Why does leadership training matter?

leadership training

David Willett, Corporate Director, at The Open University explains why leadership training matters

Employers in the UK are currently in a difficult and unpredictable position. We do not yet know what the long-term impact of Brexit will be on our workforce; both in terms of managing our existing talent, and accessing the skills we will need in the future.

If the UK’s departure from the EU has an enduring impact on access to overseas talent, the public sector could find itself in a difficult or even untenable position, particularly in sectors such as the NHS, where one in eight employees are ‘not of British nationality.1 Other
areas of the public sector may also be significantly impacted, so it is crucial that employers carefully consider potential obstacles, and the workforce they will need to develop to overcome them, to ensure that they are prepared for the future.

With many challenges on the horizon – the fourth industrial revolution and our post-Brexit economy included – it will fall to leaders to effectively communicate and manage the changes faced by their workforce. But with 73% of employers struggling to recruit for leadership roles in the past year2, what can public sector employers do to ensure they are able to effectively weather the storm?

Leading from the front

A strong leader can make or break a team, but worryingly, a recent study found that two-thirds of the British workforce believed that they could do a better job than their boss.3 Not only can this mindset have a significant impact on personnel issues, such as loyalty and retention, but also undoubtedly has an effect on a work-force’s output and productivity. And in high-pressure working environments, such as the public sector, this can be problematic.

Over five million people were employed by the public sector in 20184 and with such a vast and diverse workforce to oversee, navigating change becomes even more of a challenge – and strong, competent leaders and managers become paramount. They need to be able to see new initiatives and technology put into place, but also communicate change and reassure more junior staff when necessary.

The public sector is renowned for its opportunities for career progression, with many workers joining shortly after leaving education and transferring between roles, industry specialisms or departments until they retire. But progression is often based on longevity, as well as experience, so workers can often find themselves in a management or leadership position without much guidance on how to manage people or budgets. Thrown in the deep end, many do pick up the skills they need – but it is a steep learning curve, which can take time that may not be forthcoming as the UK experiences rapid change.

At the same time, there is also a shortage of leadership and management skills in the labour market, which means it is time-consuming and expensive to hire in new employees – and even then it takes time for them to acclimatise to the role. So instead, to ensure that the public sector is fully future-proofed, employers should consider the benefits of offering formal leadership training to existing staff to overcome the issues of inexperience, either in a role or in an organisation.

Using training effectively

It is a common misconception that leadership training and professional development are the reserve of the youngest and most junior members of a team. In fact,
employees of all levels can benefit from continuous professional development that gives them the opportunity to build on existing skills and learn new skills appropriate to more senior roles as they move up the ranks.

Learning should be a lifelong endeavour, and for the most part public sector employers are excellent at investing in people, both on the job and through formal training. But with the introduction of the apprenticeship levy, to which the public sector is the biggest contributor, there are new opportunities to develop the workforce.

With tight budgets, it is essential that organisations secure good return on investment, and use the funding in their National Apprenticeship Service accounts to ensure they have the skills they need to manage future changes – at all levels.

So, with a shortage of leadership talent, the public sector needs to ensure it is prepared for the changes and challenges that lie ahead; able to manage change and personnel effectively, and anticipate and plan for future opportunities and changes.

And while organisations already invest in training their workforces, the apprenticeship levy is a golden opportunity to develop strong and loyal leaders, who can motivate the workforce, drive forward plans and address issues with confidence.


1 NHS Digital (2018) NHS Staff From Overseas: Statistics (https://researchbriefings. parliament.uk/ResearchBriefing/Summary/CBP-7783)
2 The Open University (2018) Business Barometer.
3 SPANA (2018).
4 ONS (2018) Public sector employment, UK: March 2018 (https://www.ons.gov.uk/employmentandlabourmarket/peopleinwork/

David Willett
Corporate Director
The Open University
Tel: +44 (0)300 303 5303


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