Since the dawn of commerce, successful businesses have allocated plenty of resources and top quality management time to developing new products and to making and marketing existing products more efficiently. The effect on profits and thus on shareholder value has usually been positive and, where a current stream of business was involved, has soon manifested itself. To a large extent the same is true of managing financial risk. The hedging of currency risk by international traders, for example, is a well-established and integrated part of the management process.
Until relatively recently, however, businesses have been slow to apply similar rigour to other classes of risk. Money spent defining and limiting risk, if spent effectively, will yield results that are very difficult to measure in financial terms. Budgets for this type of expenditure are therefore hard won and easily lost and it is not surprising that good managers will question how time spent on risk management will further their career.
A family business, Stonebridge Joinery, which manufactures preformed plywood components identified that lack of basic skills was seen to impact directly on the company achieving Investors in People. With help from Workbase, courses to improve staff communication – spoken and written – were implemented. These led to improved communication between supervisors and employees, increased productivity and performance and recognition as an Investors in People.
In addition to on-site customised programmes, Workbase has also identified the need for additional learning support. Workbase identified a lack of suitable materials to assist employees in complementing basic skills programmes and encouraging self-learning. Suitable and workfocused resources for mentors and open learning centres, were lacking. A range of booklets to fill the gap have been produced by Workbase with the Campaign for Learning. These booklets are called the Learning for Work Series and include the following features.
In order to meet business needs trainers, tutors, mentors need to be multiskilled to cover the range of competences. Programmes are at a time and duration to meet workplace shifts and schedules. Course materials are customised to focus on the workplace language and need. The programmes include:
spelling, punctuation and grammar
improved reading for work
writing letters, reports and memos
basic maths and the use of a calculator
IT training including e-mail and the Internet
personal skills – customer care, effective team working
By improving the basic and key skills including literacy and numeracy of their staff, organisations such as Dover Harbour Board, Serviceteam, BBC World Service, States of Jersey and Kings Healthcare have developed workforces able to:
develop new skills effectively to respond to the needs of their organisation;
understand and embrace change, new technology,
participate in and contribute to the development of their teams and their organisation;
take more personal responsibility for their work;
feel more valued and recognised;
improve quality through reduced errors;
improve the bottom line by less waste, increased productivity, fewer errors,
perform with greater confidence, safely and effectively
and a wider range of activities increase willingness to adapt to change and work more flexibility
Adopting a non-threatening approach, Workbase forges partnerships with employers and trade unions, where appropriate, working together to introduce learning opportunities to the workplace, and thereby developing a more highly skilled and productive workforce.
By linking need identified in a confidential interview as part of a training needs analysis to workplace competences in an encouraging way employees are usually willing and interested to participate.
Workbase provides the following options to overcome poor basic skills:
customised and dedicated basic skills courses to meet workplace requirements, language and competences
basic skills linked to functional skills
basic skills as part of a workplace training programme, e.g. quality initiatives, reading and writing
basic skills linked to Key skills and NVQs
one-to-one sessions, drop-in sessions, flexi-centres, Open Learning Centres
As an added incentive to trainees, basic and key skills programmes can be linked to outside accreditation programmes such as City & Guilds.
In addition, Workbase trains trainers within an organisation to ensure ongoing development and continued support for a learning culture in the workplace.
Workbase programmes with employers like SmithKline Beecham, BAA, Mars, Gillette, Department of Health Opportunity 2000 and United Distillers showed that employers are in danger of creating a marginalised section of employees. Their effectiveness is diminished and ability to progress either within or outside the organisation inhibited, if their training needs are not met.
The increasing computerisation and changes in the workplace within most job roles have excluded those with a lack of basic Communication and Information Technology Skills (C&IT). This lack of key skills has proved a barrier to effective communication within organisations, as electronic and web-based communications become the norm.
This group of employees includes a mix of age, gender and ethnic grouping. They are generally defined by evidence of traditionally low educational attainment, measured by qualification routes and limited visibility within an organisational staff learning environment. They also have no IT background from within their work experience.
Comprehensive training needs analysis (TNA) carried out by Workbase have shown that the majority of staff feel excluded from current staff development activities. The feeling of exclusion often came from lack of information, because the courses did not seem appropriate to their work, the perception that manual, craft and ancillary employees were not expected to apply, they were held at times which would be inconvenient for them to attend.