Radical 'division of labour' could help tackle the skills shortage

The solution to the skills shortage could be closer than many firms think and well within their grasp, says Chris Cheetham.

Increasing concerns around skills and shortages of qualified engineers led me to think about a similar challenge one of our customers experienced.

Some years ago, I worked closely with a rapidly growing business, experiencing severe pressure on some of the key employees during a boom period, when skills were in very short supply. In particular, the finance director was continually having to work six days a week to cope with his workload.

Led by the CEO, we set up an exercise to find a solution. We sat together and dissected his diary – all the key elements of his time. Whilst not easy, we found five days a month of work which could be delegated to others. Following the success of this exercise we repeated it with the commercial director and then cascaded it throughout the business. The result was that the business continued to grow, profitably, plus many people felt invigorated by being able to focus on work which really needed their skills and knowledge.

I suspect if all organisations dissected people’s diaries it would be possible to find high cost, hard-to-find people carrying out work which could be handled by lower cost, easier to find people. Realistically, what percentage of most fully qualified engineers’ time is being spent on work which no-one else could deliver? The rise of apprenticeships provides an excellent opportunity for organisations to consider ‘who does what?’ and question the current division of tasks and projects.

It may not only help to solve a skill shortage, it may have knock-on benefits of improving employee satisfaction (and therefore retention) and even, dare I say it, profitability!

Chris Cheetham is director of recruitment consultancy Cheetham Hall Limited.