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How to Build an Unstoppable Business: Invest in Multi-Skilled Workers

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This has been submitted by The Welsh Government 

What’s the difference between a good sports team and an unstoppable one? In the case of Wales’ national sport, the answer is more complex than you might think.

It’s a common belief that winning in rugby is all about having the biggest and strongest players on the field. Of course, this isn’t entirely true: New Zealand – the world’s top-ranking side – attributes its success to the multitude of different skills distributed among its players.

Rather than spending the majority of their time building muscle at the gym, All Blacks are trained to be formidable athletes in a wide range of disciplines. Precision, strategy, tenacity and teamwork are all diverse but key facets of the team’s winning formula.

It’s a lesson that Wales has learned in countless clashes against New Zealand, and a mindset that coaches such as Graham Henry and Warren Gatland have instilled in some of the most successful Wales sides. When you invest skills and training, the winning results are clear to see.

As businesses in Wales, we should take this example as positive proof of the importance of skills and training in the workplace. Unfortunately, though, while research shows that most businesses here consider skills and training to be important, less than a third of SMEs believe that not investing in their workforce represents a threat to their business.

Yet the reality is that employers will need to maximise the potential of their workers in the coming years, particularly with the potential reduction in availability of migrant labour when the full effects of Brexit take hold.

So what kinds of skills should Welsh business owners be investing in, and how can they ensure their businesses remain equipped to deal with the challenges ahead?

The importance of up-skilling

Many companies say they already have training programmes in place, but these are usually related to specific procedures and protocol within the workplace, rather than skills that can be actively used to enhance employee performance. A recent survey in Wales, for example, found that, while 73% of companies offered their staff health and safety training, only 42% offered training in the use of new technologies.

Digital skills remain a key asset as more jobs move online – competence in skills such as coding, automation, data analysis and digital marketing are increasingly crucial for companies who want to remain a relevant and attractive prospect in the competitive global marketplace.

Such skills are regularly associated with younger generations of workers – millennials, for example. However, the reality is companies cannot afford to stereotype their employees when it comes to training staff, with only 7 million young people entering the UK workplace in the next ten years against a backdrop of 13.5 million vacancies. So, businesses will be dependent on older workers to fill the vacancies, using the same modern digital skills as younger colleagues who grew up in a world of technological dependence.

Here in Wales, where we face a shortfall of almost 300,000 workers by the year 2022, businesses cannot afford to waste any time in planning comprehensive training programmes to bridge the skills gaps and demonstrate their willingness to invest in the continued work of dedicated employees, regardless of age.

Training a multi-generational workforce

Contrary to the myth that older workers are not interested in changing the way they work, recent evidence shows that employees over 50 are just as keen to expand their skillsets as younger workers. What’s more, recruiting a multi-generational workforce is shown to be one of the best and most cost-effective ways to ensure a wide range of business-enhancing skills within their teams.

Why? Because when older and younger workers collaborate on projects, both groups have the potential to gain insight into alternative ways of working.

Employees in the over-50s age bracket offer a wealth of professional experience and knowledge gained during the course of their working lives. By pairing up older employees with younger and relatively less experienced workers, business owners can encourage mentoring, allowing valuable business skills and productivity techniques to be transferred through the generations.

And the best bit is that the skills transfer works both ways. Many younger workers are already adept in the modern digital skills that older workers could benefit from. Incentivising tech-savvy workers to host informal workshops and training sessions allows digital skills to be disseminated among team members of all ages – and encourages teamworking.

Put simply, multi-generational workforces have the greatest potential to become multi-skilled. Collaboration between employees of different ages not only helps to safeguard your business against the skills shortage – it also boosts morale, encourages open-mindedness and saves training costs.

So, the difference between a good Welsh business and an unstoppable one? The foresight to invest in multi-skilled, multi-generational workers, who can help their employers overcome the obstacles of post-Brexit Wales and our ageing working population, and remain relevant in the global marketplace.