Scotland the Blog: Priming the People Pump means Thinking of all Sizes.

I have written a lot recently about job quality and how important that is to raising the level of economic growth and productivity in Scotland. HM Treasury recently released some doleful news on Britain productivity performance, with estimates that it is now much lower than initially thought. Scotland performance on this front as a recent Fraser of Allander report shows isn’t exactly stellar. However one issue which really is coming home to me is that to tackle the problem of poor productivity and growing inequality we need better quality on the thinking front. There is an old saying that the thinking that got you into a situation won’t get you out of it and it holds true. Politicians in Westminster bossed by Brexit and now unfortunately the personal behaviour and character of a number of their ranks, can’t think straight. Fortunately there is thinking going on elsewhere. It’s allowed and even encouraged.

In Glasgow this week, Skills Development Scotland hosted a forum on the future of workplace learning and skills. CPD CEO Peter Cheese inspired the audience with an opening keynote on how we could grow a productive and human future in the workplace despite automation and changing ways of doing business. The commitment and intent in Scotland he argued was in marked contrast to Westminster. Other speakers contributed what I call “constructive disruptive” thinking to everything from education to the development of soft skills. To tackle the challenges we have we need such “con-dis” thinking in Scotland and elsewhere. The CIPD is putting itself at the forefront of that change we wish to see.

Our Friends in the North

The previous week, as part of the CIPD’s wider approach in joining up our regional thinking, I was in Liverpool to hear the Mayors of the Mersey and Irlam taking about their vision. As we gather as an HR community in Manchester next week for a record breaking #cipdACE17 Conference, we know that Manchester Mayor, Andy Burnham (that’s the Irlam if you don’t know your rivers), is focusing very much on building skills in the workforce.

Why? for two reasons. Firstly he recognises that much of the focus of the “Northern Powerhouse” has been about building connectivity especially big infrastructure, including railways and port capacity. Such “pump priming” in economic development jargon can have major impacts but it takes more than a few shovels to get it ready! Secondly Burnham and his Liverpool counterpart Steve Rotherham know that as regional political leaders they can impact better if they focus on the capability of the population. The average worker in the North would need to work more than 25 additional 35 hour weeks to be as productive as a worker in London according to IPPR North. Much of this is down to the fact that London is more concentrated and clustered but it also has a higher skilled workforce. Everything from business start-ups to boosting inward investment will help. But skills are also vital. From pre-school to pension age and beyond we need a lifelong learning focus. Because the productivity and growth of the North beyond a few major cities, is poorer than Scotland’s and certainly well behind London; big improvements could be made by focusing on these sorts of issues.

Despite automation and disruption we have major demographic challenges and digital disruption though painful, will bring many new opportunities for those ready to seize them. The fact is we need as many people active in the workplace as we can develop. However we cannot throw them into that workplace without capability.

Thinking Big and Small
The thing about thinking though is it doesn’t all have to be big. The CIPD’s successful pilot of our People Skills project with JP Morgan is about pulling those levers in the SME sector where much of the scalable growth jobs and productivity are going to come from. Next time we will be saying more about how we will be using People Skills to prime the pump of skills and productivity.

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