Ahead of the Newcastle trade summit, we spoke to Gareth Preece, the owner of Gareth Preece Consulting Ltd., about how companies can ensure they have the right skills and people to deal with the cultural and economic changes that Brexit may bring.
How long have you been involved with the Institute and how?
I joined the Institute in 2012. At the time I was contracted into UK Trade & Investment (now the Department for International Trade) as their Skills Specialist, providing advice to inward investors and exporters to help them overcome issues related to accessing the skills they need to expand, to meet their objectives.
In terms of my involvement with the Institute, I have attended graduation ceremonies and helped connect IoE into colleagues at the Department for International Trade, but my principle involvement has been as a member of the Academic Board, contributing to the Board’s and Institute’s knowledge of skills policy, apprenticeship reforms and the skills issues raised by business.
How important are programmes like the regional summits for the Institute?
Regional summits are incredibly important events. Not only is it vital to be able to provide CPD for export professionals across the UK, but it provides that all-important opportunity for members to meet and network, sharing ideas and solutions to problems. It also showcases the wide range of knowledge and information that Institute members can access – not only at regional summits, but also online and through formal learning and qualifications.
Your presentation very much looks as though it's going to be dealing with the people part of exporting. What sort of people does the UK need in business - and indeed in all parts of society - in order to thrive in a post-Brexit world?
That’s a great question. And I’m afraid it’s not necessarily a simple answer. At an operational level, business will need to adapt to attracting talent from a narrower talent pool. Whatever the restrictions turn out to be, we can assume that we will not have access to the volume of skilled and unskilled labour from across the EU. Businesses will need to recruit from the local labour market and are likely to need to have to train and develop individuals. This means that, post-Brexit, businesses will be looking for people who have the behaviours they want in their business, including the ability to learn, so that they can be trained into the vacant roles. If that is the case, they need to start on that journey now, to be in a good place by March next year.
If a business, and society, is going to be successful, it will need to innovate. Innovation may be in new product development, or processes for existing products or services, but doing the same thing will leave a company behind its competitors. So, tactically and strategically, business need people that can innovate, solve problems, communicate ideas and drive change. They also need people to see change as part of business-as-usual. I don’t think that is specifically as a consequence of leaving the EU, but more a consequence of highlighting the opportunities that emerge with the relentless focus on global opportunities and trading relationships.
In addition, building a talent-base that looks at the global opportunity can reframe the way that businesses approach the day-to-day. It’s about building the global opportunity into the processes from product and service design through to sales, marketing and distribution. This is why the apprenticeship trailblazer is so important for embedding knowledge and skills of export into businesses across multiple roles, and not simply seeing it as a compliance issue.
How can we go about creating a new generation of these people for post-Brexit?
The great thing is that new generations are creating themselves all the time. Many businesses are already working with four or five generations across their workforce. There are many differences, not just in the way each generation works, thinks and in their aspirations but, for example, the way in which they think about communicating with a global audience. Schools, colleges and universities need to enable technical, creative and problem solving skills alongside academic and communication skills – but this is about enabling, rather than teaching. This is where apprenticeships provide a great progression from education to business and between sectors for those already in the workforce. Businesses need to understand and articulate the skills they need and be prepared to develop their people. I would advise all businesses to engage in education, and spell out what they need from the learning and the people that will be looking for work in the future. T-Levels, for example, have a high requirement for work experience, which can be difficult for employers, but what better way to help young people understand what work really is?.
How can businesses ensure they have these people - especially given that Brexit is so (relatively) imminent?>
Start now. No, we still don’t really know what our world will look like next March, but I can assure you that whatever happens, it’s happening to everyone at the same time, so better to be ahead of the game. Build high quality links with local education providers and help them to understand what you do and what you need. Spell out the behaviours as well as the skills.
Start from the premise that most people don’t know what happens inside most businesses – so why would they come and work for you? Explain what you do, how you are making the world a better place and why they should come and help you do it – and what you will give them in return; this could be development opportunities, responsibility and job satisfaction, as well as salary and benefits.
Think about cyber security. Years ago, if you wanted to do this for a living, you would probably look for work in a cyber security business. That would appeal to a certain type of person. Today, you could work for a bank, a supermarket chain, a water company, a power station, the MOD, a manufacturer, a shipping or logistics company, or a cyber security company. The pool that you can attract into the role and into the business becomes much broader.
What advice you give to people looking at international trade as potential career today?
What a time! The UK is in an extraordinary place, with extensive support for businesses that want to explore opportunities overseas. Open to Export and DIT with overseas missions and the global network of embassies and consulates are helping thousands of business to explore new markets. For those looking at a career, I would say, ‘learn the profession’ – it is definitely a career that requires dedicated knowledge so take advantage of the professional training that is available. Work with experienced professionals to develop your knowledge and understanding then there really is no limit in terms of the type and size of company that could benefit from that knowledge.