British managers under-qualified and underprepared

2003

An overall lack of management skills will prove to be a brake on the effectiveness of public sector reform and attempts to improve private sector productivity, according to a new report from The Work Foundation.

The report – Can the UK learn to manage? - has been released shortly before the DTI-commissioned report on the performance of British managers carried out by Professor Michael Porter of Harvard Business School.

The Work Foundation’s report reveals that the UK’s four million managers receive less training than their counterparts in the USA, Japan, Germany and France and have spent less time in education. UK employers also report that management abilities are one of the most problematic skills gaps.

Despite widespread efforts to evaluate and improve UK management – most recently through the government’s Council for Excellence in Management and Leadership (CEML) - the report argues that the country’s 4.5 million managers will continue to under-perform unless they get more support. Indeed the government’s own priorities have changed since CEML was established during Labour’s first term in office; with a much greater and fundamental commitment to improving public services and UK productivity across the board.

According to The Work Foundation the UK’s managers are not just under qualified; they are the least qualified of any comparable group - a situation that would be unacceptable in professions such as medicine, teaching or architecture for example. Especially as managerial performance increasingly has a direct impact on our everyday lives; consider for instance the effects of poor management of our railways, pension funds and hospitals.

In this context the report says that the tendency of initiatives such as CEML to over emphasise the importance of UK business schools and their main product – the MBA – is worrying. On current output rates it would take 583 years to bring all UK managers up to MBA standard.

The Work Foundation also argues that the key to improving management skills and performance lies in a broader and deeper approach to development, where managers learn the skills of management in the context of delivering the products and services and with on the job learning as important as other forms of learning.

In this sense, the report says that undergraduate learning, on the job training and national vocational qualifications are at least as important as the MBA and our business schools, if the UK is to crack its public and private sector performance problems.

The Work Foundation highlights the need for the modern management course to include:

  • Technological knowledge and awareness
  • Ethical awareness and appreciation of the role of business in society
  • Strategic awareness and appreciation of the role of business in society
  • Diversity, gender and cultural awareness
  • Critical awareness and political studies
  • Management of people
  • Entrepreneurship and innovation

Andy Westwood, co-author of the report and head of public policy research at The Work Foundation says:

“We have more managers than pretty much any comparative country – now some 4 million of them. But more does not mean better; in fact for the UK it means more underqualified, more underprepared managers for whatever the job in hand happens to be.

"We need to completely rethink how we prepare our managers and perhaps also we need to rethink how we all too often reach for management as the solution to all of our workplace problems.”