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Apprenticeships won’t solve the UK’s productivity decline

The Economics Editor at Sky News, Ed Conway, commented that encouraging more apprenticeships and technical qualifications and viewing these on a par with graduate qualifications is the key to improving the UK’s productivity woes. It’s a valid point, but it only serves to divert attention away from the underlying problem hampering productivity – leadership quality.

Yes, we need enthusiastic and capable talent entering the world of work, but ultimately the nurturing of talent once in work is the responsibility of those entrusted to lead. If we’re struggling to keep pace with the productivity levels of our EU counterparts then leadership quality needs microscopic attention.

Every leader is responsible for supporting and encouraging people to perform at their best within their roles and to develop their potential to fulfil future roles. This needs to be made explicit so that people development and engagement is mandated at all levels.

This is not to point the finger of blame at our leadership population. We wrongly assume that those already in leadership roles possess the know-how and confidence to engage with and develop their people. However, those leaders having grown-up in a command and control environment resonant with our industrial heritage may feel ill-equipped to lead any differently. And in an age where corporate conformity is much prized, those recently promoted to their first leadership roles may feel more comfortable exerting greater direct control until they understand what leadership is all about.

If productivity and competitiveness go hand in hand then we need to ensure that our current and future leaders have the skills and behaviours to be the leaders their people need them to be.

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