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The Future of Workforce Development

First published in Personnel Today

Northumbria University and partners share insight on how to attract, develop and sustain a thriving workforce.

How organisations choose to invest their time and resources is critical to their competitiveness, productivity and performance, and a key focus for business owners or senior leadership teams. But investment in people – their training, development, and wellbeing – can often fall down the agenda for time poor or cash strapped managers with deadlines and targets to hit.

We spoke to experts from Northumbria University, and its industry partners, about the value of workforce development and the benefits of sustained investment in supporting, upskilling and empowering people to fulfil their workplace potential.

So, what’s the key to creating and retaining a skilled, productive, resilient and happy team?

Dr Gosia Ciesielska, Associate Professor in Organisation Studies at Northumbria University, has a particularly unique perspective on the secret to employee development and retention, as a result of her role leading the Restorative Just Culture programme at the University.

A transformative learning programme, it teaches managers how to create a workplace culture of trust, learning and accountability. Initially developed through a partnership with the Mersey Care NHS Foundation Trust, the pioneering course provides transferrable skills that improve people management and increase morale.

Gosia said: “The programme provides contemporary people management skills that would benefit anyone in a leadership or line management role, no matter what the sector.

“We explain and explore the benefits of creating a restorative just culture. Rather than disciplining or criticising staff when something goes wrong, this approach is about ensuring lessons are learned in an open, supportive, and proactive way. It’s an effective tool to increase accountability, build trust and can significantly improve staff retention and wellbeing – helping to drive productivity and save a business money in the long term.

Gosia concluded: “Northumbria University is a fast-growing university with international reach but is very much embedded within regional and national business networks. We have expertise in executive education and in partnering with external organisations to provide the best combination of academic, challenging input and practical, ‘real world’ focussed learning.

“The Restorative Just Culture programme is a great example of where theory is directly applied in practice to help improve workplace wellbeing, increase productivity and reduce costs.”

Alongside a wide range of leadership and management training and CPD courses, Northumbria University also has a strong track record in delivering Higher and Degree Apprenticeships as a route to developing technical skills within the workforce.

By offering learners the best of both worlds, combining university study with workplace learning, Northumbria University is recognised as a leading provider, ranking top 10 in the UK for Higher and Degree Apprenticeships (The Times Good University Guide, 2022) as well as being one of the first UK institutions to offer government-supported apprenticeship programmes.

Dr Charlotte Paterson, Workplace Coach for the Civil Engineer Degree Apprenticeship programme, said: “With an ever-growing portfolio, Northumbria offers a diverse range of apprenticeships across many sectors. Whether businesses have taken on a new recruit or have an employee they would like to upskill or see progress further in the organisation, apprenticeships can be an effective way to develop and retain your workforce, whilst employees gain a degree-level qualification.

“Developed at the request of our industry partners, specifically to meet the needs of the construction sector, our civil engineer apprenticeship trains to degree level, but also provides practical, work experience to match.”

Charlotte continued: “Most of the learning is done within the workplace. Apprentices gain theoretical understanding of topics through university sessions and resources and then put theory into practice through civil engineering tasks within the business.

“By accessing levy payments or government funding, businesses can provide their employees with a recognised and relevant qualification, often at little extra cost to the organisation.

“Perhaps most importantly, we offer more than a learning programme; we develop a true partnership. We work with organisations to shape and tailor courses that directly meet the demands of their business and sector, and provide the technical skills, knowledge and ‘real world’ experience necessary to get the job done.”

But just doing the job is only part of the picture. To attract and retain talented people who can perform to the very best of their ability, many businesses now also recognise the critical importance of ensuring good health and wellbeing.

Dr Josh Jackman, Operations Director at ART Health Solutions is an industry partner and a keynote speaker at Northumbria University’s forthcoming HR conference. His business delivers data insights to help organisations make decisions that improve employee experience, wellbeing and performance.

An exercise physiologist by trade, with a background in research studies and work with elite athletes, Josh is passionate about embedding health and wellbeing in organisations in order to improve individual, and business-wide, productivity and performance as a result.

Josh said: “The average person spends up to a third of their life working and there is so much crossover between what we do at work and what we do at home that influences our wellbeing.

“Given that people costs can account for up to 70% of an organisation’s spending, enabling employees to take the best care of themselves will really drive business performance. We know for a fact that happier and healthier employees are higher performing – and we’ve got the data to support it.”

Josh continued: “Research from Microsoft has shown that when employees have back-to-back meetings, electrical activity in the brain shows an accumulation of stress over time. However, simply allowing short periods of break and recovery in between meetings can enable the brain to reset, reducing stress levels. By being proactive we can prioritise an individual’s ability to recover and ultimately enable them to be the best version of themselves each day.

“Worryingly, recent industry reports have already shown that there is less line manager focus on wellbeing now, than in the first year of the pandemic.

“We need to ensure that health and wellbeing remains a business priority in the months and years ahead. It can create happier, healthier and higher performing individuals and is undoubtedly a powerful tool to drive business performance.”

To find out more about the ways in which Northumbria University can help you to train, develop and support your workforce to fulfil their potential, visit our Education and Training page here

To be kept informed about Northumbria’s up and coming Workforce Development events register your details here.



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