PHOTOS COURTESY OF SERCO
Supporting employee development boosts as well as British society as a whole.
—Andrew Thompson, Serco
Skilled workers give companies an edge, but they can be awfully hard to come by. So U.K. services company Serco launched a project to develop its workforce—as well as the communities it does business in.
An extension of the U.K. government's Skills for Life initiative, Serco's Skills for You program works in partnership with local educational institutions and training providers to increase literacy, numeracy and vocational skills.
But with the Hampshire, England-based company's 450 contracts scattered throughout the United Kingdom, it can be difficult for Serco's project coordinators to secure buy-in from across all the disparate units.
So the company takes a custom approach. Because each contract requires different skills, the project coordinators help managers determine what developmental opportunities would be best for their teams—and then deliver training based on those needs, says Andrew Thompson, director of organizational development and change at Serco.
800 employees have taken part in some form of training.
“With an organization of this size … big bang change programs and initiatives tend not to work,” he says. “One size does not fit all.”
In February 2007, for example, Serco launched a project to help prepare 49 Docklands Light Railway employees to earn their government certifications in customer service. In an 11-month program, workers attended classes to develop competencies and learn industry best practices, and worked with specialists to develop a portfolio outlining their relevant on-the-job experience. By project close, all of the participants had earned their certificates.
And the ROI is already apparent, Mr. Thompson says. After the workers completed the course, the yearly average of customer complaints dropped by approximately 60 percent.
“Since the completion of the course, the number of complaints received has been on a downward trend,” he says. “This has been attributed in part to the customerfacing staff being better equipped to deal with issues as they arise.”
Part of the Neighborhood
Because Serco aims to draw employees from the workingclass communities where it works, its contract managers often have to contend with adult illiteracy and undereducation. Although the company hires based on experience, work ethic and attitude as much as education, Serco's leaders believe supporting employee development boosts the competitiveness of the business as well as British society as a whole, Mr. Thompson says.
“As our chief executive puts it, ‘Focus on the people and the results will deliver themselves,’” he says.
Since Serco launched its program in November of 2004, 800 of its 40,000 U.K. employees have taken part in some form of training—with clear results. Contract managers who work with front-line staff across the organization report a significant improvement in employee commitment, motivation and promotion prospects, Mr. Thompson says.
Although Serco hasn't measured the program's specific impacts on the larger community, there is some anecdotal evidence of the positive effects. Program participants often discuss how being able to help their children with their homework or write a better CV gives them the self-confidence they need to continue improving themselves—and even help others, he says.
“This is giving people a second chance to correct things that may have gone wrong for them at school,” Mr. Thompson says. “Once you can read effectively and work with numbers effectively, you can actually start to engage more with the internet … and all the methods that we traditionally use to educate ourselves as adults.”
And that may be just enough to give people—and the companies they work for—the edge they need. –Tegan Jones
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