Challenges to the region’s economy

    Thames Valley businesses have much to feel confident about the region’s economic prosperity, but should avoid complacency. That was one of the messages from a thought-provoking Future of Work seminar held in October in the Royal Berkshire Conference Centre at Reading’s Madejski Stadium.

    Sarah Lavan and Marcus Haddrell
    Sarah Lavan and Marcus Haddrell

    Guest speakers from professional services firm EY and performance-based training company Dale Carnegie addressed an audience of over 60 local business owners, directors and senior managers. EY revealed details from its Thames Valley report, scheduled for release before the end of the year. Bill Burton, managing director of Dale Carnegie for the South East, shared ideas on ways businesses can improve employee engagement.

    Unprecedented times, unprecedented opportunities

    According to EY’s UK Region and City economic forecast, the Thames Valley region is expected to grow ahead of the UK average at 2.1% annual Gross Value Added (GVA) growth until 2019.

    Commenting on economic growth in the region and the well-being of its businesses and citizens, EY’s head of private mid-market and fast growth, David Rutherford, set out a view of how we are living in unprecedented times, which offers an unprecedented opportunity for the region. He identified the need for the region to have an integrated plan to both realise that opportunity and avoid the risk of complacency: “In doing so we believe the region can build  a compelling alternative, yet complementary, case to the likes of the Northern Powerhouse”.

    To help facilitate and inform the debate, EY has commissioned and will soon be launching a new study to understand the strengths, weaknesses and outlook across five key dimensions, one of which is people and skills.

    “The future of work is here now,” noted Marcus Haddrell, director, people advisory services at EY. “We could see as many as 15% of job roles replaced by automation in the next few years.”

    Sarah Lavan, partner, people advisory services at EY, commented that although initial post-referendum Brexit worries appeared to have subsided, there is a real threat of skill shortages in the region: “Many businesses have their heads in the sand and still think the issue will go away,” she observed.

    Business must be resilient and adaptable in the face of red tape that can slow the pace of change, thought Lavan. “Companies need to consider how they operate and how they manage their people, so that individuals don’t feel vulnerable. If workers are worried they are likely to be less productive.”

    A question from the audience was “Is the younger generation happy at work?” Lavan replied: “Generally, I’d say yes. And they are probably more resilient to change than we might think. But they do want to see clear career progression and it is up to companies to adapt to keep them happy.”

    Winning hearts and minds: employee engagement

    Burton kicked off the second half of the seminar by getting the audience on its feet for an interactive task looking at how people greet each other. This led to a wider discussion on how companies engage with their people. 

    “Employee engagement is the emotional and intellectual commitment of employees to deliver high performance. It’s no longer a fad,” said Burton. “But winning employees’ hearts and minds can be a battle.”

    Delegates shared views about three types of employee: those who are actively engaged, not engaged, or actively disengaged. Burton explained that, on average, around half of a company’s workforce falls into the middle category, with the rest divided between the other two types.

    He added that satisfaction with their immediate manager was the most important driver that can improve employee engagement. Second was belief in senior management, followed by pride in your organisation.

    “The better the leader, the more productive people are. Effective leaders bring out the best in people by inspiring and motivating them,” said Burton.

    David Rutherford
    David Rutherford
    Bill Burton
    Bill Burton