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Skills shortage: Protecting the wellbeing and performance of staff

The Open University’s Business Barometer 2022, published in partnership with the British Chambers of Commerce, has found that 78 per cent of UK organisations are seeing reduced output, profitability or growth as a result of skills shortages. Three-quarters (72 per cent) of organisations say the impact increases workload on other staff. What can the FM sector do to address the ongoing skills shortage and ensure both the wellbeing and performance of staff?


What now is normal in the workplace? Due to a perfect storm of Brexit, COVID-19 and more recently, the summer holidays, many workplaces are emptier than they have ever been, and it’s not just office staff sharing the load. Skills shortages are starting to be felt across the board, and services are struggling to keep pace.

The Open University’s Business Barometer suggests that, in an increasingly competitive and under-resourced labour market, employers need to take a long-term strategic approach to addressing skills gaps and to focus on growing talent from within the organisation.

According to its recent survey, in collaboration with the British Chambers of Commerce, more than half of large organisations (53 per cent) say they will increase investment in staff training over the next year, while 47 per cent of SMEs will do the same. This will in part help ease the skills shortage left by older and experienced workers leaving the workforce during and because of the COVID-19 pandemic. It will also help prepare staff to deal with incoming employees that require upskilling.

Skills shortages are having a huge effect on existing staff, leading to poor morale and retention, and wellbeing issues amongst overburdened employees. Senior staff are reporting that they are doing lower grade activities, while longstanding members of staff are leaving due to prolonged staff shortages. New staff are not prepared for the workplace – with many employers complaining of poor collaboration and timekeeping skills – as well as a critical lack in certain skills such as in manufacturing and cyber security (to name two wildly differing examples stemming from the same cause).

With staff shortages placing greater pressure on team members, employers must prioritise time for training, and so the market must be able to deliver high quality, cost effective training that can be delivered flexibly to enable staff to learn and apply the new skills as quickly as possible.

At International Workplace, we are firm believers in continuous learning, and understand that employees no longer work in one place (or even in one industry) throughout their working lives. Skills transference is therefore essential – as well as the ability for employees to prove they are trained and experienced. ‘One learner, one record’ is our mantra, enabling staff to take their knowledge with them and be a key asset.

The British Chambers of Commerce report says: “As the workplace evolves, business investment in the rapid upskilling and reskilling of adults at all skill levels is key to boosting productivity and resolving hard-to-fill job vacancies. Employers must embrace a culture of lifelong learning in an era of multiple careers, and facilitate that through learning and developing.”

We agree – empowering employees by investing in their future will not only help them keep pace with a changing market, but will benefit employers by retaining productive, experienced, resilient staff who can take on the challenges of the modern working world.


It’s no secret that the UK’s ‘Great Resignation’ – which will likely see 20 per cent of employees quit their current role in the next 12 months, and up to a third without securing a new role – is also keenly felt across the FM sector. With the industry skill gap widening and the race for talent increasing, the sector’s next great challenge won’t only be in procuring new skills, but ensuring existing ones don’t stagnate.

A study by the Charted Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD), revealed that over a quarter (27 per cent) of employees feel their growth opportunities are lacking. With that lack of growth comes inertia and a depreciating skillset.

Arguably, this troubling trend is an impetus for many sectors – especially facilities management – to put employees first and ensure that they are constantly learning the skills they need to compete. In this ever-evolving sector, a company’s capacity to learn determines its capacity to grow.

Yet learning isn’t only about upskilling; it’s about our responsibility to employee wellbeing. When employees are encouraged to learn they feel valued, empowered and more suited to their role – and less likely to feel undervalued or burnt out. A study by the World Economic Forum discovered that two-thirds of employees are valuing profound job fulfilment over higher salaries. For business leaders, that ‘Great Resignation’ just became a ‘Great Reprioritisation’.

At ISS, we saw remarkable results upon investing in our Healthcare Training Academy in Lewisham and Greenwich. This dedicated site built for interactive training, learning and upskilling saw 1,000 employees trained since launch, securing the company a 74 per cent employee retention rate and discovering untapped talent among our ranks: through training, we encountered 11 employees who were internally promoted after induction alone. The customer results spoke for themselves, with over 98 per cent of all cleaning audit scores consistently achieved.

That last point is especially poignant; not least within the FM sector, which rarely looks further than its own sector when it comes to recruitment. While it makes sense to hire from within our industry’s skilled talent pool, that pool could be so much wider if we viewed it from outside our microcosm.

We have long committed to becoming a business of belonging, where age, experience or orientation are actively celebrated. Yet for us, equal opportunity also means exploring new avenues for talent; hiring transferrable skillsets from outside the industry and opening the FM sector to all.

In 2017, we introduced the JointForces@ISS employability programme, which assists ex-forces personnel in transitioning to the civilian workplace. Receiving the Business in the Community (BITC) Responsible Champion Award, this initiative still endures today, leveraging the skills, knowledge and ethics that define the UK forces and providing meaningful employee opportunities. Since 2011, we’ve also made major contributions – and created over 100 new roles inside and outside ISS – by contributing to Project SEARCH, an initiative helping disabled youths enter internships in our supported industries.

While the industry skill gap can’t be ignored, it also can’t be bridged without the UK’s businesses giving a little back. Maybe the answer isn’t to close the skill gap, but to fill it up for ourselves? 

About Sarah OBeirne

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