 4,000 staff who were formerly long-term unemployed.  


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