Fair work secretary tells delegates the country is lagging behind competitors

HR’s most pressing challenge is to increase workforce productivity, the Scottish government’s cabinet secretary for fair work, skills and training has told this year’s CIPD Scotland Conference.

Roseanna Cunningham said that although Scottish businesses had made greater than average strides in this area, boosting productivity by 4.7 per cent since 2007 despite a stagnant UK economy, there was still more to do.

“In 2014, Scottish productivity levels were such that they would still leave us 19th out of the top 20 OECD countries,” Cunningham told delegates in Edinburgh.

“This needs to improve, but by thinking differently. If we follow the same paths we've already followed, all we’ll get is the same results. For instance, it's down to employers to change their recruitment mindset, to look at talent that has traditionally been overlooked. We can’t squander the potential of Scottish talent – the stakes are too high.”

Cunningham implored employers to forge stronger links with universities, and to get closer to schools at “an earlier stage”. Last year, she set up the first Fair Work Convention, and announced that its initial report will be published in the next month. “For some employers, changing the way work is organised, and the type of new leadership that will be required to effect this, will come easy. But for many it will not,” she said. “Get a better climate going within your organisation; we need to work together to create better work design so everyone can flourish and grow.”

The first day of the conference saw numerous speakers urge HR to challenge traditional ways of thinking to create genuinely future-proof organisations. John McGurk, head of CIPD Scotland, set the tone in his opening keynote speech when he said: “The people aspect of productivity is the most crucial, but often the least talked-about."

Matthew Syed, author of Bounce and Black Box Thinking, told delegates: “The way employers conceptualise talent needs to change. Too many think innate talent is what they should be looking for, but the dominant predictor of high performance is actually the mindset of hard work and persistence. Businesses need to employ more people who think their talent is not enough, because these are the people who will want to improve their perceived weaknesses. These are the people who have a growth mindset."

This view was echoed by Peter Russian, CEO of Investors in People Scotland, who said: "Businesses need to change. They need to organise themselves differently. What they really need to do is create a customer-led skills strategy – they need to plan and recruit based on how they will deliver the outcomes desired by consumers. Skills strategies should be driven by customer need first, not against traditional organisational hierarchies."