Recruiting Young and Emerging Talent: Thoughts on the British Industrial Strategy Round Table Meeting

Early in December 2020, we were invited to a round table on the Industrial strategy by the department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS). One of the topics that came up was skills provision and training, which seems to be particularly important in a post-Covid, post Brexit world.

The discussion centred around skills shortages, the effect of unemployment on the candidate market, and whether incentives set up by the government were both appealing and appropriate. There were some interesting comments made around incentives and the time required to train apprentices versus potential ready-made, value-add employees. The overriding thought was that the government offer is good, but that it does not cover the lost potential and time required to make taking on apprentices a straightforward solution.   

My thoughts around this maybe run a little contrary to the consensus. I firmly believe that the only way to build a long-term sustainable business is to recruit young and emerging talent and give them the tools to succeed. Regardless of the size of the business, I have always been keen to provide a place for apprentices. I do appreciate that for some this is a tough decision and that the financial support provided cannot cover the opportunity cost of both lost immediate impact and amount of time spent training. However, like any investment, it generally takes time to pay off.

The way to build skills for a company in a growing sector like ours is to identify what can and cannot be taught. We recruit for attitude over aptitude, except in very few situations where we have concrete needs. Once we choose the people we want, we address how we skill them, rather than looking for skills first.

Techbuyer is in the challenging and rewarding position of having to innovate on a daily basis. A lot of problems we encounter do not have ready-made market solutions. Almost no-one who comes to us understands the technical side of the business. So the company is set up to build skills through peer-training. The Technical Facility with help from the HR department have done a great job of creating a shortcut around this by building a knowledge library over a period of years. This has designed a skills matrix and provided a structured programme to all employees. This kind of approach is in stark contrast to technical skills development programmes run at national level, like T levels and Apprenticeships.

T-levels were supposed to be develop technical skills instead of academic skills. What we have found, though, is that they are limited in scope and have become more of an academic approach to technical learning. I do not believe that this is the right way to get the best out of this opportunity. Technical training requires a variety of learning methods and the current approach seems somewhat lacking. By contrast, this is where I find the biggest benefit to apprenticeships. On the job learning allows kinetic and visual learners to thrive. They absorb information by doing, making mistakes and benefit from every experience. Book learning is not for everyone and while some of that mixed in has clear benefits, it is important to match learning preferences to skill acquisition.

The downside of apprenticeships will always be the time commitment from senior managers and technicians to get the best outcomes. It is costly to the business to have some of its best performers slowed down while they teach and develop the next generation. I have always found teaching and mentoring incredibly valuable and have never seen that time commitment as anything other than a privilege. To be able to shape a person’s future is a great honour. Framing the situation in pounds and pennies does apprenticeships a disservice.

This conversation has come up in other forums, for example our recent conversation with the Leeds City Region Enterprise Partnership (LEP) about skills and education opportunities. There is a lot of work being done around pairing business with universities either for project hosting or joint research – and Techbuyer has been involved in both – however there are much more varied ways business can and should tie in with education.  For example, becoming an Enterprise Advisor allows business leaders to help shape careers mechanisms for local schools.

This link between industry and education is critical, both to provide real world experience, and to create networks that create opportunities that are not always apparent for our young people. STEM programmes have been effective, but they often target less represented demographics access to education in key subjects. However, this is not necessarily focused around training and jobs.

Working in the data centre industry, which is crying out for skilled engineers in multiple disciplines such as facilities management, energy use and hardware maintenance, there seems to be huge opportunity to develop expertise in a high value sector which is on the rise. We work closely with bodies like the Data Centre Alliance in a number of areas and would like to see if we can facilitate closer links between the sector and training organisations in the future.

Techbuyer is a global provider of sustainable IT solutions. We provide new and quality refurbished servers, storage and networking equipment, laptops and desktops to a wide range of businesses, universities and governmental organisations across the world. We also buy used IT hardware in order to maximise IT budgets and keep quality technology in circulation. For help with anything from server replacements to laptop upgrades, don’t hesitate to get in touch.

Providing opportunities for employee training and development has meant that many of our earliest staff members have grown alongside the company, and remain with us to this day.