Strong culture and employee training are vital to overcome skills crisis, says new Grant Thornton research

The majority of businesses in Northamptonshire and the wider region believe they have achieved a strong organisational culture but almost three quarters still find it hard to attract the right skilled people to develop and grow, according to a new survey by business and financial advisers Grant Thornton.

The poll of senior managers revealed that more than two thirds (68%) felt their organisation had a robust, positive culture, while a further 63% felt their core business values supported future strategy.

Encouragingly, over three quarters (79%) of respondents went on to say their business culture enabled people to improve their skills and grow, with 84% stating employees were encouraged to freely express opinions and exchange ideas.

However, just 36% of businesses questioned had actually surveyed employees on their own perceptions of the environment they work in.

The poll results also indicated that a strong business culture was not enough to overcome the significant skills challenges many organisations across the country are facing, with 74% of respondents saying they have difficulty finding the right talent to take their business forward.

Commenting on the survey findings, Fiona Baldwin of Grant Thornton’s Northampton office said: “For any business, having the right people and skills in place is a key part of achieving growth. However, in this rapidly changing market retaining and recruiting talent can prove challenging which is why creating a strong organisational culture should be at the heart of a firm’s overall strategy.

Fiona Baldwin, practice leader at Grant Thornton’s Northampton office
Fiona Baldwin, practice leader at Grant Thornton’s Northampton office

“Businesses who succeed are the ones who listen to and engage with their employees, establishing a culture where everyone feels they can reach their full potential. Evidence shows that ensuring every individual feels valued is the winning formula for a successful, high achieving environment. Often, businesses choose to focus on financial incentives as a motivation tool to achieve this but flexible working, enhanced maternity or paternity leave and other non-monetary incentives can prove far more effective in the long run."

“Over the past year, Northamptonshire businesses have focussed heavily on recruitment and we have seen a sharp rise in employment as firms look to secure the skills they need to grow. The county also ranks highly for levels of health, wellbeing and happiness which all feed in to creating a strong environment. It is positive to see local firms confident about their own culture but businesses shouldn’t rest on their laurels. Our findings highlight that culture alone is not enough and to stay ahead of competitors, firms need to look at other, more creative ways to plug the skills gap.”

The positions local businesses are currently finding hardest to fill are operational roles (52%), followed by management positions (34%) and HR, sales and marketing posts (27%).

Positively, the vast majority of businesses surveyed are taking action to help remedy the situation with 70% developing existing staff to meet their skills requirements. Just 7% are looking at improving employee benefits packages and a further 7% at increasing remuneration.

But with less than a third of businesses questioned (27%) taking advantage of the new Apprenticeship Levy to help upskill their workforce, Grant Thornton says too many local organisations are missing out on a key opportunity to develop their people at low cost.

Fiona continues: “Addressing skills shortages is a difficult balancing act for many organisations. Increasing wages can be an effective short term measure but longer term, it makes good business sense to look at training programmes to boost skills from within.

“The Apprenticeship Levy was introduced to make taking on an apprentice more affordable and accessible for employers of all sizes yet still, too few are taking advantage of the scheme.Apprenticeships can benefit new or existing employees of any age and with programmes now available up to masters level, they can provide a vital way to address skills gaps.”

The survey was carried out at a series of nine Grant Thornton ‘Directors’ Club’ events held in Northamptonshire and across the region to discuss how to create a positive business culture and leadership style that encourages people engagement to deliver sustainable growth.

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