The chief executive of ICAEW on securing Britain’s talent pipeline
This is an excerpt from Securing Britain’s Future – read the full publication online now:
London business leaders tackle skills gaps, leadership issues, youth unemployment and workplace diversity
MY KEY IDEA
The leaders of tomorrow could come from any background. Organisations must look to as wide a talent pool as possible and create ways to identify talent that go beyond academic qualifications. Investing in talent is crucial – organisations should create mentoring, training and support structures to give potential leaders the broad range of soft and hard skills they need for the future, and to make sure the workforce is always able to acquire the new skills the future will demand.
What we require from leaders today is very different from what we needed 10 or 15 years ago, and the skills needed in the workplace of today and tomorrow are constantly evolving.
So it’s difficult to know what skills will be needed in tomorrow’s world. But we can wager a fairly safe guess that the boardrooms of the future will be much more international. The leaders of tomorrow will need to be able to read body language and cultural niceties, and know how to influence in the right way.
The leaders of tomorrow will also have to be aware that as visionaries and strategists, they will be challenged by disruptive technology, new ways of delivery, and services and products that we can’t even conceive of today. They will have to be open to new things.
Some of the skills they will need in the future are those that are important today: communication, interpersonal skills, and the fundamentals of business: finance, IT, marketing, HR, project management, sales, and so on. These skills may not be part of an employee’s current position, but they are essential in developing leadership potential.
Employers must be committed to investing in and developing their workforce. That’s been a challenge since 2008, but there are relatively cost-effective ways to develop staff.
Business must invest in young talent.
Organisations must put systems in place so they can talent-spot, and then mentor their potential future leaders. At ICAEW, for example, we have developed Financial Talent Executive Network (F-TEN), a programme that focuses on technical specialists, identifies their strengths and weaknesses, and assigns them certain projects outside their normal remit. We can then see whether they have the wherewithal to take on a challenge and respond to it with a new pair of eyes.
It’s important to invest in talent, and to make younger employees feel as though they have a future in the organisation and a chance at promotion. Robust assessment of gaps in skills and experience reveals what employees need in order to develop into future leaders. ICAEW has also created a talent assessment and benchmarking tool.
Developed in partnership with YSC, this provides a template of financial leadership excellence and an external benchmark.
For the UK and its organisations to thrive in tomorrow’s world, we need to create as broad a pool of talent as possible. Talent and leadership can come from unusual places. Businesses must create an internal culture that makes progression available to everyone, whether or not they have the “right” qualifications. Often, you find ambitious, talented people who have had difficulty at some stage of their education. Some people are just late developers – they must be given the opportunity to remedy that later in life, with mentoring, training and support.
It’s not just about traditional qualifications. You can even become a Chartered Accountant without GCSEs. To do so, you have to get over a few hurdles and demonstrate your competence, which won’t necessarily be easy, but it is possible. Employers must find ways to look beyond the purely academic: there are many other ways candidates can demonstrate leadership – being captain of a sports team, say.
Businesses need the best chance possible for successful trading. They shouldn’t underestimate the role culture plays in that. A workforce that is more diverse – in terms of race, gender, age and background – will be more representative of the population as a whole, and so more engaged with it.
Internal champions inside organisations can help ensure opportunities are created for people from all parts of society. Benchmarking and reporting keep initiatives on track. But you can’t wait for people from a wide range of backgrounds to come to you. You must go to them. Businesses should go and talk at careers fairs, schools and universities.
Individuals should take ownership of their careers, too. Massive open online courses (MOOCs) look set to allow people to learn online, often for free. These have opened up a world of education.
But MOOCs are no good if you don’t have WiFi or broadband. The government must invest in technology infrastructure in cities and in rural areas. Then again, what good is decent WiFi if you have no PC or laptop? Businesses could be recycling old computers to give to people in need. We do this at ICAEW.
A final idea to help us develop the leaders of tomorrow comes with the consideration of our ageing population. People are no longer retiring at 60 or 65. Meanwhile, most people won’t be doing the same job in 20 or 30 years’ time. I believe that job-shares will become much more the norm.
So what if organisations paired older, more experienced workers in job-shares with younger people? They could transfer skills to one another.
A 55-year-old could teach a 25-year-old about the world of work and the functions of the job. The younger person could explain digital skills, for example. Getting younger employees to shadow more experienced ones holds the same benefits. We have to make sure the inter-generational gap does not become unbridgeable.
Ultimately, the leaders of tomorrow will be adaptable. Our future is uncertain. It is most scary for those with fewest skills. We may learn from Charles Darwin: those who will prosper are not necessarily the strongest, but those most able to adapt.