Creating a Workforce Fit for Tomorrow: Leadership and Unlocking Potential

Published: Posted on

This blog post has been produced to provide insight into the findings of the Birmingham Economic Review.

The Birmingham Economic Review 2019 is produced by City-REDI, University of Birmingham and the Greater Birmingham Chambers of Commerce, with contributions from the West Midlands Growth Company. It is an in-depth exploration of the economy of England’s second city and is a high-quality resource for organisations seeking to understand Birmingham to inform research, policy or investment decisions.

As part of this year’s Birmingham Economic Review, Curium Solutions’ director and co-founder Andy Dawson argues that leadership and unlocking potential are critical to creating a workforce fit for tomorrow.

Every summer, the clever folk at the University of Birmingham’s City-REDI and the Greater Birmingham Chambers of Commerce gather data from the region, crunch the numbers and make sense of where we are heading, economically speaking.

Every autumn, they share their findings and, depending on whether you are a glass half-full or empty type, you can either see challenging times ahead or opportunities ripe for the picking.

GVA per head in the Midlands is one of the lowest in the country, 16% of our population has no qualifications, and our unemployment rate is more than 5.1% (3.9 for the UK overall). We have the highest gender earning gap of the UK’s 12 regions and more than half of women in the West Midlands work in lower-paying sectors.

At Curium, we’re glass half-full types. Whilst there are challenges in our city and region, we see great opportunities ahead and we are working as part of a wider community to find solutions.

Positive change is happening. In Andy Street, we have a mayor talking up the region. We have a powerful force in the Greater Birmingham Chamber of Commerce, while HS2 and the Commonwealth Games are inspiring capital investment, civic pride and confidence.

Construction is often considered a sign of economic health. This year, Deloitte’s Crane Survey showed Birmingham to be in good health, with city centre residential development at an all-time high, office development exceeding 1.4 million sq. ft and student accommodation reaching its highest ever level with 2,667 units under construction.

With the physical fabric of the city making progress, what about the people who work in it? I have been asked for my / Curium’s view on creating a workforce fit for tomorrow. For me, it starts with leadership.

An image of a Jaguar Land Rover vehicle
JLR – a local success story

There are many ways of being a successful leader. Look at some of our local success stories: Gymshark, Homeserve, HSBC and JLR. Personal styles differ, as do organisations, but these leaders all share the ability to communicate a vision and inspire their teams to make it happen. They demonstrate resilience and adaptability and, importantly, they take people with them.

We are proud to support the GBCC’s Growth Through People initiative. Few things impact business growth as much as the ways in which an organisation leads and manages its people. However, too often the ‘day job’ comes at the cost of personal and professional development, for leaders and employees alike.

The GBCC survey revealed that while many believe that investment in leadership and people has a positive impact on productivity, few are convinced that their organisation has a clear strategy or support for improving leadership capability. ‘Lack of time’ is the biggest barrier.

While we occasionally come across this, our experience is that organisations are investing in leadership development. Our Voyage Leaders™ programme, which takes participants through six core leadership journeys, is empowering leaders to make and take time for their own development; giving them the skills and mindsets they need to succeed.

We have also partnered with to introduce the West Midlands Leadership Awards. These awards celebrate the leaders and organisations in our region who set the pace, whether in accelerating change, improving inclusion, or creating disruption. The entries show that there is no shortage of examples of great leadership.

Diversity and inclusion

Inclusive leadership is a major development. A more diverse team improves financial performance. Companies in the top-quartile for ethnic and cultural diversity on executive teams are 33% more likely to have industry-leading profitability; 21% for gender diversity.

Creating opportunities to maximise all talent is essential, especially in a city that is more ethnically diverse than London and the youngest major city in Europe.

More than a year ago, the West Midlands Combined Authority’s Leadership Commission published its ‘Leaders Like You’ report. It revealed a significant leadership diversity gap, which, despite some progress, remains much in evidence.

We conducted our own research into leadership characteristics and discovered that while organisations are focused on characteristics like race, gender and disability, few understand and empower diversity of thinking and behaviour. Successful leaders will harness the power of that diversity. Here are some tips:

  • Use a diagnostic tool to discover the preferences within your teams and firms – a team that appears diverse is still capable of ‘group think’
  • Set the tone from the top – inclusion has to be a priority for an organisation’s leaders; something they champion and support
  • Experiment and explore – you won’t always get it right but be open to trying something new or different
  • Empower others – create a culture of psychological safety in which people feel empowered to challenge and create
  • Trust that the intention – you and others might make mistakes, but make it safe to do so
  • Make your communication more impactful by appealing to all styles and preferences
  • Shift mindsets by promoting the positive impact difference and diversity have on achieving results

This cannot wait. Employees, customers, markets, ideas and cultures are all diverse. Inclusive leaders embrace this diversity, harnessing different perspectives, experiences and ways of thinking to ensure their organisations and their employees thrive.

Digital and data 

Finally, look at the world we live in. Just over 10 years ago, nobody had heard of an iPhone. Now we can barely function without them. Algorithms know more about us than our friends do. Data and disruption are the words of our age. AI, robotics and automation are no longer the stuff of science fiction; they’re a business fact.

Any company not looking ahead will find itself outpaced, outdated and out of business. We have smartphones, smart homes, smart vehicles, but do we have smart people?

The 2019 TechNation report paints a positive picture of the Midlands. We have more than 20,000 digi tech businesses and 117,000 people employed in the sector. That’s a good start but we also know we have a skills gap. In the UK, we are on course to have a million tech jobs by 2020 that we cannot fill.

It is important that organisations take advantage of the opportunities offered by technology. It is equally important that the workforce has new skills, so the economy can grow, and no one gets left behind. Without some serious intervention, that skills gap will keep getting bigger.

In my view, we already have a workforce fit for tomorrow; we just need to unlock its potential. We need to empower our workforce with the right capabilities, skills and mindsets for new ways of working. And that, as I said at the start of this article, begins with leadership.

You can download a copy of the Birmingham Economic Review here

This commentary was written by Andy Dawson,  Director and Co-Founder Curium Solutions.  

Sign up to our blog mailing list here.

The opinions presented here belong to the author rather than the University of Birmingham.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *