Tapping into diversity
Non-executive directors recognise the importance of improving diversity and identify it as one of their top five HR priorities. HR directors can have an important role in guiding the business and pioneering ways in which diversity can be strengthened for the benefit of the wider business.
Diversity covers a wide range of areas, and some argue that rather than focusing on people’s characteristics (so many women, so many people from minority backgrounds), it may be more productive to create space for diversity in perspective and approach, which is expected to result in a more inclusive workforce.
By providing a mechanism for low skilled people to gain experience and develop their capabilities, apprenticeships can be a way for HR to address specialised skills shortages and develop talent within the organisation rather than competing for the more limited pool of workers who are already highly skilled.
Incentives to use apprenticeships are growing in the UK, where the Government introduced an apprenticeship levy in April 2017. Through this mechanism, the Government hopes to raise £3bn and create 3 million apprenticeships by 2020. This new levy may help explain why the share of HR leaders who prioritise offering apprenticeships has gone up from 29% in 2015 to 41% in 2017. In the UK, 49% of HR leaders now prioritise offering apprenticeships.
Yet this figure still seems relatively low compared to the share of HR leaders concerned about skills shortages. It is possible that some do not see apprenticeships as suitable for their specific organisations. Whilst apprenticeships provide extensive training and development for a select number of new employees, they are less suitable for organisations that are looking to upskill large numbers of existing employees, which may want to prioritise resources elsewhere. Also, some organisations report difficulties finding suitable apprenticeship candidates, suggesting that more work needs to be done to turn apprenticeships into an appealing employment option.
For global employers, cultural norms and discrimination laws differ by country. Respecting diversity across the board, rather than focusing on protected characteristics by country (disability, race etc) reduces the risk of discrimination litigation and reputational damage abroad. Indeed, in some countries, unjustifiably treating a worker differently can itself be a form of unlawful discrimination, without reference to any particular protected characteristics, such as bullying. Looking ahead, employers will also be under increasing pressure to report their decisions and behaviour as regards diversity more widely, with media attention given over to inequality of representation on company boards.
Organisations will need to consider who amongst them will take responsibility for such reporting and ensure it does not fall between departments, resulting in omission or inconsistency in approach. With accountability being levelled increasingly at those at the top of organisations, such developments could well present an opportunity for a greater role for HR personnel, as well as involvement on Board-level discussion and strategies.
Liz McMeikan, Senior Independent Director, JD Wetherspoon plc
“Actually it’s not really so much about labelling people into boxes, it is about understanding that everybody is different and getting the most out of them by knowing the individual and finding out what works for them.“
Julie Coates, People Director, Human Resources, Lockton Companies LLP
“Accelerating diversity remains challenging for many organisations. Old ways of forcing diversity are best avoided, but we must encourage and nurture the growth of a broad spectrum of people
in our workforce.”
A Non-Executive Director of multiple public sector organisations
“I actually used to be quite sceptical about apprentices. Now I’m a convert because I think those companies that embrace that process are getting quite good at preparing people for the world of work. Bluntly, if you were to take a reasonably competent, intelligent person at 16, 17 or 18 today, bung them through an organisation that is committed to a well-structured, disciplined apprenticeship programme, those individuals will be better able to cope in the world of work than a graduate coming out from a reasonable university with a reasonable degree.”
Chris Burns, HR Director, Neopost