Showcasing the Best of Welsh Business

Securing your Talent Through Learning & Development


Attracting the talent you need – and retaining that talent for your future organisational development – is critical to the success of any organisation. The Open University’s highly engaging and impactful distance learning courses are helping companies of all sizes and sectors build their employment brand to secure the talent they need, based on the promise of continually developing employees to maximise their full potential.

In a fascinating Business News Wales digital discussion in early May, Rhys Griffitrhs, Business Development Manager for The Open University in Wales, spoke with two fast-expanding South Wales employers, to see how their training offer was helping them build future success around the people they attract and develop. Rhys put questions to Alan Brayley, MD of AB Glass in Swansea and Peter Lewis, MD of Industrial Automation & Control based in Newport – and the conversation revealed some clear opportunities as well the barriers to success.

“Working closer and communicating even better as a team”

Rhys began the discussion by noting the effects of a global pandemic – and how it has affected both work and workplace learning, challenging organisations to evolve the way they work and the way they learn.

“Our teamwork has definitely become even more close-knit during the pandemic” confirms Alan “and for us it’s been a case of making sure that everyone in the team feels ‘ok’ and comfortable with what they’re doing. That whole mental health and wellbeing side of work is even more important now; and I know from my role as President of the Swansea Bay Business Club that all companies have put this front and centre of what they’re doing”.

Peter agrees:

“We’re communicating as a team more than we ever did and even though our international markets have been affected by the pandemic, our domestic sales have been better than ever. The team has risen brilliantly to this, even though we had to move to hybrid working, with some people home-based and others still on the factory floor. So, this new way of working has been a positive experience for us.”

“The value we place on our skills programme couldn’t be higher”

New ways of working almost inevitably impact on training and development – and Rhys asked how this has panned out at AB Glass and Industrial Automation & Control.

“We’re a high-skill engineering company with over 30 years’ experience of bringing through apprentices, so our learning programmes are well-established, and we’ve been able to refine them very effectively to work within the confines of COVID” explained Peter.

Alan concurred:

“We’re constantly evaluating our development programmes through our training register, making sure our people have the personal and professional skills they need – whether it’s technical, excel sheet or leadership skills.” Rhys noted how positive it was that both companies were empowering their people to own their own development as well as pushing their talent through structured programmes.

“We need to personalise and individualise the training and development for everyone who joins us”

When asked to describe the main challenges in attracting and developing talent, Alan saw the need to individualise and personalise training and development as the key factor:

“Whether they’re working on the bench or joining us with a view to a management career, the key factor is that we need to personalise and individualise the training for every person who comes into the business. We have open and ongoing conversations about this with every member of the team, making sure everyone feels they have the support and tools to do the job they need to do and develop the skills they need to develop. For me, earning while you’re learning is a fantastic way to develop skills and make the most of your natural motivations, so we’re continually looking to enhance the learning and the rewards of our people.”

Peter stresses:

“We recruit on attitude

”choosing one or two apprentices a year from the 150 or so applications we receive. It’s a horrible process telling people they haven’t been successful, as the people who make it through need to have the natural mathematical skills we need and that certain something that tells us they will fit our culture. I’m not sure the schools totally understand our needs – or the opportunity we offer through apprenticeships. Someone who joins us for a four-year apprenticeship gets to know us and themselves, so they’re ready to stay for life after those initial four years. If they then go on to complete a degree apprenticeship with us, they’ve graduated without any debt and with seven years’ work experience under their belt. We want the people who join us to stay and develop to the full, so getting the selection and training right is so important.”

“Flexible learning programmes empower the individual”

Rhys noted the importance of this ‘lifetime investment’ from both the employer and the employee; and the increasing imperative of enabling people to manage their life whilst learning, through development programmes that give flexibility and control to the learner – a key feature of any successful programme and an approach pioneered by The Open University.

Having the right leadership and management skills in place was a recurring theme in the conversation and for Peter,

“communication is everything when you’re looking to bring people through. We had a 15-20 minute management discussion yesterday and that produced some real gems on how we can help develop our current apprentices. That collective thought, where everyone is looking out for everyone else and the business, is invaluable. My advice to any employer is to back yourself, understand the training you need and what’s right for you – and go do it.”

Alan was passionate in his agreement:

“Peter’s hit the nail on the head. Everyone should feel that they belong and they can share their thoughts on improving themselves and the business. No one is born an entrepreneur or a leader. We have to learn and nurture those skills, through experience and training. I’m learning every single day, even when I go out to primary and secondary schools to explain to school children why manufacturing is such a rewarding long-term career for them. Talking to the pupils and the headmasters gives me the chance to make that direct connection with our talent of the future – and that is so important for all of us.”

Rhys thanked Alan and Peter for their real-life insights – and finished the session by asking any organisation who wants to learn more about skilling their team to contact The Open University.