Scotch Skills: Leading for Growth

03 Jun 2016

Our annual Members Day is an opportunity for the industry to come together to discuss the pressing issues of the day and hear perspectives from others.

I was pleased to moderate a panel discussion at this year's event on industry skills that attracted a packed audience.  It built on the publication of our recent report Scotch Whisky, Skilled Workforce setting out the industry's commitment to developing its workforce's skills. 

Industry skills are of real importance to the success of Scotch. The continued growth of internationally recognised brands relies on the world-class capabilities of our people, from procurement to production and logistics to sales.  And Scotch is a significant employer, directly employing nearly 11,000 of the most productive people in Scotland after the energy sector and they drive over £5bn in value added to the UK economy.

A key focus of the lively discussion was the challenge of developing strong leadership. Siobhan Moriarty, Diageo's Legal Counsel felt that 'leadership exists where you find it and where you develop it, not just at the top'. Diageo takes its own lead by offering structured career development from Modern Apprenticeships to its graduate development programme. 

The panel agreed that the challenge of ensuring young people are aware of the opportunities the industry offers remains high on their to-do list. This means speaking more often and clearly about our operations, about the jobs we offer and the contribution those jobs make to communities. Anne Wexelstein, Director of Scotland Career Ready, a charity which helps prepare young people for work, added that the industry should not shy away from making its voice heard.  And a collective approach is helpful, to dial up the noise.

Linda Hanna, MD Strategy & Sectors, Scottish Enterprise focussed on productivity and competitiveness. Linda felt that interventions underway to drive Scotland's productivity should have a positive effect. And she saw a great outlook for Scotch which was ready and engaged to take leadership to the next level. She pointed to Scandinavia where there is a focus on developing curious, international mind-sets and where exemplar industries pioneer innovative, fresh ways of working.

Our guests didn't shy away from discussing our challenges. Alan Kilpatrick, MD of The North British Distillery said that with long service and an aging workforce, understanding employee motivation to achieve top performance is key. And with a shifting emphasis towards 'how' we achieve results as well as 'what' we do, offering good access to soft skills training remains important. 

With the business case for workforce diversity made, Siobhan set out Diageo's targeted approach. Having narrowly fallen short of a goal that 30% of Diageo's leadership is female by 2015, they sharpened their focus with a new target that by 2025, 40% of people in leadership roles will be female.  Efforts to get there focus on areas where female employment has traditionally lagged behind, such as production, supply chain and commercial roles. 

No discussion on skills can go without mention of Modern Apprenticeships and the impending levy.  Our panel and audience all agreed we should look again at the value of Modern Apprenticeships. Alan Kilpatrick's suggestion that in Scotland the opportunity remains for businesses to work with the Scottish Government to shape the scheme, was met with warm approval.

I closed the session feeling confident the industry has the commitment and will to remain on top of our skills challenges. And that good public and third sector support is on hand to keep the industry's people and skills on track for further growth.

Julie Hesketh-Laird
SWA Deputy Chief Executive & Director of Operational and Technical Affairs

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